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Coronavirus in Canadian prisons

Prison lawyers in Canada are scrambling to fill the gap left by federal inaction on inmate populations who are vulnerable to COVID-19.

Empty prison range, with a few doors open
Prisons around the worlds have started to reduce their population in response to the coronavirus pandemic. (Unsplash / Matthew Ansley)

The coronavirus pandemic has laid bare several unsettling truths about Canada’s prison system. Our institutions of state punishment are filled with medically vulnerable people, affected by lifelong difficulties accessing care along with unhealthy prison conditions.

While life expectancy for most Canadians is 79 for males and 83 for females, two-thirds of the people who die of natural deaths while in federal custody are under the age of 65.

Another truth rarely acknowledged is that the collective interests of staff and inmates are often intertwined. Highly infectious disease makes no distinctions as it spreads through a congregate living facility.

The COVID-19 crisis has mobilized jurisdictions across the world to release entire categories of inmates to protect everyone living and working inside. As UCLA law professor Sharon Dolovich has put it, even jurisdictions in the United States with longstanding imprisonment addiction have seen “conscientious officials rediscovering decarceral powers they had forgotten they had.” Still, outbreaks at places like Rikers Island in New York and Chicago’s Cook County jail are devastating in scope.

Reduction in jail population

Ontario moved quickly to reduce its jail population: from March 16 to April 9, numbers fell from 8,344 to 6,025. About 70 per cent of Ontario inmates were awaiting trial, so large reductions could be achieved simply by processing bail applications. Prosecutors, defence lawyers and judges have largely co-operated in establishing procedures and making decisions in response to the pandemic.

On April 8, the Ontario Court of Appeal granted bail in an application brought by a defendant convicted of multiple charges in a sophisticated fraud scheme who was awaiting an appeal. The court cited public health authorities to make the point that social distancing “is not only a question of protecting a given individual but also the community at large.” An outbreak may turn into wider community spread as prison staff return home. The wider the spread, “the greater the pressure will be for scarce medical resources.” The court noted that the applicant was 64 years old with underlying health issues, and concluded that his detention was not necessary in the public interest.

It is always the case that the interests of incarcerated people are closely tied to those of us living free in the community. The pandemic has altered much about normal life, including the ability to deny those ties.

Still, the federal prison system in Canada has been slow to act. On March 31, Public Safety Minister Bill Blair said he directed the Parole Board and the Correctional Service to consider measures to facilitate early releases. By mid-April, little had happened — even though 170 federal inmates had tested positive, along with several staff.

The Queen’s Prison Law Clinic quickly pivoted its work to press for a more robust federal response. One of only two dedicated prison clinics in Canada, the small staff at this legal aid office in Kingston, delivers hands-on education to Queen’s University law students while providing front-line legal services to federal prisoners in eastern Ontario.

Barbed wire tops a fence at Kingston Penitentiary.
A 53-year-old prisoner at Bath Institution was granted an unescorted temporary absence on medical grounds. (Unsplash / Larry Farr)

Families of inmates are worried

By late March, the clinic was receiving desperate calls from inmates and their families, all worried about the pre-existing conditions that suggested contracting this illness would be a death sentence. The case of Derrick Snow, a 53-year-old man with a long but non-violent criminal record, moved quickly to the top of the pile.

Snow’s record revolved around drug use, and he has cancer, diabetes and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease. He also had a fast-approaching statutory release date of July 2020 for his most recent theft-related offence. Snow’s sister was willing to help him self-isolate in her basement apartment.

Through early April, Paul Quick, a lawyer at the Queen’s Prison Law Clinic, engaged in near-daily correspondence with Bath Institution, working to identify viable legal avenues to facilitate a potentially life-saving adjustment to Snow’s July release date.

The few official responses focused on technical issues that failed to take into account the radically altered pandemic landscape. The warden declined to make a decision by the requested date of April 10.

Lawyers who work in legal aid settings don’t rush to court on a whim. Resources are scarce and the risk of losing — and setting a bad precedent with lasting impact on others — must be carefully weighed. These lawyers also rarely work alone. Prison lawyers across the country offered ideas and resources, and the clinic partnered with outside counsel Paul Champ, a leading human rights lawyer with a longstanding commitment to civil liberties.

