On the Cutting Edge of DR – A Reflection on the 2015 BCAMI Symposium

by Julie Daum.

Photo of Julie Daum
Julie Daum

I have recently returned from the 2015 BCAMI Symposium “On the Cutting Edge of Dispute Resolution” in Vancouver on June 8 & 9th at the Morris J. Wosk Centre for Dialogue, Simon Fraser University on Coast Salish ancestral territory.

As a mediator living in the North-Central BC, I was excited to have an opportunity to meet other mediators, arbitrators and other “-ators” (The term “-ators” became a running joke at the Symposium for the multiple roles of the DR professional: mediator, arbitrator, facilitator. You get the idea.) and catch up with colleagues, acquaintances and friends. The BCAMI Symposium fulfilled my hopes to do this very well.

I wanted to share some of my experiences, impressions, thoughts and take-aways of the BCAMI Symposium. You may also be interested in viewing the complete schedule of speakers and topics and the presentation materials. I’ve written below on a few of the sessions I attended. That said, my opinions are my own and while expressed here, they may change over time.

I arrived early on the Monday morning knowing that the Symposium was sold out and anticipated a busy registration desk and wanted to get a good seat. I was not disappointed as the Morris J. Wosk Centre for Dialogue is beautifully laid out with hardly a bad seat in the Asia Pacific Hall where the keynote speaker and the introductory panel were scheduled.

Setting the Tone

Keynote speaker Geoff Plant, Q.C. opened his talk Whither ADR? Some thoughts on the Supreme Court of Canada’s View of the Constitution and Access to Justice with some words of caution in the pursuit of justice reform in Canada. A couple of recent Supreme Court decisions may have inadvertently erected barriers reinforcing traditional views. The decisions were not meant to limit ADR processes but may have negative consequences. He lauded the symposium participants on the work done so far in reforming the justice system by providing options to the public for resolving disputes and therefore increasing access to justice, but also noted the work isn’t done yet. We need to encourage access for the public and innovations need to be designed to meet the needs of the citizens rather than the needs of courts and public institutions.

It was a good reminder of the importance of the work we do and the impact on Canadian society. It also served as a motivator to keep innovating and designing processes for people that work. It awakened some big questions for me about access to justice: we need to work not just on meeting the needs of the public but having dispute resolution professionals that are reflective of the public. This would mean much more diversity.

The Meat & Potatoes

Med-Arb: The Delicate Art of Combining the Best of Two Worlds; Chair: Elton Simoes, MDF, MBA, Q.Arb., Q.Med.; Speakers: The Honourable Wally Oppal, QC, Gordon Sloan, M. Scott Siemends, C.Med., FICB

In Med-Arb: The Delicate Art of Combining the Best of Two Worlds, the panel started with opening remarks about the practice of Med-Arb that helped my understanding of the practice and some of the benefits. It also raised some questions that need to be answered about the combination of mediation and arbitration. Scott Siemens shared his experience with community designed Med-Arb process in Rwanda and Wally Oppal re-iterated the need to design processes that work for the people and are flexible in having a variety of user-friendly approaches. Gordon Sloan disagreed with the other panelists stating that it was an access to decision-making issue, not access to justice issue. To empower people it is the participants who need to be making the decisions and are therefore more likely to follow-through on them. He further argued that mediations fail due to lack of good process, and instead of switching to arbitration when a mediation fails, that we dig deeper to help the participants find their own resolution.

The discussion about some of the challenges of Med-Arb and how to resolve them, like when do you switch from mediation to arbitration? Who makes the decision to switch? How do you switch from mediation to arbitration? Do you approach a Med-Arb differently from just a mediation, and why? These stimulated thoughts that we need to continually challenge and be critical of our own processes. When do we design or engage processes because they work for us? When is it best for our clients?

Workplace Mediation; Chair: Jerome Dickey, BC, CHRP; Speakers: Jean Greatbatch, Brenda Hooper, C.Med., Roy Johnson

The Workplace Mediation panel was another diverse panel with three different approaches to workplace mediation. Brenda Hooper views the workplace like a family system and offers conflict management coaching as well as workplace mediation. Jean Greatbatch brings a restorative element to her multi-faceted workplace practice. Roy Johnson, who works with other dispute resolution professionals that offer different services to organizations, brought forward The Top 5 Ways to Waste Everyone’s Time in Workplace Mediation. A common theme from the panelists, and excellently summed up in #3 of Roy’s list, was:

#3 -Want to Fix Everything. Mediation is not a cure, it is just a tool. If we are not discussing how to make sure progress is sustained, we are wasting time.

