Devon Black speaks on UVic Women in Law Panel

On November 21, 2018, associate Devon Black will be speaking on a Women in Law panel hosted by FemLaw and the University of Victoria’s Law Careers Office.

Panelists at the event will also include Tamara Napoleon, Kate Saunders, and the Hon. Judge Christine Lowe. The discussion will focus on women’s experiences in the legal profession, and aims to bring a diverse range of perspectives to the table.

The event begins at 6:00 pm and will take place in Room 158 at the Fraser Building on the University of Victoria campus. To reserve a spot, RSVP to careerof@uvic.ca by November 16, 2018.

Gifts for VGH Pediatric Ward

 Tag reading "Feel Better Soon - Love, Your Friends at McBOP" tied to a stuffed animal wrapped in cellophane

Tag reading "Feel Better Soon - Love, Your Friends at McBOP" tied to a stuffed animal wrapped in cellophane

McBOP staff and lawyers got together this week to help wrap some stuffed animals intended as holiday gifts for children in the pediatric ward at Victoria General Hospital (“VGH”).

VGH’s pediatric ward provides care to more than 5,400 babies and children over the course of the year. One very important aspect of the care VGH provides is its Neonatal Intensive Care Unit - the only high-level NICU in British Columbia outside the Lower Mainland.

 Staff help wrap stuffed animals in the McBOP board room

Staff help wrap stuffed animals in the McBOP board room

McBOP staff decided to take action to brighten the holidays for children spending Thanksgiving in VGH’s pediatric ward. With donations from staff, lawyers, and the firm, we managed to collect enough stuffed animals and blankets for 62 gifts.

In coordination with the Victoria Hospitals Foundation, these gifts will be delivered to VGH next week, just in time for the Thanksgiving long weekend. We hope they will bring some joy to the children and families in VGH’s care!

 McBOP staff stand behind a large pile of cellophane-wrapped stuffed animals

McBOP staff stand behind a large pile of cellophane-wrapped stuffed animals

Workplace Investigations – When Do You Need Outside Help?

Lately, the news has been full of stories of abuse and sexual harassment in the workplace. With the #MeToo movement in full swing around the world, it’s no surprise that these allegations, previously kept to the shadows, are now being brought into the light.

While this new wave of harassment reporting was inspired by survivors sharing their stories of abuse by high-profile men in Hollywood, Canadian organizations are not immune. From Jian Ghomeshi at the CBC, to politicians like federal MP Kent Hehr and former leader of the Ontario opposition Patrick Brown, to widespread reports of sexual harassment in Canadian workplaces, it’s clear that there is much work to be done.

Unfortunately, many employers don’t realize there is a problem until a complaint has been made. At that point, it’s not an option to just push the problem aside. But how can a complaint like that be fairly resolved?

In cases where there are allegations involving management, or where the problem seems to involve corporate culture rather than just one individual, it might be impossible to conduct an internal investigation that will be seen as fair.  In other cases, where the allegations are particularly serious or complex, even a well-resourced HR department may not have people with the skills or experience to complete a full investigation.

One way to deal with these challenges is to retain an independent investigator.

What does an independent investigator do?

Our firm has lawyers experienced in conducting independent workplace investigations. An independent investigator is a person outside an organization, brought in when someone has made a complaint about inappropriate workplace behaviour to make a determination about what actually happened and, in some cases, to make recommendations about appropriate responses.

Many independent investigators are lawyers, in part because lawyers have skills and experience in conducting investigations, interviewing witnesses, and assessing evidence. However, a lawyer acting as an independent investigator isn’t wearing their “lawyer hat” – they won’t provide you with legal advice, and won’t be acting on your behalf.

Instead, an independent investigator’s primary objective is to suss out the facts, as best they can. This often includes determining whether an employee breached a workplace policy. Independent investigators will review documents, interview witnesses, weigh evidence, and ultimately provide a formal assessment setting out what they believe happened, and the evidence supporting their conclusion.

How does that help my workplace?

Significant allegations of harassment or abuse can shake a workplace. Employees often worry whether participating in an investigation will put their jobs or reputations at risk. They may also wonder whether an internal investigation will be truly fair. These concerns can affect workplace morale, and can make it more difficult to encourage witnesses to come forward and participate.