Prisoner released on eve of hearing

An emergency hearing was scheduled for April 17. Champ sought a mandatory injunction ordering the warden to grant Snow an unescorted temporary absence on medical grounds. Though he had only days to act — and was working from home like the rest of us — Champ filed a record that exceeded 400 pages. It included detailed expert medical evidence, pandemic policy responses in other jurisdictions and extensive correspondence showing Quick’s attempts to convince the institution to act without a lawsuit.

The strongest cases often don’t get to hearing. Filing persuasive written materials often convinces the other side of the struggles they will face in front of a judge. Sure enough, the night before the hearing was scheduled to be held, the warden of Bath Institution granted Snow a medical release.

[Paul Quick of Queen's Law Clinics works from home]
Paul Quick is a lawyer at the Queen’s Prison Law Clinic. (Supplied photo)

The warden’s decision acknowledges that, in normal circumstances, medical unescorted temporary absences are used to authorize moving a prisoner to a medical treatment facility. With prisoners who have serious medical conditions, unescorted temporary absences can now be granted when they have an “increased ability to self-isolate as per the public state of emergency related to the coronavirus pandemic.”

Maximizing impact

The Queen’s clinic is now working to capitalize on this precedent. Quick has shared materials with counsel across Canada. The clinic is reaching out to assist other vulnerable prisoners.

But this should not be a story of individual lawyers pushing individual cases. The federal government must establish an expert task force to identify prisoners for release. It should follow the World Health Organization and the United Nations Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights, which issued a joint document on March 27 calling on public authorities to prioritize the release of prisoners with underlying health conditions, low-risk profiles or those with imminent release dates.

Inmates should also have a safe place to go where they will be able to self-isolate. For many, these conditions will be sadly difficult to meet — all the more reason for systematic and quick action in the cases where release makes sense, to ease the burden on all who must remain inside a prison during a pandemic.

______________________________________________The Conversation

Lisa Kerr, Assistant Professor, Queen's University, Faculty of Law, Queen's University.

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Zooming into remote learning

Remote teaching the latest stop in a four-decade pedagogical journey for Faculty of Law Professor Nick Bala.

Law professor Nick Bala learns how to use Zoom

Professor Nick Bala (Law) trials remote teaching with Zoom conferencing software earlier this month, supported by IT staff member Theresa Afolayan, with student Zach Rudge. 

Nick Bala, a professor in the Faculty of Law, has been putting technology to use in the classroom since the mid-’70s, sharing handwritten course outlines using the then-novel photocopiers. Four decades later – with a career incorporating everything from VHS to DVDs, overheads to PowerPoint, and email to secure web storage for notes – he's transitioned seamlessly to teaching online in the context of a global pandemic. 

On Monday, March 16, Bala delivered his Family Law lecture using Zoom, a remote conferencing platform.

“I really like the interactive nature of Zoom,” he says. “I could see who was ‘in the class’ and just knowing students were there helped me engage. In the past, I have pre-recorded and used voice over PowerPoint, but I prefer Zoom because I can present slides and have the students engage right away.”

During the Family Law lecture, students could still ask questions on the platform.

“They could share with the whole class or ask in a way that only I would know the student and question. I would say: ‘Oh here’s a question that just came up,’ then read it and answer it.”   

Bala used Zoom again on March 18 for both Family Law and a 38-student Contracts class.

“I’ve taught these Contracts students all year and I know them all by name, so I think we were all quite comfortable,” he says. “While you can’t just replace an in-person class, given where we are in the year, this is a very good method for finishing the course. In the smaller class, the students were more willing to participate using their mics, and we were able to do some ‘Socratic teaching.’ I could also use anonymous polling of the whole class, which is actually better than in person since other students can’t see who is putting up their ‘electronic hands’.”

For his third course, the upper-year Family Law Placements, some students have decided to continue to meet with lawyers and clients in the community, but for most, the last three weeks of placements are suspended. Those students will be writing reviews of some family-law-themes-related YouTube videos and streaming movies, one of those being A Marriage Story available on Netflix. (Bala’s handwritten course outlines were nicknamed by his classmates as the ‘Nicky notes.’ Now, he’s offering his students “Nick’s Netflix picks.”)

Setting up for the change, Bala received training from Theresa Afolayan, one of the school’s IT support assistants.

