I have a particular fondness for the court at 311 Jarvis St in Toronto. As a young family lawyer, it was where I felt most at home. The judges were kind and down-to-earth, completely committed to family law, compassionate and no-nonsense. They were gracious to those of us who didn’t always know what they were doing. Having come from a civil litigation background, where young lawyers were practically eaten for lunch by the masters at 145 Queen St., 311 Jarvis was a little slice of heaven.
Over the years, it has been the source of much innovation. The iconic 311 Jarvis Family Court Clinic launched much of what is still the best thinking in resolving family law matters involving mental health challenges, high conflict and domestic violence. Many of today’s leaders in mediation, parenting coordination, custody and access assessments, voice of the child reports and judge-led case management often reflect fondly on the multi-disciplinary innovations they pioneered there back in the 80s.
Today, mediate393 provides court-connected family mediation at 311 Jarvis St. I have the pleasure of working in a court that houses the Integrated Domestic Violence Court, child protection court and the kind of family law matters I used to litigate there. I attend bench and bar meetings where members of the broad community that supports families, youth and those in conflict gather to share ideas: PeaceBuilders International, Aboriginal Legal Services, the police, domestic violence support workers, Family Lawyers Association, Legal Aid Ontario, committed court staff, and some of the best judges I have known, people who have committed their professional lives to helping families.
311 Jarvis also is one of the most interesting court houses from an architectural perspective. I love the curvy front, the many tiny windows, the art deco-style murals, the gorgeous granite tiles and the way organizations and agencies use art to say who they are.
It is popular these days to criticize courts and judges; to claim that the family law system is “broken”. To tell people that going to court should be your very last option, and that somehow you must be a loser if you opt for court.
Those of us who work in or are connected to the courts see something completely different: a community of skilled and qualified professionals working very hard to help families, accessing free or subsidized resources from mediation to legal advice to support families in need. Court houses like 311 Jarvis are hubs of excellence, commitment and professionalism. Those who tell you that “all courts are bad” have clearly never been to this one.