Suzanne Williams—In the Spotlight

Practice Point

Suzanne Williams—In the Spotlight

March 2020

This month’s spotlight is on our long-time contributor Suzanne Williams of Brown Henderson Melbye. Suzanne chairs CLEBC’s Access to Justice for Children Conference on March 6, 2020.

How did you first get involved with CLEBC?

Ron Friesen (formerly of CLEBC) attended an international experts’ session in the early 2000s for Meaningful Child Participation in Family Justice Processes, an initiative I led with the International Institute for Child Rights and Development (IICRD) concerning the gap between the law that says children’s views will be heard in decisions that affect them and what actually happens in practice. One of the recommended actions to bridge the gap between law and practice was training justice professionals working with children and this led to the launch of the CLEBC – IICRD Meaningful Child Participation in Family Justice Processes program in 2007, followed the Hear the Child program and interview trainings, and more recently the CLEBC Access to Justice for Children Conferences.

What are you currently working on (or have most recently worked on) with CLEBC?

The third Access to Justice for Children Conference on March 6, 2020 in Vancouver. The focus this time is on helping participants better implement the best interests of the child in their practices with special consideration of children’s healthy development, non-discrimination, and child participation. I am honoured to co-chair this Conference for the third time with the Honourable Justice Donna J. Martinson, KC (retired), and the first time with Halie Kwanxwa’loga Bruce, Cedar and Sage Law. We also have the expertise and dedication of CLEBC Program Lawyer Teresa Sheward who has been involved with all of the Children’s CLEBC programs I have chaired over the years.

How did you decide to practice in family law?

I decided to move away from international work due to family responsibilities, and wanted to draw on as much of my career experience as possible: traditional legal practice including civil and commercial litigation, and aboriginal and administrative law as well as child rights and development expertise. Family law offers this, along with meaningful work and a terrific group of colleagues at Brown Henderson Melbye who all focus solely on family law.

You have been involved in numerous initiatives that have centred around advancing the rights and wellbeing of children.  What inspired you to focus in this area?

I’m not entirely sure but I initially volunteered with UNICEF in the 1990’s because I was drawn to international human rights, and was a political assistant for the federal Minister of Health and Welfare in Ottawa in 1989 when he had the then new UN Convention on the Rights of the Child file. Since then, I have been fortunate to hear from and work with young people from many countries and backgrounds and every time my belief that young people have valuable words to share and contributions to make to better not just them, but all of us, is affirmed. How can one not be inspired?!

What has been the most rewarding part of your career?

That sounds so final. I think the most rewarding thing is the wide variety of experiences I have had, across legal domains, geography, work environments, clients, colleagues, and scope.

You will soon be introducing the low bono/pro bono collaborative law initiative to Victoria.  Can you tell us more about that? 

I am helping the Association of Collaborative Family Separation Professionals build on and adapt the collaborative family law model the BC Collaborative Roster Society developed in Vancouver so it can be adapted and offered to families in Victoria. It is very important work given that collaborative law is one of the consensual dispute resolution options that people can be referred to under the BC Provincial Court Early Resolution program being piloted for family law cases in Victoria, and is one of the few dispute resolution options that prioritizes the best interests of the child with support from a child specialist.

Other than law, what are you passionate about?

At this stage of life my family is the main passion outside work, young and old, furry and not so furry, along with music of all sorts and current affairs.