“I taught my first Zoom class from my law school office with an IT person ready to assist, but not needed,” Professor Bala says. “After that, I knew I could do it anywhere, and I am shifting to home as part of social distancing. The technology is extremely user-friendly. Our IT staff have been extremely helpful to us in continuing our teaching program.”

Bala has already increased his emailing and phone calls with students, and during the study and exam period, he will have “virtual office hours.”

For now, he says, “We’re ready to zoom along.”

Bill Flanagan named president of University of Alberta

Dean of Queen’s Faculty of Law for 14 years, Bill Flanagan to lead the university at a ‘critical juncture.’

Bill Flanagan
Bill Flanagan, who led the Queen's Faculty of Law as dean for 14 years, has been named the 14th president and vice-chancellor of the University of Alberta. (Queen's University / Greg Black)

Kate Chisholm, QC, chair of the University of Alberta Board of Governors, announced on Thursday that Bill Flanagan, dean of Queen’s Law from 2005-2019, will be the next president and vice-chancellor of the University of Alberta, effective July 1,

“After an extensive international search and careful consideration of many outstanding candidates, we are proud to select Bill Flanagan – an outstanding academic leader and innovator,” she said.

With the University of Alberta at a “critical juncture,” given dramatic shifts in the province’s postsecondary landscape and its immediate reaction to the coronavirus pandemic, Chisholm cited Flanagan’s “proven ability to identify opportunities for growth to the benefit of the research and teaching mission of the whole university” at Queen’s Law as key to his selection for the role. 

“The school’s reputation for research and teaching excellence deepened, and students’ learning experience was enriched by a larger range of learning opportunities and fully renovated learning environments,” Chisholm said of Flanagan’s time as dean.  

Under Flanagan’s leadership at Queen’s, the law school established a PhD Program, the Centre for Law in the Contemporary Workplace, three pro bono legal aid clinics, and two online programs: the Certificate in Law for undergraduate students, and the Graduate Diploma in Legal Services Management for law students and practising lawyers. It also saw the expansion of its international program at the Bader International Studies Centre (BISC), where Flanagan’s guidance and influence led to alumni establishing a fund in his name, the Bill Flanagan International Studies Award, upon his departure in 2019. 

“The decisions and solutions we reach today will set the trajectory of this university for years and decades to come. Bill Flanagan will guide that trajectory and position the University of Alberta to excel,” Chisholm said.

For President-elect Flanagan, his new position is “a very exciting opportunity.” He’ll also be returning to his home province. 

“I grew up in Alberta,” he said in a statement. “I know the significance of the university and its importance not only to Alberta but the country, and really the world. I’m absolutely delighted to have this chance to serve as president and vice-chancellor.” 

A life transformed, black awareness heightened

Michael Coleman left an important legacy for the university when he co-founded the Black Law Students’ Association of Canada - Queen’s Chapter.

Michael Coleman Law'17
During his time at Queen's University Michael Coleman (Law’17) co-founded a Queen’s chapter of the Black Law Students’ Association (BLSA) of Canada. 

If there’s a word to describe the three years Michael Coleman (Law’17), spent as a student at Queen’s Law, it’s “transformative.” 

Not only did he earn his JD degree and emerge from the experience a changed person, he also left an important legacy when he co-founded a Queen’s chapter of the Black Law Students’ Association (BLSA) of Canada. 

Today, Coleman is thriving in his role as an associate with Toronto-based Fogler, Rubinoff LLP, where he works in the firm’s commercial real estate and banking groups. But he still marvels at how much his life has changed since his first day of law school in September 2014. 

Coleman was 22 then. While earning an Honours BA from York University, he’d hoped to have a future in law.

“I was inspired by my Grade 12 law teacher who shared positive stories about being a lawyer, and I was always encouraged by my immediate family and (now) fiancée, Schenelle Dias,” he says. “I developed a strong sense that I wanted a legal career. That was something no one else in my family had ever accomplished.”

Coleman was the third of four children born to Jamaican-born immigrant parents. After coming to Canada in the early 1980s, his father, Fedrick, toiled as a transportation dispatcher, his mother, Evadne as a personal support worker. The Colemans worked hard to build better lives for themselves and for their children; education was integral to that goal.

Choosing Queen's

Coleman chose Queen’s Law for two reasons. One was the legacy of Robert Sutherland (c1830-1878), the brilliant Jamaican-born man who was the first black graduate of Queen’s, the first black lawyer in British North America, and one of the university’s most important early benefactors.

