Cuba 2016 – Challenging Our Thinking about Change

Cuba 2016 – Challenging Our Thinking about Change

I have just returned from a week spent driving around Cuba, exploring small towns and big cities, and staying in people’s homes. In 2016, this is a country of enormous deprivation, colossal pride, and bubbling optimism.

This may be an embarrassing disclosure of how preoccupied I am with thinking about access to justice issues – but trying to better understand Cuba, as it emerges from 50 years of isolation and poverty, gave me some new ways to think about our access to justice challenges in Canada.

Everything is not as it appears

There are derelict – some beautiful colonial and art deco, others drab communist-style – buildings everywhere in Cuba. Parts of Havana, in particular, look like a war zone. Roads have the biggest potholes I have seen outside of Southeast Asia (and Detroit). The infrastructure of the country looks, on a first and second glance, chronically impoverished.

But everywhere, behind crumbling and even wrecked facades, there are signs of individual initiative and collective energy. Look past the devastated exteriors and you see lovingly furnished family sitting rooms, schools and daycares full of children in immaculate school uniforms, and all manner of small businesses (the consequence of Raul Castro’s liberalization).

I did not step into a Cuban courthouse and make no comparisons. But I am painfully aware that if I were to bring a lawyer or judge from Cuba, or any another country, to look at our Canadian justice system, a lot would appear chaotic and wretched on first view.

Our courthouses are currently crowded with helpless, confused, and sometimes desperate people without adequate representation or advocacy. Court registries are full of people waiting with little or no idea of what to do next, how to access the remedies they seek, or even what those remedies might be. In the courtroom, self-rep after self-rep stands and tries to make their case – the judge listens patiently, or not so patiently – and so often the process ends badly for them.

Yet we all know of amazing and even heroic efforts to change this experience. Court services staff, individual lawyers and judges, and programs all offer real assistance that recognizes the vulnerability and helplessness of SRLs. We try to showcase these initiatives at NSRLP (click here for examples). And their numbers are growing.

For example – a big uptick in the number of lawyers stepping up to offer unbundled and legal coaching services for SRLs, and the huge increase in the number of enquiries they are receiving following the recent CBC documentary, The New Litigants. Until very recently, this was not something visible from “outside” the system, looking in. This year, perhaps we can achieve a real break-through in both the provision of, and participation in, legal coaching services.

To do so, we need to show people where to look for the hidden gems inside the dilapidated exterior of the Canadian justice system.

Procedural rights and citizen power

After four years of working on what I consider to be the primary access to justice issue – forced self-representation – I can see layers of this complex phenomenon that were invisible to me when I began.

A legal system run and operated by judges and lawyers affords the public procedural rights via their expertise and good offices. Individual rights are facilitated and realized by system insiders or experts. These experts stand between the litigant, and their direct experience of the system.

This is no longer the reality of the majority of litigants in family courts, and a sizeable proportion of those in civil courts. Individual litigant experience is now unmediated. Instead self-represented litigants experience all the unfairness, frustration, complexity, delay and trauma of the process face-on.

The emperor has no clothes, these SRLs are telling me. I hear “how can it be like this?” hundreds of times over.

In Cuba, just as in communist Eastern Europe at the end of the 20th century, citizens are beginning to assert entitlements to procedural rights. Because as one person put it to me, “If the government gives us everything, we have no right to complain. If we give money to the government, we have a right to complain.”

In a similar way, a new consciousness of procedural rights is changing the mentality of many users of the Canadian justice system. For better or worse, access to justice is no longer delivered to users by experts. In 2016 users are directly seeking access to justice.

This changes everything. Many SRLs feel that they have a right to complain if a public system does not allow them practical and effective access. This is not about winning – it is about fairness and access.

And, just as one suspects must be happening in Cuba, the system may take some time to adjust to the idea of citizen power expressed in this way.

Change is hard – and systemic change the hardest of all

Cubans are still reticent to talk openly about politics, but many acknowledge that change is happening and it is welcomed. In these conversations there is also the recognition that change will be difficult, requiring significant new thinking that challenges the old order. This is a society that is just coming to terms with the idea that people can – even should – have differences of opinion. Along with excitement and hope, there is also fear of the unknown and how changes will affect the identity of Cuba and its people, domestically and abroad.

Even once the principle of change is agreed upon, it takes time – and resources, and patience, and copious amounts of both optimism and energy – to implement system change. For example, billing for utilities like water and electricity has recently been introduced in Cuba – but most homes are not metered, so the bills are for trifling amounts.

We have to be ready to embrace significant new thinking about the Canadian justice system as a shared public good. This includes who owns it, and who owes what to whom. The old order is changing and will never return. We must expect our own share of conflict, failures, recriminations and division. But like Cuba, there are already many signs of hope.

In 2016, after 57 years of single party rule and isolation, Cuba is facing its challenges. Surely in a country with enviable democratic traditions and standards of justice, Canada can do the same?