Bringing in an independent investigator shows that your organization takes allegations of harassment or abuse seriously. It helps ensure that employees have faith in the investigation process and results by taking clear steps to eliminate bias from the process. It also lets you focus on running your organization, while delegating the difficult task of investigating to someone with the knowledge and experience to do it right.

From a strategic standpoint, bringing in an independent investigator can also be an effective way to protect your organization. Employers have legal obligations to ensure that their employees are able to work in safe environments free from harassment, abuse, or discrimination. Conducting a procedurally fair and unbiased investigation, and taking appropriate follow-up steps, can be a part of meeting your legal obligations to your employees and reducing litigation risk for your organization.

What does McConnan Bion O’Connor & Peterson bring to investigations?

Dirk Ryneveld, Q.C. and Devon M. L. Black form the backbone of our independent investigation team, supported by efficient and knowledgeable staff. They are experienced in conducting independent investigations in both union and non-union workplaces. Dirk and Devon also practice in intersecting areas, such as human rights law and privacy law, and bring that expertise to investigations. We communicate clearly about our process and our role within it, so you and your employees can have confidence in our investigation and our results.

Dirk has long experience conducting investigations in both civil and criminal contexts. He has previously served as BC’s Police Complaint Commissioner, and as lead counsel on the Kosovo component of the prosecution of Slobodan Milosevic at the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia. As a result, he brings exceptional experience to every investigation he takes on.

For particularly sensitive investigations, including sexual harassment and assault allegations, Devon has experience and training in trauma-informed practice, and she makes that perspective a key component of our investigations. Trauma-informed practice is an approach which recognizes the prevalence of trauma and the impacts it can have, including the ways in which it can make it difficult for witnesses to come forward and participate in investigations. By incorporating trauma-informed practice into our work, we can better support witnesses through the often difficult process of an investigation, while ensuring that our final report includes an assessment of the facts that is as complete as possible.

We know that workplace disputes can be complex, stressful, and difficult to resolve. Whether you’re concerned about bullying or harassment, discrimination, sexual harassment, or workplace policy breaches, we have the knowledge and experience to conduct the independent investigation you need. If you need help with a workplace investigation, please contact us for a consultation.

Charlotte Salomon Speaks on Women and Philanthropy

On May 10, 2018, the Canadian Association of Gift Planners is hosting a panel discussion entitled "Women, Wisdom & Wealth". Charlotte Salomon, Q.C., a senior partner at McConnan Bion O'Connor & Peterson, will join a panel of influential women to discuss how to have conversations about philanthropy with clients, how to support clients' different motivations for philanthropic giving, and how their own experiences have impacted the way they approach philanthropy with clients.

For more information, see the CAGP's website.

We're nominated for a Best of the City award!

For the past several years, Victoria News has selected winners in a broad range of categories for its "Best of the City" awards, recognizing top businesses and service providers in the Victoria area.

This year, McConnan Bion O'Connor and Peterson has been selected as a featured nominee in the "Best Law Firm" category. If you've appreciated our legal services, we'd love to have your support! Voting is open until May 5, 2018 at 11:01 pm PST.

Congratulations to all the nominees! We can't wait to see the results!

Make a Will Week: A Step-By-Step Guide

If you've put off making your will, you're not alone - two-thirds of BC parents with children under the age of 18 don't have a will. Unfortunately, not having a will can make things more complicated for the family and friends you leave behind, and could mean that your estate isn't distributed according to your wishes.

Some people postpone making a will because the process seems complicated or difficult. If you're in that situation, I have good news: making a will is easy! In our third article for our Make a Will Week series, we'll demystify the process of making a will.

Step 1: Ask for Help!

When dealing with any legal issue, it's a good idea to consult an expert. While you can buy kits to make a will yourself, unless you speak to a legal professional there's always a risk that a DIY will could cause complications for your family after you pass away. Especially if you have minor children or complicated assets, it's important to get legal advice when making a will.

Many lawyers (including our lawyers at McBOP!) are able to do simple wills for a set fee, so you know what you'll be paying from the very beginning. For more complicated wills, it may make more sense for your lawyer to bill at an hourly rate. If you're interested in making a will, consider contacting us. Once we have an idea of your needs, we can give you an assessment of what your will is likely to cost.

Step 2: What's in Your Estate?