“I found his story particularly inspiring,” Coleman says.

A second reason was the collegial approach to learning at the school.

“The students support each other, and the professors are passionate about the subjects they teach," he says. "They challenge you intellectually while encouraging you to think, question, and consider all sides of an issue. That’s something that has stayed with me, and that I try to do in my practice.”

Coleman learned critical legal skills and more at Queen’s Law while finding his way. He began first-year intent on a career in criminal or administrative law; however, a tax course taught by Professor Art Cockfield (Law’93), fired his imagination and nudged him in a different direction.

“That’s one of the great things about Queen’s Law,” Coleman says. “Students are exposed to and have opportunities to experience different areas of the law.” 

At the same time his career goals were changing, he made some big changes personally, becoming “a lot more mindful” of what he was eating and beginning a running-based exercise regimen that helped him drop 90 pounds.   

Giving back to the community

As if all that wasn’t challenging enough, Coleman somehow made time and found the energy to continue “giving back to the community.” This is something his role models have always done, and he has followed their example. In his graduating year at Queen’s Law, Coleman was named to the Agnes Benidickson Tricolour Society for his volunteer efforts with Queen’s Legal Aid, for serving as a math and English tutor for inmates at Collins Bay Institution, and for co-founding BLSA-Queen’s.

The latter is an organization that Coleman discovered in October of first year, that he’s still proudly involved with and that he’s delighted to see active at Queen’s Law.

“The BLSA provides me with ongoing opportunities to mentor black law students and to network with other black Queen’s Law alumni,” he says, noting two in particular: Justice Donald McLeod (Law’95) of the Ontario Court of Justice, the first black Queen’s Law grad to be called to the bench, and Frank Walwyn (Law’93) of WeirFoulds LLP, who’s one of the first black partners at a Bay Street law firm.

“I’ve benefited from the friendships that I made at Queen’s Law and from the rich alumni network that’s out there,” says Coleman. “I’ll always feel a strong connection to the school.” 

By Ken Cuthbertson (Law’83)

Capturing the Art of Research

Celebrating its fifth year, the Art of Research photo contest is open for submissions until March 12.

  • "Love Under the Microscope" by Dalila Villalobos, MD, Resident (Anatomical Pathology)
    "Love Under the Microscope" by Dalila Villalobos, MD, Resident (Anatomical Pathology)
  • "Santa Fina" by Una D'Elia, Faculty (Art History and Art Conservation)
    "Santa Fina" by Una D'Elia, Faculty (Art History and Art Conservation)
  • "A New Light" by Robert Cichocki, PhD Student (Civil Engineering)
    "A New Light" by Robert Cichocki, PhD Student (Civil Engineering)
  • "Window on a Window to the Universe" by Mark Chen, Faculty (Physics, Engineering Physics and Astronomy)
    "Window on a Window to the Universe" by Mark Chen, Faculty (Physics, Engineering Physics and Astronomy)
  • "Platinum Surface Electrochemistry" by Derek Esau, PhD Student (Chemistry)
    "Platinum Surface Electrochemistry" by Derek Esau, PhD Student (Chemistry)
  • "Keep Cool Boy - The Jets Aloft in West Side Story" by Tim Fort, Faculty (Dan School of Drama and Music)
    "Keep Cool Boy - The Jets Aloft in West Side Story" by Tim Fort, Faculty (Dan School of Drama and Music)
  • "Nano-dendrite Collision" by Hannah Dies, MD/PhD Student (Chemical Engineering)
    "Nano-dendrite Collision" by Hannah Dies, MD/PhD Student (Chemical Engineering)
  • "Exploring Worlds at Home" by James Xie, Undergraduate Student (Engineering Chemistry)
    "Exploring Worlds at Home" by James Xie, Undergraduate Student (Engineering Chemistry)

Researchers … ready your cameras. Returning for its fifth year, the Art of Research photo contest is looking to celebrate and creatively capture the research conducted by the Queen’s community.

Did you know that the university recently launched a new central website for Queen’s research? From in-depth features to the latest information on the university’s researchers, the site is a destination showcasing the impact of Queen’s research. Discover Research@Queen’s.

