A Site Update and a Look Ahead

Mark Boudreau Head ShotHello! I just wanted to give everyone a quick update on what is happening with Progressive Lawyer and my plans moving forward.

After a considerable amount of research, soul searching and feedback from interviews I have done, I will be rebooting Progressive Lawyer in the first quarter of 2016 to become more of a directory and less of a blog. This change will enhance Progressive Lawyer and enable it to become a better tool and resource for progressive law students and lawyers looking for information on:

  • NGO and Advocacy Groups
  • Progressive Law Firms and Offices
  • Intergovernmental Organizations
  • Professional Organizations
  • Law School Legal Clinics active in progressive legal matters
  • Progressive Legal Events

Technically there is a lot to do to bring this up to speed. This will be a hand-crafted set up (no automation here!) so the site will grow as the weeks and months go on as I add listings. Hopefully it will become a valued resource to the progressive legal community.

The Blog will continue as part of the directory and I have a lot of ideas for additions to the site but the focus will be on the directory to start.

And don’t forget to follow the Progressive Lawyer Twitter feed @proglawyer. It is updated multiple times a day with fascinating legal tweets for and about the progressive legal community.

Thank you so much for your continued support of Progressive Lawyer. If you have any suggestions for organizations, events or just want to get involved please to not hesitate to contact me at mark(at)progressivelawyer(dot)com.


Mark Boudreau LL.B

The Early Release of an ICC Convict: the Groundbreaking Lubanga case

When on 1 December 2014 the Appeals Chamber upheld the decision of Trial Chamber I to condemn Thomas Lubanga Dyilo to 14 years of imprisonment for the enlistment and conscription of children under the age of 15, the Congolese warlord, who had already gone down in history as the first person transferred to the International Criminal Court, became also the first war criminal to serve a final sentence given by the international tribunal. At the time, he had already served 8 and a half years in the ICC’s custody since his arrest: a period that the TC decided to deduct from the sentence (see para. 108 of the 10 July 2012 Decision on sentence), with the effect that he would have been released on March 2020. In the next months, Lubanga could set another record, becoming the first person to be granted an early release under the ICC Statute.

In fact, in compliance with para. 3 of Article 110 of the Rome Statute, having Mr Lubanga served two thirds of those 14 years, on 14 July 2015 his Defence team submitted a request to the ICC, seeking a reduction of the sentence (and therefore an early release of the convict).

In particular, the plea is based on mixed legal and factual grounds:

1) a constant practice of the international criminal tribunals;
2) Mr Lubanga’s willingness to cooperate with the Court;
3) the possibility of a successfull resettlement in Kisangani, a city which is more than 800 km away from the Ituri region (where he committed the crimes), and where he would pursue doctoral studies in order to understand psycho-sociological determinants of conflicts and to help Ituri and other parts of the DRC to deal with the related issues that caused conflict – as Lubanga affirmed in the 21 August review hearing;
4) the individual circumstances of Mr Lubanga, who was arrested in Congo on 13 August 2003 and placed under house arrest until his transfer to a detention centre in Kinshasa and later to The Hague (meaning that his pre-trial detention lasted 8 years and 9 months);
5) the convinct’s good conduct during his detention;
6) the fact that an early release wouldn’t give rise to any social instability in the region affected by his crimes.

On the other hand, between 29 June and 14 August the Office of the Prosecutor filed different documents, opposing the request on both legal and factual grounds.
First of all, the OPT affirms that Lubanga “has not shown ‘early and continuing willingness’ to cooperate with the Court in its investigations and prosecutions”; furthermore, since he hasn’t genuinely dissociated from his crimes, his conduct in detention doesn’t establish “a ‘clear and significant change of circumstances’ sufficiently justifying a reduced sentence” and he hasn’t demonstrated that “following early release, he could be resocialised and successfully resettled”.

On the contrary, as a consequence, his early release may threaten the region’s social stability and adversely impact the victims and their families. Even more troubling, as to the assessment of the convict’s conduct and the decision to grant a reduction of the sentence, are the notices filed on 29 June and 20 August, containing information on Mr Lubanga’s alleged participation in a scheme of witness interference in the case against Bosco Ntaganda. In particular, in the Prosecutor’s view there are reasonable grounds to believe that “he may have used his ability to communicate from the ICC Detention Centre to disseminate confidential information and interfere with Prosecution witnesses”.