The next step in making an estate plan is to figure out what assets you own. This means thinking about big assets, like real estate and investments, as well as any small but meaningful assets that you want to make plans for, like jewelry or collectibles you'd like to gift to someone specific. 

You'll also want to plan for how to pay for your debts. Your debts will be paid from your estate before inheritances are distributed to beneficiaries, and will affect how much your beneficiaries will inherit when you pass away. 

Making a list of your assets and debts before your first meeting with a lawyer will be a big time-saver, and will help give your lawyer information they need to provide you with tailored legal advice.

Step 3: Pick an Executor

One of the big decisions to make in your will is deciding who will act as your executor. Your executor is responsible for getting your assets in order, arranging to pay any debts you still owe when you pass away, and distributing your estate to your beneficiaries according to the instructions in your will.

When choosing an executor, it's a good idea to name a responsible person who lives nearby - it will be easier for them to deal with your assets if they can visit your bank branch or meet with your investment adviser in person. If you don't want to name any family members or friends as your executor, let your lawyer know - many estate lawyers are willing to act as executors for a fee.

It's also a good idea to name alternate executors, in case your first choice isn't able to act for you. Try to think of two or three people who could act as your executor.

Step 4: Pick your Beneficiaries

For many people, the most important thing you will do in your will is give instructions about who you would like to inherit your estate. This is the step where you can decide what kind of legacy you'd like to leave behind.

The Wills, Estates and Succession Act in BC puts an obligation on anyone making a will to "make adequate provision" for their spouse and children. As a result, it's important to make sure you give your lawyer detailed information about your family. If you would prefer not to name your spouse or one of your children as a beneficiary in your will, it's extremely important to get legal advice on the potential consequences of that decision.

While it can be difficult to think about, it's also important to think about naming "just in case" beneficiaries. Sadly, sometimes the people you would like to inherit your estate may pass away before you do. In that case, naming an alternate beneficiary in your will is a good way to ensure your wishes will still be respected.

Remember that you can name charitable organizations as beneficiaries in your will! Making a charitable bequest in your will is a great way to support causes you care about and give back to your community. 

Step 5: Pick a Guardian for Minor Children

If you have young children, it may be a good idea to name a guardian for them in your will. This is a sensitive decision, so if you have questions about naming a guardian for children make sure to talk to your lawyer.

Step 6: Approve the Draft and Sign It

Your lawyer will send you a draft version of your will to review, or may set up a meeting to review the draft in person. Read it through carefully, and make sure to let your lawyer if you have any questions or would like to make any changes. 

Once you're happy with the final draft, you'll have to come in for one last meeting to sign your will in front of two witnesses. Then you're done!

All in all, making a will usually only requires two meetings - one to let your lawyer know what you want in your will, and one to sign it once you've approved a final draft. Our lawyers and staff will do their best to make the process as easy as possible, so you can have peace of mind knowing you've got a plan in place for the future.

If you're interested in making or updating your will, please get in touch! Our estate planning lawyers are happy to answer your questions and set up an appointment at a time that works for you.

Make a Will Week: Charitable Bequests

Charitable giving is a well-established Canadian tradition, one that contributes to the well-being of our country, our communities, and our neighbours. However, according to a recent editorial in Maclean's by Governor General David Johnston, overall charitable contributions by Canadians are going down, while older Canadians are becoming responsible for a bigger and bigger proportion of all Canadian charitable gifts.

This isn't because younger Canadians don't want to give back. In fact, more millennials feel they should increase their support for charities than any other age group in Canada. However, millennials also give less than other age groups - partly because they have less money than other age groups, and partly because they struggle to find the most effective way to make a difference with their gifts.

One way to support charities that often goes overlooked is through planning your estate. At its best, estate planning allows you to plan the kind of legacy you want to leave behind - both for your family and for your community.

Making a Charitable Bequest

Since it's Make a Will week, now is a great time to talk about charitable bequests. Charitable bequests are gifts to a charity (or several charities) that are set out in your will and paid from your estate after you pass away. You can specify a particular amount that you want to give, or - if you're concerned that the value of your estate may change as you get older - you can give a certain fraction of your estate to charity.

Many people worry about providing adequately for their families when making a will. That's a reasonable concern - the Wills, Estates and Succession Act in BC requires a will-maker to "make adequate provision for the proper maintenance and support of the will-maker's spouse or children" in their will.