Hosted by the Office of the Vice-Principal (University Relations) and open to Queen’s faculty, staff, students, and alumni, the Art of Research provides a unique and accessible method of sharing ground-breaking research happening at the university. It also represents the diversity of Queen’s research, with winners representing multiple disciplines and submissions highlighting research happening at all career stages.

The contest is an opportunity for researchers to mobilize their research and spark curiosity. Visuals can create a more compelling and accessible research narrative. By looking at research from a different perspective, it is possible to find the beauty and art in any project.

Eligibility and Prizes

Any current Queen’s faculty, staff, student, or alumni are eligible to participate. Research depicted in the submissions must have been completed at Queen’s or while the submitter was affiliated with the university. More information about contest rules can be found on the Research@Queen’s website.

In addition to promotion across institutional channels and platforms, prizes of $500 will be awarded for the top submission in each of these categories:

Category Prizes

  • Community Collaborations: Research that partners with or supports communities or groups
  • Invisible Discoveries: Research unseen by the naked eye, hiding in plain sight, or only visible by using alternative methods of perception
  • Out in the Field: Research where it occurs, is documented, or discovered
  • Art in Action Prize: Research that is aesthetically or artistically transformed or research in motion as it happens
  • Best Description: To recognize the most creative and accessible description for an image
  • People’s Choice: Determined by an online vote by members of the Queen’s community

In honour of the fifth anniversary of the Art of Research photo contest, four special prizes of $500 each will be awarded to celebrate the diversity of research happening across the university.

  • The Innovation, Knowledge Mobilization, and Entrepreneurship Prize will be awarded to the submission that best demonstrates research that encompasses a spirit of the applied practices of innovation, entrepreneurship, and knowledge mobilization. (Sponsored by Partnerships and Innovation)
  • The Graduate Studies Prize will be awarded to the image submitted by a Queen’s graduate student or post-doctoral fellow that best embodies the School of Graduate Studies’ motto “Create an Impact.” (Sponsored by the School of Graduate Studies)
  • The Health Sciences Prize will be awarded to the image that best represents the Faculty’s mission of “ask questions, seek answers, advance care, and inspire change.” (Sponsored by the Faculty of Health Sciences)
  • The KGHRI Prize will be awarded to the image that best represents patient-oriented and clinical research. (Sponsored by Kingston General Health Research Institute (KGHRI))

The contest closes on March 12, 2020. The submission form can be found here and winning images from previous competitions are located on the Research@Queen’s website

New internal funding for research

Queen's Vice-Principal (Research) launches Wicked Ideas Competition.

Wicked problems are issues so complex and dependent on so many factors that it is hard to grasp what exactly the problems are or how to tackle them. Wicked ideas are needed to solve these problems, and demand the input of multiple disciplines, multiple perspectives, and relevant practical expertise.

The Vice-Principal (Research) has launched the Wicked Ideas competition as a pilot initiative to fund and support research collaborations that respond to local, national, and global challenges. Aligned with the concept of the Government of Canada’s New Frontiers in Research Fund – Exploration program, the competition “seeks to inspire projects that bring disciplines together beyond traditional disciplinary or common interdisciplinary approaches by research teams with the capacity to explore something new, which might fail but has the potential for significant impact.” Along with both disciplinary and interdisciplinary funding streams, the competition offers a “global challenge” stream, featuring climate change as a global challenge area.  Teams of researchers are invited to submit notices of intent by Feb. 3, 2020.

“This funding is designed to remove some of the financial barriers to high-risk, high-reward research, allowing scholars to push the boundaries of knowledge into uncharted territory,” says Dr. Kent Novakowski, Acting Vice-Principal (Research). “I greatly look forward to hearing about some of the paradigm-shifting ideas that come out of this new exploratory opportunity.”

Up to 15 teams will be awarded $75,000 each in the first phase of the competition in spring 2020. The 15 teams then will be eligible to compete for one of an additional five awards of up to $150,000 in the 2021 Wicked Ideas competition. The competition is open to all Queen's faculty across all disciplines. Co-investigators and team members also must be Queen's faculty members.

This is just one of several internal funding programs that have been launched by the Vice-Principal (Research) recently.  Other programs include the Queen’s Research Opportunities Fund (QROF) Post-doctoral Fund, as well as the Catalyst Fund – designed to enhance areas of research excellence by giving scholars an opportunity to accelerate their research programs.

A revised Prizes for Excellence in Research competition, which has recognized scholarly achievement at Queen’s since 1980, is set to launch soon.