Under Art. 110, para. 4 of the Rome Statute, three are the factors to be taken into account in order to grant the reduction of the sentence:
a) the willingness of the convict to cooperate with the Court in its investigations and prosecutions;
b) his/her voluntary assistance in enabling the enforcement of the judgements and orders of the Court in other cases;
c) other factors establishing a clear and significant change of circumstances sufficient to justify that reduction, as provided in the Rules of Procedure and Evidence.

The latter provision has been complemented by Rule 223 of the Rules of Procedure and Evidence, which identifies 5 further criteria: a) the conduct of the person while in detention, when it shows a genuine dissociation from the crimes; b) prospect of the resocialization and successful resettlement of the sentenced person; c) a risk assessment concerning the social instability that could follow the release; d) the actions taken for the benefit of the victims by the sentenced person and the impact of the release on them; e) individual circumstances, such as the worsening of mental or physical health or the advanced age.

As seen, the parties’ arguments seem to substantially rely on two different grounds: Lubanga defense team having demonstrated the existence of some “other factors” that could establish the required change of circumstances, whereas the OTP raised issues concerning interferences with other cases which could by themselves justify the dismissal of the request (demonstrating Lubanga’s lack of willingness to cooperate with the Court) – but that to date have not been considered sufficient either to charge him or to order monitoring of his telephone’s calls (as rebutted by the defense).

Therefore, as already stressed by International Justice Monitor, even after a careful review of the criteria for the reduction of sentence “there does not appear to be a clear answer” as to what the judges will rule in the case. Having said that, I would like to emphasize some further reasons to believe that the Appeals Chamber decision could turn out as a landmark precedent.

First of all, in the para. 91 of the cited 2012 sentence decision the Trial Chamber I conceded that Mr Lubanga “was respectful and cooperative throughout the proceedings, notwithstanding some particularly onerous circumstances”, which included the failures by the OTP “to disclose exculpatory material, which in turn resulted in a stay of the proceedings and a provisional order to release Mr Lubanga” and “to comply with the Chamber’s disclosure orders, leading to a second stay of the proceedings and a second provisional order releasing Mr Lubanga”.

Secondly, in several cases the ICTY granted the early release, “notwithstanding the gravity of her crimes”, any time the convict had served two-thirds of the sentence and had demonstrated the existence of “substantial evidence of rehabilitation” (see, among others, Plasvic and Krajisnik).

On the other hand, notwithstanding Lubanga’s affirmations concerning the intention to relocate with his family to Kinsagani and to somehow contribute to reconciliation in the Ituri region, victims’ lawyers argued that since he has persistently denied his responsibility for the crimes for which he was convicted and has never apologized and expressed regret for those conducts (before the 21 August hearing), his release could give rise to social instability.

In conclusion, provided that in Lubanga case both legal and factual grounds can justify any outcome, it seems to me that the most important task assigned to the ICC judges is to provide a first interpretation of Art. 110 of the Rome Statute. In fact, having recalled that under Art. 21 any application of the law “must be consistent with internationally recognized human rights” and that the offender’s rehabilitation could be invoked in this context, a fair assessment of the specific circumstances of these cases can only be reached by means of the preliminary identification of a hierarchy (and the weight) of the factors to be taken into account in order to grant the reduction of a sentence.

Video: Career Discussion with Accountability Counsel Executive Director Natalie Bridgeman Fields

This is an excellent video on career options with NGO Accountability Counsel. According to their website:

Accountability Counsel amplifies the voices of communities around the world to protect their human rights and environment. As advocates for people harmed by internationally-financed projects, we employ community driven and policy level strategies to access justice.

I hope to have a feature interview with Natalie in the near future. Until then enjoy the video:


Looking Beyond and Within: Spirituality, Resistance and Success in Law School

“The key to a successful career is realizing that it’s not separate from the rest of your life, but is rather an extension of your most basic self.” – Marianne Williamson (A Return to Love)

I remember the day clearly – September, 2009, Orientation day at the University of Ottawa Faculty of Law. Alex Neve, Secretary General of Amnesty International was delivering his welcome speech to law students in the auditorium. I remember looking across the room, observing the zeal, the passion in the eyes of most students as they listened. The determination to fight for justice, to make a difference with their law degree shone through as their collective applause echoed in the room. But as the year progressed, that fire seemed to fizzle out. All around me, I saw my peers hopeless, filled with anxiety, feeling that their dreams were slowly being shattered. The competition and hostility, the rat-race of OCIs, lack of articling positions, the pressure to pay off a six-figure debt,- everything seemed to be the ingredients for failure – failure to create the meaningful legal career that they had dreamt of.

