Archive for December, 2006

Podcast #2, featuring Carol McEown and Lois Gander

December 18, 2006

For the second in my series of podcasts on Canadian public legal education, I have an interview with two well-known and long-time PLE practitioners: Carol McEown, recently retired manager of public legal education services at the Legal Services Society of BC, and Lois Gander, Director of the Legal Studies Program at the University of Alberta. This turned out to be a sweeping, forty-minute discussion about the evolution of PLE in Canada, its radical origins and empowering possibilities, and a host of other topics. Here are two quotes to give a taste:

I absolutely grew up believing that the law belonged to me … to use and to challenge and to make work for my community. —Carol McEown

We have gone away from the idea that the public are citizens and have any ownership of the law or the processes … I think we’ve got to get away from the “consumer” mentality. —Lois Gander

The podcast is available as an mp3, which you can download by clicking here. If you have any trouble with the file, or any comments on the content, let me know by clicking on the “Comments” link, below.

Defining PLE: more help from health education

December 14, 2006

I have spent the past hour indulging myself in some basic materials from the field of public health education, a field I spotlighted back in October. In particular, I’ve been reading through a basic health education textbook, which starts out—appropriately—with a definition of the field.

In Canada, there is no settled definition of “public legal education.” In fact, there have been ideological battles fought over its meaning and not even a tattered consensus has emerged. Lois Gander arrived at a functional definition by deconstructing the term in her article The Changing Face of Public Legal Education in Canada, News & Views on Civil Justice Reform, Summer 2003, at 4 (PDF). Still, there is no accepted definition that all of the many PLE providers in Canada can rally under.

The much more well-developed (and well-funded) fields of health education and promotion can help, perhaps. Intensive efforts, like the American Association of Health Education‘s Joint Committee on Health Education and Health Promotion Terminology and a World Health Organization health education glossary project, have produced standard definitions that are widely used in those fields. For instance:

health education—“any combination of planned learning experiences based on sound theories that provide individuals, groups, and communities the opportunity to acquire information and the skills needed to make quality health decisions” (Joint Committee on Health Education and Health Education Terminology).

health education—“comprises consciously constructed opportunities for learning involving some form of communication designed to improve health literacy, including improving knowledge and developing life skills which are conducive to individual and community health” (World Health Organization Health Promotion Glossary (PDF)).

health literacy—“represents the cognitive and social skills which determine the motivation and ability of individuals to gain access to, understand and use information in ways which promote and maintain good health” (World Health Organization Health Promotion Glossary (PDF)).

I wonder if these be adjusted slightly (to reflect the legal subject area) and work as basic definitions in the PLE field. How accurate is this try?

Public legal education comprises consciously constructed opportunities for learning involving some form of communication to improve legal literacy, including improving knowledge and developing life skills that enable individuals, groups, and communities to make quality legal decisions.

Law Courts Education Society: history and programming

December 12, 2006

This is the second in a series of histories of major public legal education organizations in Canada. The first looked at the People’s Law School; today, I cover the other sole-purpose PLE organization in BC, the Law Courts Education Society.


The Law Courts Education Society (LCES) has been a sole-purpose public legal education (PLE) provider since 1989, and before that had been a dedicated PLE program of the Courts of British Columbia since 1979. Today, LCES maintains an enormous palette of programs and projects, centered around court visits, classes, and workshops for students and the community. The Society’s work also includes in-school programs, publications and videos, collaboration on a drop-in self-help centre for self-represented litigants, and both Canada-wide and international projects.

Street view of the LCES classroom in the downtown Vancouver Provincial Courts building (click to enlarge)
LCES downtown Vancouver classroom, view from Howe Street

In 1979, upon the completion of a new courts complex in Vancouver, the British Columbia courts agreed to collaborate with the BC Ministry of the Attorney General (MAG) on a three-year experimental program to use the law courts to build public understanding of law in the province. The three-year project, enjoying the financial and administrative support of the Court Services Branch of the MAG and the advisory assistance of the BC judiciary, grew quickly to become a successful program. Indeed, the program’s success carried it long past the initial three-year pilot period, and by 1989 it had brought over 150,000 people into the BC courts to learn about the Canadian justice system. Major projects during this time included PLE programming for upper- and intermediate-level school students, mock trials, and special publications and events for non-English-speaking and multicultural communities.

Read the rest of this entry »

Audio from the field: Podcast #1, featuring Gordon Hardy

December 6, 2006

podcast.gifOne of the artifacts I picked up from my November site visits in Vancouver was a “for air” interview with Gordon Hardy, Executive Director of the People’s Law School. Rather than try to describe it, I hope you’ll listen to it. It is the first “podcast” in a series that I hope to present through this blog.

It is an mp3 file, and you can download it by clicking here. It runs a little over twenty minutes. Let me know by email if you have any trouble opening or hearing the file.