More information about all of these programs, including terms of reference, is available on the Vice-Principal (Research) website.

Law firm's gift supports Queen's Legal Aid

Bogoroch & Associates donate $200,000 to help clinic maintain access to justice.

Bogoroch & Associates LLP has donated $200,000 to Queen’s Legal Aid (QLA), providing much-needed support to assist the clinic in maintaining its current level of service. Each year, QLA provides free legal assistance to approximately 900 clients and makes appropriate referrals for over 1,400 individuals in the greater Kingston area. It also serves as a prime experiential learning opportunity for Queen's law students from which they acquire valuable skills as they serve the community's most vulnerable citizens.

Richard Bogoroch is the founder and Managing Partner of Bogoroch & Associates LLP, a Toronto law firm that has donated $200,000 to Queen’s Legal Aid. Photo Eric Forget

“I am grateful to have the opportunity to make this gift, especially at a time when recent cutbacks to legal aid have left the clinic with a funding shortfall,” says Richard Bogoroch, founder and Managing Partner of Bogoroch & Associates LLP. “This gift exemplifies our abiding interest in legal education and access to justice. Lack of access to justice is not an abstraction, it is reality for so many people who cannot afford a lawyer. By this gift, those in need of assistance will obtain it and Queen’s law students will learn valuable skills; skills that should serve them well as they embark on their legal careers.”

Karla McGrath (LLM’13), Executive Director of the Queen’s Law Clinics, certainly knows how clinical education shapes a student’s career. “Students working in Queen’s Legal Aid – and in our other clinics in business, elder, family and prison law – are placed in a dynamic work environment, under the close supervision of clinic review counsel,” she says. “The environment and stakes are real: clinic directors and review counsel pride themselves on not only giving the students an education in law, but a genuine sense of what it means to be a legal professional and to litigate.”

“We’ve heard a great deal of positive feedback from law firms about the benefits of recruiting students with clinical experience,” says Blair Crew, Director of Queen’s Legal Aid, which is the largest of five Queen’s Law Clinics operating in downtown Kingston. “Each year, QLA offers experiential learning opportunities – on a volunteer, for-credit and paid summer employment basis – to more than 80 students who meet demanding standards and compete for the coveted positions.”

QLA students provide a wide range of pro bono legal services to low-income residents of Kingston, Napanee and surrounding areas, and to Queen’s University students. These are critical services that Bogoroch & Associates LLP wanted to support.

“Legal education is of paramount importance because a strong and vigorous bar is an essential component of a healthy and vibrant democracy,” says Bogoroch. “Where there’s no access to justice, there’s increasing inequality and despair. This is not healthy for the functioning of our society. For that reason, our firm felt it important to make this gift so that Queen’s Legal Aid could continue training future lawyers, lawyers we’re confident will make a significant contribution to society.”

Bogoroch & Associates LLP, a Toronto-based law firm, represents injured individuals and their families in all aspects of personal injury and medical malpractice litigation. In 2019, Canadian Lawyer magazine selected Bogoroch & Associates LLP as one of the Top 10 personal injury boutique law firms in Canada. Richard Bogoroch, a certified specialist in civil litigation by the Law Society of Ontario, is recognized as a leading personal injury lawyer by the Canadian Legal Lexpert Directory and Best Lawyers in Canada.

“Queen’s Legal Aid, along with our other Queen’s Law Clinics, is central to our sense of what legal education is all about and to serving the community,” says Dean Mark Walters (Law’89). “This generous donation from Bogoroch & Associates LLP will support the great success of our clinical legal education program to the benefit of our students as well as vulnerable members of the Kingston community.”

For more information visit the website.

New clinic director to cultivate business law partnerships

Tomi Adebiyi aims to enhance clinic's reputation for providing exceptional legal services to small businesses, non-profit organizations, and the growing innovation sector.

Tomi Adebiyi
New Queen's Business Law Clinic director Tomi Adebiyi looks forward to enhancing experiential learning opportunities for students and to building relationships with more community organizations that will help budding entrepreneurs and innovators in the Kingston area. (Photo by Greg Black)

After only 10 months of supervising students who serve start-ups and entrepreneurs, Tomi Adebiyi has taken the helm at the Queen's Business Law Clinic. Born in Lagos, Nigeria, Adebiyi practised with one of her home country’s leading business law firms for three years before completing an LLM in corporate/commercial law at McGill University. After her 2015 graduation, she worked in different capacities with Pro Bono Law Saskatchewan and the Saskatchewan Human Rights Commission and then joined the Queen's Business Law Clinic in January. 