To this day, I meet students who feel completely disillusioned by the law school experience. With the increased corporatization of our legal education system, law schools have become more about getting students to conform to a dominant culture that glorifies Bay Street, and the prestige and social status that come with a corporate career, and little about fostering an environment that perpetuates the idea of law as a profession of service. In her paper, “Is there Room for Spirituality in Canadian Legal Education and Practice?” Andrea Chisholm brings attention to recent studies that describe law school as a place with little room for emotion and imagination, and that learning to “think like a lawyer” entails giving up one’s ideals, ethical values and a sense of self. The curriculum puts emphasis on black letter law, and students feel let down by career services which are focused on guiding students toward corporate jobs. This, coupled with the fact that there is a scarcity of paid positions in social justice, and that tuition fees and student debt continue to hike, students who dreamt of building social justice careers are consistently disempowered and stripped of their happiness as they go through their law school journey.

The good news is that students are mobilizing, launching campaigns and starting important conversations with their peers, law schools, the law society and lawyers to challenge the structure of our legal education and the profession. But a large part of the problem remains. As students continue to fight for long-term, systemic changes, their individual mental and emotional well-being continue to suffer. In the short-term, students are still making sacrifices to their dreams and aspirations, and before they know it, they graduate with nothing to look back at but three years of dissatisfaction and despair. But meaningful and effective change, whether short-term or long-term cannot come from a place of hopelessness and unhappiness. So, time has come to bring the well-being of law students, the neglected piece of their struggle, to the forefront of the conversation. How can students arm themselves to not only change the system in the long-run, but ensure that they find success and fulfill their dreams while they go through a system that strives to negate their agency? It is time to inject spirituality into the objective, logic-laden, spiritually empty space of law school.

In her paper, Andrea Chisholm talks about the ways in which our pedagogy, our curriculum and teaching strategies can be altered to turn law schools into more spiritual spaces. But today, I invite students to take this responsibility of being spiritual upon themselves, rather than relying on schools to do it for them. This entails doing a tremendous amount of internal work. It requires a complete shift in mindset and attitude, a radical transformation in the approach to going through law school. In other words, it is time to put spirituality at the center of law student resistance.

Spirituality does not equal religion, or a set or ritualistic practices. These are often components of one’s specific spiritual path and should be embraced and celebrated unapologetically if they form one’s particular belief system. But in a broader and universal sense, spirituality is much more. Deepak Chopra, for example, describes it as a “journey into self-awareness.” He calls it a “domain of awareness where we experience our universality, where we are inseparably one, even with the source of existence, which religious traditions call God.” “When we’re there,” he says, “there’s love, there’s compassion, joy, and equanimity.” In other words, spirituality is the wisdom that allows one to be in true alignment with who they are, to be aware of one’s harmony with their fellow beings and the larger universe, regardless of whether one belongs to a religion or not. It is marked by love, compassion, unity and humility. It is about raising one’s consciousness to be in a constant state of gratitude, peace, contentment and unwavering faith in the grand scheme of the universe regardless of outside circumstances.

Many of us already embody these values. We have a strong sense of who we are, and the values that guide our lives and our lives’ work. We are brave, compassionate, brilliant and full of love, and this is precisely what reflects in our personal statements when we first apply for law school. We just tend to forget after we enter this space, because all those sentiments and passion and worldviews that people bring by virtue of their unique identities are considered “past lives” and to be left at the doorstep before entering law school. Because in law school, only one thing matters and determines success – thinking like a lawyer, becoming a lawyer. And going through this rite of passage means unbecoming everything else that we consider to be the essence of our deepest selves. Today, I urge law students to reclaim that identity and re-align with their authentic self, to use love and compassion as their greatest career guide.

I was a law student not too long ago. I graduated with a debt in the amount of $ 100,000. I am a racialized, immigrant woman who is visibly Muslim, with no previous-generation familial connections in law, at least not in Canada. I did not graduate at the top of my class, and never found myself to have the ability or interest to fit into the corporate world. Yet, I look back at my law school experience with nothing but a feeling of fulfillment, joy and liberation. Each time, I have been able to find the job of my dreams, and so far, I have not been in a financially devastating situation. I am no spiritual expert, nor do I claim to be successful by the standard definition of success in the legal world. However, I do claim to be empowered and happy. I feel grateful that I have been able to design my own career path so far, based on the definition of success that I have created for myself – which is the ability to serve the community. This is why, I would like to share with students how a spiritual approach in my own journey has helped me find fulfillment, and can help you, too.