This point was mentioned earlier in the day during the session on designing processes as well. We need to be helping clients to restructure their organizations and build skills to prevent and resolve their conflict. The speakers outlined the importance of going to root cause of the conflict. Jean Greatbatch compared it to having a cleaner come to your house. If you don’t have a good system of storage, organization, and basic cleaning skills, then the house will soon be the same mess it was before the cleaner. We could encourage an addiction to our services but it wouldn’t be beneficial for the clients, or our reputations.

I want to check out Roy Johnson’s book he wrote with his colleague Larry Axelrod, “Turning Conflict into Profit”.[i]

How to Deal with High Conflict Personalities; Chair: Jerome Dickey, BC, CHRP; Speakers: Michael Lomax, Bob Finlay, Craig Neville

The How to Deal with High Conflict Personalities session was structured so that the chair asked a question and the three panelists answered the questions and had roughly equal speaking time and we got to hear from three experienced practitioners. Among some of the great tips for dealing with participants who exhibit the behaviors and traits of someone with High Conflict Personality Disorder, the speakers spoke about how they manage themselves in the process:

  • managing your expectations,
  • acknowledging our interest as mediators in success, and
  • self-care.

I appreciated the focus on observable behavior and not expecting participants to change, but focusing on the future and the specific goals of the mediation, and passing the ball of responsibility to the HCP instead of carrying it ourselves. I was relieved to hear about the necessity of self-care including regular vacations and how we need to continually do our own work in order to help provide participants with clarity regarding their conflict. I found some motivation to get busy planning my family’s next adventure to make our first trip to the Caribbean at Christmas, and eliminate the guilt about taking time off to recharge and refresh myself!

Access to Dispute Resolution: fromADR to DR; Chair: Assunta De Ciantis; Speakers: Geoff Plant, QC, Carol Baird Ella, Kathleen Bellamano

In the final session, Access to Dispute Resolution: from ADR to DR, we heard about the challenges of providing cost effective processes and services to the public and some ways Kathleen Bellamano found to help clients access those services. We also heard about the obstacle-ridden path that former Provincial Court Judge Carol Baird Ellan found as she left the bench to attempt to provide low-cost dispute resolution services to clients. Ultimately she has not yet been successful in that endeavor and her tale was a cautionary one, lest we congratulate ourselves too soon that we are making mediation and arbitration accessible and affordable for the public.

Final Thoughts

As I left the Symposium my mind was awash with thoughts of how I can improve my own practice as mediator, and the larger questions of justice, access and affordability. I also came away considering how to support opportunities to ensure we have a broad and diverse array of practitioners in order to provide the public with choices to assist them when they need to make important decisions in their lives.

I also left renewing old friendships and with a handful of business cards from those I just met.

My sincere thanks to BCAMI and the Planning Committee (Assunta De Ciantis, Elton Simoes, Bob Springer, Diane Tucket, Lee Turnbull, Gareth Keane, Jerome Dickey, Peter Austin, Brenda Hooper, Kari Boyle) for organizing the 2015 BACMI Symposium. I’d also like to thank Royal Roads University and the cooperating entities ADR Institute of Canada, ADR Institute of Alberta, Justice Institute of BC and Mediate BC for their sponsorship and support of the 2015 BCAMI Symposium.

[i] [Editor’s note: “Turning Conflict Into Profit” is available to Mediate BC Roster mediators through the Roster Lending Library.]

Julie Daum is a Child Protection Roster mediator, facilitator and conflict resolution coach and instructor from Fraser Lake. Julie has been a mentor with the Child Protection Mediation Practicum, and currently focuses on developing culturally appropriate practices for working with First Nations families and communities. She is a member of the Wet’suwet’en First Nation and belongs to the Frog Clan.

The opinions expressed in this post are those of the guest blogger and not reflective of the opinion of the Mediate BC Society or any of its affiliates. Disclosure: Mediate BC was a “cooperating entity” for the 2015 BCAMI Symposium.

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