Promoted from staff lawyer to director of the Queen's Business Law Clinic, Tomi Adebiyi speaks about her interests in business law, clinic experience and her plans for the future.

What interests you most about business law and in providing legal services to small businesses, non-profit organizations and other Queen's Business Law Clinic clients?

I have always been intrigued by business law. I was curious to understand the intersection of law and business as a law student and this influenced my decision to pursue a business law practice. I also have a strong background in pro bono service, having worked as a staff member, articling student and volunteer lawyer at a pro bono organisation in Saskatchewan. Being able to assist clients who would otherwise be unable to afford legal services has been quite a fulfilling experience for me. For many of our clients, the Queen's Business Law Clinic provides them with an invaluable opportunity to obtain excellent legal advice thereby avoiding potential mistakes that could cost their business a lot going forward. 

What did you like best about being a staff lawyer with the Queen's Business Law Clinic?

The best part of my job as a staff lawyer was supervising the student caseworkers. When I resumed in January, the student caseworkers were halfway through their time at the clinic and, at that stage, were producing substantial work for review. I thoroughly enjoyed reviewing their work and advising the student caseworkers on their client files. 

This summer, I worked closely with the three Queen's Business Law Clinic summer caseworkers to provide our clients with top-quality and timely legal services. We had a great time working with clients from the Queen’s Innovation Centre Summer Initiative (QICSI) Program run by the Dunin-Despande Queen’s Innovation Centre (DDQIC). We helped clients incorporate businesses, prepared Shareholders Agreements and advised them on their intellectual property rights. It was satisfying to watch some of our clients as they presented their ideas, and won seed funding, at the Dunin-Deshpande Summer Pitch Competition.

What surprised you about working with the Queen's Business Law Clinic?

The enthusiasm and dedication of the student caseworkers, as well as the versatility of files at the clinic, was a pleasant surprise. Working with startup companies and budding entrepreneurs presents a unique opportunity for students to experience hands on some of the issues that they are unlikely to find in bigger companies. It was a pleasure to watch students wear the adviser hat as they transferred the theoretical knowledge learnt at the law school into practical advice for the benefit of their clients. 

What do you like best about your new role as Queen's Business Law Clinic director?

In addition to supervising the 24 student caseworkers at the clinic, I instruct the Queen’s Business Law Clinic course. Over the summer, I worked with Morgan Jarvis (Law’10), the previous Clinic Director, to develop an intellectually stimulating syllabus for the 2019-20 school year. As part of my supervisory role, I meet with each student caseworker monthly to discuss file work and give feedback to the student on their file work. I am also working in collaboration with our partners, the Office of Partnerships & Innovation and the DDQIC on various projects, including the Women Entrepreneurship Strategy (WES) Ecosystem Fund, which is a $3.2 million fund provided by FedDev Ontario for Queen’s University. 

What are your plans for the clinic?

The Queen's Business Law Clinic is known for the provision of exceptional legal services to the Kingston area’s growing innovation ecosystem, start-ups, social enterprises, not-for-profits and charitable corporations. I look forward to continue to build up and enhance this reputation. I also look forward to enhancing the student experience at the QBLC by providing them with hands-on experiential learning opportunities throughout their year at the QBLC. We currently have a strong partnership with the DDQIC and the Office of Partnerships & Innovation and I look forward to renewing, strengthening and cultivating partnerships with other community organizations with similar goals and objectives, particularly groups focused on newcomers in Canada, budding entrepreneurs and innovators in the Kingston area. 

This article was first published by the Queen's Faculty of Law.

Putting the AI in legal aid

The Conflict Analytics Lab is developing an AI-powered tool capable of offering legal predictions to self-represented litigants along with negotiation support.

[Professor Samuel Dahan]
Samuel Dahan, a professor in the Faculty of Law at Queen's University, is also the director of the Conflict Analytics Lab.

When trying to determine how to sentence a guilty party, a judge will often look at precedent to determine an appropriate judgement. This can take time, as the judge and his or her staff pore over records and try to make a fair assessment.