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Comments (5)

  • Delmer O. B. Martin

    What an awesome honest blunt article Julie. Real freedom comes from speaking pure truth! YES, it all comes down to who is serving whom! Not only does the emperor have no clothes on but he/she is extremely unattractive AND has a bad attitude! Ms. Sandra Olson stated previously that “self represented litigants go home broken and broke” and I agree, however contrary to what we are being led to believe, the system was broke and broken BEFORE we arrived as self represented litigants. Our past style of democracy in Canada was put in place by the very control freaks while posing as our saviours. Most people do not even realize that we do dot have constitutional property rights in Canada, thanks to the first Trudeau government. In our democratic reality, 51% can control what the other 49% are forced to do and the very same elite who are in control of both sides of any major debate always have a “reform” ready for whichever side wins. The most modern CURSE that has been thrust upon us is political correctness! Political correctness is an insult to our intelligence! As for me I am convinced that our systemS need to be turned upside down AND inside out. We desperately need real public servants and NOT leaders! Every one of these people already know who they are and it is time for a large majority to wake up and face “the leaders” head on and force them to become servants or remove them from office. We absolutely must have a “change of heart revolution” in our leaders hearts! and Or they must be replaced! 1. We the people must stop being slaves and 2. We the people must realize that it only took a small percentage of the elite style leadership to put us into bondage and NOW it would only take a small percentage to set us free, “1776”…Just imagine what would/will happen if/when the major majority actually wake up and take control. As for me I used to be on the inside of the system but I woke up to the truth many years ago (and found out I could NOT change things all by myself) and ever since, I find that the more I can be separated from the systems the more free and happy I am. The good news is I refused to allow the system to break me or make me broke and I do recognize some commentators on this site who I would be proud to associate with, whether it be because of their resources and or simply the fact that they are truth and justice seekers who refuse to be slaves of corrupt systems. I hate the “grey area’s” of distraction, I prefer to focus on black and white, everything can be discerned to be either good OR evil. NEVER GIVE UP JULIE! No matter what happens Truth = Freedom

    January 14, 2016 at 5:18 pm
  • Larry E Doucet

    Having had my house stolen by a very crooked department of Justice which only work for the very rich I was charged multiple time for like taking shrub of my driveway twice,was charged for a RCMP officer for telling to get out of my house and not return and shaking his book at me and asking which color I wanted,and also charge for going to my mailbox to get my mail on my own driveway name it’s was like the old Wild West on my land I paid for someone else wrong doing which I mention and all the politicians knows about this up to the minister of justice for Nova Sctia at the time Ross Landry said he had called me multiple times by a letter sent by then Harold Theriault I stopped a bunch of outlays from cooking oil running on my land downhill from my house,and doing all kinds of thinks on the property of the Royal bank ,what I done I call the environment and had that brought to a stop then I called the Royal Bank for the things they were all doing on their property the judge which I spent three weeks in jail for someone else wrongdoing his name is Frank Muise who was named Supreme Court judge right after my trail without delay o also Lyod Lombard crown prosecuter they lied for two days in the courtroom and showing the judge pictures of what these people were up to.
    I made numerous complaint to the RCMP complaint board but their QC or crimal lawyers contradicted everthing complaint I made.
    The last police officer to come to my place was Phil Barrett last man to come to my place I’m sure he’s got something to do with this kicking out he should be immediately with all the rest they should all be jailed or perhaps hung by the neck for there coverup.
    The RCMP knew at all times what was going on but it was easier to blame one person than a dozen outlaws I was harassed bullied tortured
    these people in the Department of crooks they all cover themselfs because they all protect one another can’t even start telling you all they done to me,next door to me there were drunks who drank everyday and they were mostly all involved now I was robbed of a 100,000$$$ so what are you going to do about it,if I want to get jstice I got to hire another lawyer I know what was going on the judge nice a lawyer wanted to give one off his buddies I say10,000 dollars to one of his buddies just like when someone is caugh drunk 10,000$$ they go free who gets to keep all this money or perhaps there are a lot of cash money,you can’t prove anything they all work as one and light the RCMP which I had one on the stand he didn’t mind lying under oath there all members or should I say members of the lyers club I could on all day,they had a biodiesel business downhill fro my place and covering up every night a truck load of cooking oil they brought everyday name it they done it.
    What worse the RCMP the first morning of my trial I was looking out the window of the Annpolis Royal courthouse what do I see the RCMP talking to these criooks they I’m sure wanted to know if I had a lawyer when they learned I didn’t they must have got quite the kick.
    I called the RCMP multiple times for help after hey were in my backyard and torchery me until I call the RCMP and they know and laugh at it.
    They smoke me for three years on purpose by burning garbage in a barrel calling the RCMP quite a few times they didn’t do nothing till the final day I almost ready to go to court they warned them that they could only burn for cooking,now you think we can trust these people in our justice system a bunch of communist dictators whom decide there going to take the law in their own hands and do what they want to do,I was handcuff in the back of a police car ones the handcuff were cutting my wrist right to the bone telling multiple times they didn’t stop I had scares on my wrist for a month or more,so if you really want to do something get an enquiy of RCMP brutality and fewer more they can use the taxpayers money to hire the best of lawyers to find you guilty if your innocent ,I heard that the judges were immune from prosecution as long as this keeps going on it’s not going to stop all the dare about is there big fat pension,they also control the media and media which really makes this a communism.
    If you want to know more I tell you more of there capers I suppose your going to cover it up also half way of my trail Lyod Lombard took me in a room and said I must do what I must do,I knew then what this crook Lyod Lombard meant,I shouldn’t have to hire a lawyer to live on my own land in Canada do something to show the world what a bunch of people can turn like the ones that started the Second World War,Larry

    January 14, 2016 at 8:02 pm
  • Allen

    Well said and in Canada better is always possible. What is more ordinary Canadians only want the best for this country

    January 14, 2016 at 10:44 pm
  • globalist1

    Legal representation should be basic human right and provided free of charge to all citizens. TS

    January 25, 2016 at 12:50 pm
    • Delmer O. B. Martin

      The elite /privileged and most of the time government will always have the better lawyers and hence the most access to knowledge and procedures.

      How about this , in an all legal aid system such as stated above in the comments each party should nominate/pick the adversaries lawyer and not their own. Ironically most of you may chuckle at first blush however in fact this would be more fair than things are nowadays.

      January 25, 2016 at 4:52 pm

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