Response to AFCC-Ontario’s Comments on the Bonkalo Report
Submitted By Bernie Mayer
June 28, 2017 (Revised, August 10, 2017)
I want to thank the AFCC-O Board for providing me an opportunity to respond to the Chapter’s statement on the Bonkalo report. Those of you who heard my talk at the AFCC Annual Conference in Boston will not be surprised that I was very disappointed in the statement. I would like to share why I was disappointed but most importantly to suggest that we find an opportunity to engage with our members in a discussion about the very serious issues that I believe are at stake here for our membership, the general public, and our legal system.
I have three overriding concerns with the Chapter’s Comments:
Some of your specific suggestions and reservations are legitimate, of course, and deserve attention. Establishing effective systems of triage is an important goal, for example, as is the establishment of clear training standards. But worthy though these might be, they are not a meaningful response to the crisis highlighted by the Bonkalo review. I am quite concerned that the response of the AFCC-Ontario, together with that of other professional organizations, will contribute, to the defeat or at least the delay of a potentially valuable reform of the system.
Of course the increased use of paraprofessionals is only one element of what needs to be addressed, but it is representative of a much larger problem. The legal profession has created a monopoly in many arenas, and as with all monopolies, this has resulted in higher costs and poorer services.
What I would have liked to have seen was for AFCC-Ontario to embrace the true scope of the problem, to recognize the massive failure of the legal profession to face its role in creating this problem, to welcome the major thrust (if not all the specifics) of the Bonkalo report, to offer to help to work out implementation details, and to do so in a way that would expand service options rather than throwing bureaucratic obstacles in their way. Of course, AFCC-Ontario, the Ontario Bar, and the legal profession in general are not alone in resisting the entry of paraprofessionals and others who are not a member of their guild. We see the same resistance of many in the medical profession to the role of nurse practitioners and physician’s assistants, of psychologists to the role of other mental health professionals, and the list goes on. However, I would have hoped that a multi-disciplinary organization like AFCC–Ontario would take a more socially constructive approach to this.
I know my view on this is not shared by many of the Chapter’s members and most assuredly not by the majority of the Ontario Family Bar. But it is certainly held by many who have studied the problem and by large numbers of the (increasingly frustrated) general public. I would welcome further discussions, dialogue or interchange about this. I think we could use our very disagreements as a basis on which to engage the membership in a serious discussion of the systemic problems we face in providing services to Ontario’s families.
I value the work of AFCC-Ontario, and the important services its members offer. I would like to see AFCC-Ontario on the side of trying to address the critical issues of access to justice and helping families who cannot afford legal services as currently structured, rather than on the side of defending the status quo. I hope that we can still find a way forward to do so.
 Bernie Mayer, Ph.D., is a Professor of Negotiation and Conflict Resolution at Creighton University. Bernie is a longtime member of the AFCC and is a member of the AFCC-O Chapter. He is a founding Partner of CDR Associates, and has been a mediator and conflict specialist for over 35 years. Bernie’s latest book (2015) is The Conflict Paradox, Seven Dilemmas at the Core of Disputes. Earlier books include: The Dynamics of Conflict, Beyond Neutrality, and Staying With Conflict. Bernie received the 2015 John Haynes Distinguished Mediator Award, presented by the Association for Conflict Resolution and the 2013 President’s Award presented by the Association of Family Conciliation Courts. Bernie delivered one of the keynote speeches at the AFCC Annual Conference in Boston. He lives in Kingsville, Ontario. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.