One of the most important things to remember is to stand by your conviction. Constantly remind yourself why it is that you came to law school and work towards your goal. If you have always wanted to be a corporate lawyer, great. If your only reason to ever come to law school was to pursue social justice, if that is a passion that is aligned with the very core of your being, your values, then do not sway from that. Do not feel guilty for not following the crowd or participating in the OCIs process. Take the courses that your own professional goals require, not what others or the law school believes are essential. Let that be your only career guide and career counselor. Attend talks and conferences where professionals who do work in your area of interest speak. Talk to professors who do research in those areas. Create a network of mentors, both professional and academic. Ask them for ideas and connections. You will be surprised at how people will go out of their way to help you. Research firms, clinics and organizations that do not normally advertise positions, make yourself available for volunteer work and internships, and do such a kick-ass job that they are forced to give you summer employment, possibly even articling. This is how I found work. One research paper led to an internship which then led to my summer job at an amazing human rights firm. OCIs did nothing. Keep your focus on your goal and watch opportunities open in your favour. Being true to who you are is the first step in empowering yourself.

The more crucial step, and possibly the most difficult one in this process is to detach from the outcome, and this is where your spirituality will really be tested. Others who are less selective than you in their job search will secure work faster than you. There will be a whole crowd that will quickly conform to the system simply because they feel that they have to, and the voices will come back to take you off your own path. “You have to pay off debt,” “you cannot afford to wait,” “you will not make enough money,”etc. This can create an unhealthy attachment to results. It will constantly make you worry about whether you will find the job that you desire, and whether you should quit your path and follow the crowd afterall. But do not fall into this trap.

The key is to remember that emotions such as worry and anxiety do not serve you. In fact, they compel you to try and manipulate situations which you have no control over. This actually pushes your desired results further away from you since you will be in a state of mind that is not conducive to optimal creativity, clarity and focus. Never compare your path to that of others – this will help you discard half your worries. Know that your journey is unique to you. You must block out all the noise around you. Avoid spaces and gatherings where negative, discouraging, competitive dialogue takes place. Find like-minded people and generate ideas on building collegiality, form wellness groups and foster positive conversations where you support and inspire one another. This is a crucial aspect of being spiritual – knowing that while your journey is unique to you, you and your peers are interconnected in the pursuit of your goals. In other words, you are neither above, nor beneath anyone and so there is no need for competition and rivalry. The idea is to train your mind to be in a state of peace and positivity, so that you have the necessary emotional and physical energy to excel, to do your best. The results will then come automatically.

Law school can often make you feel as though it constitutes the entire universe, that if you fail to find a job, or get the best grades or conform to the system, your life is over. Being spiritual means knowing that your career is an extension of your most basic self and your values, but also that your career is one aspect of yourself and your life. This space known as “law school” is not an end in itself. Both your life before, after and outside of law school matters, and it matters a lot. Do not let worry and anxiety take time away from pursuing your hobbies, spending time with family and reading, doing things that make you happy, and most importantly, practicing gratitude. This also means that if circumstances do compel you to take that high-paid summer job or articling position that is not in line with your values, do not be hard on yourself. Some of us may have certain privileges that allow us to be more experimental with our careers. For some of us, it may actually not be an option, at least in the short term. If this is the case with you, it does not mean you have fallen off your path. See this as transient, and a transition to your dream career. Shift your perspective to focus on the positive, and see your current job as an opportunity to acquire skills that you may not have had in any other position.

I invite you today to break the fortress that law school has created around itself and look beyond it to think creatively, to go and seek opportunities and design your career in a way that makes people go “wow!” At the same time, I encourage you to build a fortress around your soul that makes you look inward and preserve the pristine nature of your beliefs, your worldview, your passions, that bars any negativity and competition, any feeling of despair that maligns its greatness. But also remember to leave windows to allow the light of your soul to be reflected into the outside world, so that you can build meaningful connections with other beautiful and courageous souls. Remember that some of the greatest heroes in the legal world, such as Gandhi and Mandela did not take the conventional path. It is your audacity to dream, your incredible strength, your infinite capacity to love and your belief in your authentic self that has brought you into law school. Keep that alive, resist with the very happiness that law school tries to deny you and carve our own path. Be a trailblazer. Change your own reality, and change the world!