However, there are lots of ways to make a will that will allow you to ensure that your family is provided for while still giving you the opportunity to leave a legacy in your community. If making a charitable bequest in your will is a priority for you, make sure to let your lawyer know when they are helping you make your will.

Other Ways to Give

Depending on how your estate is structured, there can be many other ways to give. For instance, you can choose to name a charity as a beneficiary on a new or existing life insurance policy, which can allow you to leave a significant legacy by making small premium payments over time.

For very large gifts, some charities can help you set up charitable remainder trusts, which will continue to generate income for the charity well into the future. Some charities can also accept gifts of valuable property, like real estate, and use them in carrying out their charitable missions.

If charitable giving is a priority for you in planning your estate, our lawyers can help walk you through options that will work best for you. To set an appointment to make or update your will, contact us!

It's Make a Will Week in BC!

April 8 to 14, 2018 is Make a Will week in British Columbia! If you're one of the 45% of BC residents who don't have a valid will, consider setting an appointment this week to make a new will or update an old will.

Making a will is the best way to ensure that your wishes will be respected after you're gone, and will help you avoid the kinds of conflicts that can lead to estate litigation. Unfortunately, as CTV News reported last year, inheritance disputes are on the rise in BC. In that feature, CTV spoke to our senior partner Michael Mark about planning to avoid common conflicts that can lead to estate litigation.

Making a will also gives you the chance to give back to your community by making bequests to charities that are meaningful to you. Our lawyers can help you to plan charitable gifts in your will so that they're as effective as possible for the causes you care about. To learn more about the benefits of planned giving, check out this article from the Canadian Association of Gift Planners.

If you're interested in making or updating a will, please contact us! Our lawyers are happy to help build an estate plan that works for you.

Welcome to Reid Fraser, our Newest Associate

 Michael O'Connor administers the Barristers' and Solicitors' Oath to Reid Fraser

Michael O'Connor administers the Barristers' and Solicitors' Oath to Reid Fraser

Congratulations from everyone at McConnan Bion O'Connor & Peterson to our firm's newest associate - Reid Fraser!

Reid came to our firm as an articled student after obtaining his LL.B. from James Cook University in Australia, where he graduated with first class honours. Reid's practice areas include civil litigation, creditors' remedies, employment law, personal injury, and wills, trusts, and incapacity planning

Find out more about Reid, or contact him to inquire about legal services, here.

Celebrating the Holidays and Supporting Families in Need

McBOP Staff with Christmas Presents

For the ninth year in a row, McConnan Bion O'Connor & Peterson has decided to celebrate the holidays by giving gifts to families in need. Since 2008, our firm has provided holiday hampers to 33 families, and donated toys, food, clothing, and gift cards to CFAX's Santas Anonymous and the Mustard Seed.

This year, our firm helped ring in the holiday season by providing gifts to two families through the 1UP Single Parent Resource Centre and the Victoria Women's Transition House. As part of our holiday fundraising, staff and lawyers also raised enough funds to sponsor a lunch at Our Place in the new year.

If you know of an organization that could use our support, please contact us! We run office fundraisers throughout the year for deserving local causes, and are always looking for new organizations to support.

Happy holidays from all of us at McConnan Bion O'Connor & Peterson!

McConnan Bion Nominated for 2017 Times Colonist Readers' Choice Awards!

McConnan Bion O'Connor and Peterson has been nominated for Best Law Firm in the 2017 Times Colonist Readers' Choice Awards! 

Our firm is very grateful for this nomination, which affirms our focus on providing high-quality legal services to our clients.

Voting for the awards is open from October 16 to October 29, 2017, and you may vote once per day in each category. Please consider voting for us here, and click through the other categories to support your other favourite local businesses and services.

We appreciate your support during voting, and we look forward to continuing to serve our community as best we can.

Stewart Johnston joins McConnan Bion O'Connor & Peterson

We are delighted that Stewart has joined our law firm as he brings with him a wealth of experience, having practised in this City for over 33 years, and is recognized as one of Victoria's
top senior solicitors. He complements our firm with our ever expanding abilities to service our clients.

Stewart Johnston's Picture Slideshow

Please enjoy these pictures from my personal slideshow.