But what if the technology existed to analyze hundreds, if not thousands, of similar cases quickly and build a fair judgement much faster?

Even better, what if this technology was affordable enough to be accessible in cases where hiring a lawyer was prohibitively expensive? What if you could use it when an eBay transaction goes wrong, or if you could use it even if you lived remotely and didn’t have access to a lawyer?

Enter the Intelligent Dispute Resolution System, a product of the Queen’s Law and Smith School of Business Conflict Analytics Lab. This AI-powered tool, already under development, would be capable of offering legal predictions to self-represented litigants along with negotiation support.

The “AI-Tribunal for Small Claims: Building an Intelligent Dispute Resolution System” project recently received $244,562 in funding from the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council (SSHRC) to develop the first components of the pilot research: severance calculation predictive models, and an intelligent system for algorithmic employment negotiation.

“This is the core project of the Conflict Analytics Lab because it is touching upon many areas of our work: legal predictions, negotiation support, democratization of technology, and improving access to justice,” says Professor Samuel Dahan, Director of the Conflict Analytics Lab.

Dahan has partnered with Professor Yuri Levin, the Stephen J.R. Smith Chair of Analytics and Executive Director of Analytics and AI with Smith School of Business; Professor Xiaodan Zhu of Queen’s Electrical and Computer Engineering; and Professor Maxime Cohen of McGill’s Desautels Faculty of Management. Also assisting with the project are up to 15 students earning such degrees as Master of Laws, Master of Business Administration and Master of Management in Artificial Intelligence.

There are three components to the dispute resolution program – a legal component, a computer science component, and a data science component. The user inputs the relevant data into the system, and it returns a relevant suggestion. The system also learns as it works, meaning its suggestions will only improve with time and use.

The employment notice (“severance”) predictor, which the team has been working on the longest, is intended to help employees in situations where they have been terminated. By typing in their variables including industry, region, age of employee and length of employment, the system can suggest an appropriate severance amount. This means the terminated employee can use this system – without hiring an employment lawyer – to understand if they are being compensated fairly if they are let go by their employer.

While the system is beginning with employment law, Dahan sees the potential for application in small claims, family law,insurance, trademark disputes, and beyond. The only stipulations are that it must be a monetary award, and the award amount must be under $50,000.

“We are hoping to launch our first pilot project this fall – the employment notice predictor – and through a practicum course we are continuing to develop our data sets and explore new legal questions that could benefit from the application of AI,” says Dahan. “Over the next two years, we will be working with the Ontario Attorney General and the British Columbia Small Claims Tribunal to integrate this technology into their system.The idea will be to integrate the various tools, including the legal predictions, the dispute resolution, and the negotiation tool, into existing judicial procedures.”

In the future, Dahan hopes not only that people will use this tool but he hopes to hear from users who receive positive settlements and from companies who successfully integrate the platform into their online dispute resolution processes.

As Dahan puts it, “If they say, ‘you've helped us to sort out half of our customer service cases by making offers to unhappy customers, and our employees are much less overwhelmed than they used to be,’ I would call that a success.”

This article was first published on the Queen's Faculty of Law website.

International faculty and staff supports

The Human Rights & Equity Office is holding discussion sessions about developing and strengthening supports for employees coming to Queen's from abroad.

Staff and faculty participating in the first brainstorm meeting
Queen's faculty and staff participating in a brainstorming session about supports for international employees.

The Human Rights & Equity Office (HREO) recently invited international staff and faculty to engage in an initial conversation about what potential supports or groups could be created or strengthened to assist those moving from abroad for employment at Queen’s University.

A group of international faculty and staff gathered on Sept. 30 for a brainstorming session facilitated by Queen's Human Rights Advisor Nilani Loganathan, who guided the group in an exercise to begin to identify gaps in services and programs, and suggest ways that could better support international employees.

“I’m very pleased with the ideas brought forth by those who attended our first session,” says Loganathan. “We touched on a number of areas, including issues concerning relocating to Kingston, settling in at Queen’s, employment and education supports for families, and much more. We’re looking forward to continuing the conversation and collecting more feedback that will best inform our path forward.”

Employees who identify as international staff and faculty will have additional opportunities to provide their input. The next session is to take place on Friday, Nov. 15 in Mackintosh-Corry Hall, B176 from 12pm – 1pm. Please email hrights@queensu.ca to confirm your attendance.


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