By Gail L. Gatchalian

The Honourable Pam Williams, Chief Judge of the Provincial and Family Courts of Nova Scotia, will be speaking at the annual Canadian Association for the Practical Study of Law (CAPSLE) conference taking place in Halifax from April 29 to May 1, 2018. Chief Judge Williams will be speaking about Programmatic Responses to Injustice: Implications for Educators, with Halifax-based Social Worker and Sociologist, Robert Wright. I asked Chief Judge Williams to tell us a little about her experience working with law students, why she accepted our invitation to speak, to give us a hint about what she plans to speak about, and some thoughts about what to do while in Halifax:

  1. Before becoming a judge, you spent 18 years as a staff lawyer and then as a managing lawyer with Nova Scotia Legal Aid. During that time, you must have supervised and mentored a number of law students. How did that experience shape who you are today?

Students, law students and young lawyers have such energy, curiosity and passion.  And it is contagious.  I have always welcomed the opportunity to be in their presence, learn from them and apply those ‘teachings’ in my every day work.

  1. We were so pleased when you agreed to speak at the CAPLSE Halifax conference, a conference that brings together teachers, education faculty, school board and government representatives, teacher associations, and lawyers practicing in the education sector. Why did you accept the invitation to speak to this audience?

I welcome the opportunity to share thoughts on the collaborative problem-solving, therapeutic and restorative aspects of the NS Mental Health Court.  I believe these holistic approaches can be adapted to enhance the work in other fields.

  1. In addition to being Chief Judge of the Provincial and Family Courts of Nova Scotia, you preside over the Mental Health Court and the Opiate Treatment Court in Dartmouth. Is the approach of those courts different that those of traditional courts?

Absolutely.  As mentioned above, it is a collaborative, multi-disciplinary approach to addressing the needs of people struggling with mental health and addictions issues which cause them to come into conflict with the law.   We know that the traditional criminal justice system is often ill-equipped to deal with these concerns.  Many of these folks are marginalized and suffer from trauma, either related to childhood events or systemic racialized discrimination.  It is important to apply a trauma informed and recovery focused lens.

  1. Can you give us a hint about what you will be saying about education and justice at the upcoming CAPSLE Conference, and why it should be of interest to those working in the education system?

I hope to share the benefits of client-centered and student-centered approaches to wellness and education.

  1. You have lived in Halifax for many years. Is there one particular thing that you would recommend conference attendees do or see when they are here?

I don’t actually live in the city but I know that Halifax has a multitude of fabulous restaurants.  And Neptune Theatre offers an opportunity to catch a play.