Law Day puts focus on fun and family law

NANAIMO – Law Day events feature fun mock trial and exhibits, but put special emphasis on the new family law legislation.

Judicial and legal staff, sheriffs and emergency services will host activities and exhibits at Nanaimo courthouse for children to get their first experience with the judicial system and adults who want to learn more about legal issues.

Law Daw in Nanaimo is celebrated on April 5 as part of Law Week, held annually across Canada to celebrate the signing of Canada’s Charter of Rights and Freedoms. The theme for Law Week 2014 is Access to Justice: What does it mean to you?

As with previous Law Day celebrations, one of the highlights of the day for children is the mock trial, where fairy tale characters bring there grievances before the court in search of justice over misdeeds.

“This year’s mock trial will be the Three Little Pigs,” said Laura Taylor, family law lawyer and one of several Law Day event organizers.

Staff will host tours of the courthouse library and B.C. Sheriff Services will guide visitors through sheriff vans and court house cells.

Nanaimo RCMP Police Dog Services demonstration will put dogs and their handlers through their paces tracking down bad guys and sniffing out contraband.

Nanaimo RMCP will also hold a seminar dealing with the facts and current concerns of drugs on the streets of Nanaimo, plus a demonstration dealing with impaired driving where visitors can strap on a pair of vision impairment goggles and experience how a breath analyzer detects blood alcohol levels.

It’s only appropriate at a Law Day family event to have a panel of experts on hand to review revisions to the new Family Law Act that came into effect in March 2013.

“The theme of this year is family violence – physical, emotional and financial,” Taylor said. “What the panel’s going to be talking about is their experiences over the past year, with respect to the violence provisions of the new Family Law Act and how they’ve been interpreted and applied.”

The act has broadened the interpretation of family violence, but also removes the adversarial nature of dissolving a marital relationship.

Michelle Kinney, one of the architects the New Family Law Act, will be among the panel members along with Supreme Court Justice Robin Bard and Michael Elterman, a clinical and forensic psychologist from Vancouver, plus a provincial court judge to be announced. Each panel member will speak for five to 10 minutes on their experiences with the new act.

“There’s a new focus on trying to settle family disputes out of court,” Kinney said. “One of the reasons for that is, really, the adversarial system doesn’t work for families that have to maintain relationships over time. It just pits them against each other.”

The new act provisions are designed to help families find collaborative solutions to work together after separation. It’s especially important for children whose worlds can be torn apart by relationship break ups.

“So we’ve stopped talking about custody and access, which give a sort of win-lose kind of perspective to family law,” Kinney said. “So we’ve changed that and changed all the language so it’s much more collaborative to start. We’re talking about parenting arrangements. Parents were both guardians of their children before separation and they’re both guardians after separation and they have ‘parental responsibilities’ and ‘parenting time’ instead of ‘custody’ and ‘access.'”

The concept of family violence has also taken on broader scope to even include situations regarding support payments in cases where one parent threatens non-payment or uses support payment to manipulate, coerce or control the other parent.

Property division is also addressed by the new act. It now applies to common law relationships and recognizes ownership of personal property prior to starting the relationship versus property and debt accrued during the relationship.

“You keep what you came into the relationship with and you share what accrues during the relationship unless you make an agreement otherwise,” Kinney said.

With a focus on families and access to family law, organizers are hoping for a big turnout at the courthouse.

“It’s an event geared to all ages and we’re really hoping the community comes out so they can participate in the demonstrations and activities that we have to offer,” Taylor said.

Law Day events happen at Nanaimo courthouse 10 a.m. to 2:30 p.m.