Attendees raved about our 3rd Annual unConference:

“I loved it. Seamlessly presented.”

“Great quality content, organized, breaks, non-DR related content (yoga, cooking)!”

With the rapid COVID-19 shutdown in March FDRIO planned to postpone the bi-annual unConference event planned for May 5th until September 2020. But feeling the emptiness left by this postponement, FDRIO quickly decided to embrace the new virtual world of conferences. And keeping with the spirit of the unconventional format of the unConference, we moved to a fully virtual full-day format. And so on June 2nd, 2020, FDRIO hosted 85 participants and over 20 presenters from across Canada and the US!

FDRIO’s third unConference included not just topics related to family dispute resolution ─ we added a delicious cooking demonstration at lunch with local chef Chris Brown of Victor Dries, plus a six-minute chair yoga break during the afternoon. The whole day proceeded seamlessly, with virtual breakout rooms and multiple presentations held at once, just as in a real conference!  We want to thank OurFamilyWizard for their generous support of the event by providing their multi-user Zoom platform and a dedicated technology person for the whole day.

The FDRIO unConference is a robust gathering of professionals with ideas and experiences to share. Those who come can listen and learn, and — if they want — speak. Registrants offer their proposed topics and the group votes on what they want to see and hear. The day is dynamic, fluid, and energetic, with lots of opportunity for discussion and networking. 

The theme of the 2020 unConference was “Culture Shift” and our two keynote speakers offered unique perspectives on this theme. 

The morning keynote “Privilege, Allies and Hope” by Sabreena Delhon, MA, a leading public sector strategist and Principal of Signal Strategies, focused on issues of social change, innovation and authentic engagement. Founder of the first annual Access to Justice Week, Ms. Delhon has been featured on CBC Radio’s The Sunday Edition and is creator/host of the podcast Architects of Justice, accredited by the Law Society of Ontario.

For the afternoon keynote, Steven Bradley of OurFamilyWizard, presented breathtaking data on nefarious ways to surveil in “The Intersection of Technology, Domestic Violence and Courts During Covid-19”. With extensive U.S. law enforcement and FBI experience investigating intimate partner violence, stalking/cyberstalking, and child abuse, Steven spoke knowledgably and widely on the topic of technology abuse in family law cases. The resulting reaction was “culture shock” for attendees who learned the ease with which technology can be used against victims. 

Given the international focus on racism, the presentation by Projextbteam members Karima Kinlock, Clodagh Rawle Davis and David Lewis-Pearl from African Caribbean Black (ACB) and Family Group Conferencing (FGC) Research and Development Project at The University of Toronto was timely. “Innovating and Evaluating Family Group Conferencing for Black Families” included a discussion on using a restorative approach to keep black families together who are involved with children’s aid societies. They described a “wraparound” model in which community and family members are involved in a plan to maintain children in their home or with family rather than in foster care with strangers. The model’s focus is to reduce harm to children. Making the family and their supports part of a network, and allowing cultural values, beliefs and practices to be heard, allows clients to feel they are the subjects rather than the objects of their process. The Afrocentric it-takes-a-village approach is invaluable for those navigating the sometimes difficult institutional structure of child welfare agencies.

Our unConference 2020 Presenters

Sustainable MOUs:  Getting Your MOUs past ILA
Neeraj Goel, Family Lawyer and Mediator

How Cash is Dealt with When Valuing a Business
Matthew Krofchick – Krofchick Valuations

Vocal Technique for Influential Communication
Katharine Rajczak – Next Stage Conflict Resolution

A Primer on Coercive Controlling Violence
Raheena Dahya – Bloomsbury Mediation

Innovating and Evaluating Family Group Conferencing for Black Families 
David Lewis-Peart, Clodagh Rawle Davis, Karima Kinlock, Priscilla Ocran – African Caribbean Black (ACB) Family Group Conference (FGC) Research and Development Project – University of Toronto

Handling In-Pay Pensions
Peter Martin – Golden Actuarial Services

Cultivating a Reflective Practice – Yes!
Trish Blake – Blake-Jones Mediation LLC

99% Invisible – FDR post-Leitch v. Novac
Shmuel Stern – Disclosure Clinic

An EI Power Toolkit

COVID 19 Impact on Valuations – One Perspective
Ron Martindale and Louise Poole – Davis Martindale

That Was Easy! The Use of Technology in your Practice
Vicky M. Ringuette

Practicing in the New Normal: Increasing Use of Unbundled Family Legal Services
Rachel Birnbaum – King’s University College, Western University
Nicholas Bala – Queen’s University

Ethics & Practice Management: Using a Trauma Informed Lens
Kathleen Bellamano

Top Ten Tax Traps
Lorne Wolfson – Torkin Manes LLP

The Ontario Family Law Forms Project 
Kathryn Hendrikx – Hendrikx Family Law

Circle Mediation: Demystified 
Ruth Campbell – New Page®

We would like to thank all of our unConference Sponsors for their generous support that let us make this unique learning event possible!

Mediation Benefits 
Krofchick Valuations 
mediate393 Inc. 
Barriston Law 
Hendrikx Family Law 
Our Family Wizard (Tech sponsor for Steven Bradley)

Donations to Organizations that Make a Difference in Black Lives

FDRIO knows actions speak louder than words, which is why we have made monetary donations to the following 3 organizations recommended by our June 2nd virtual unConference Committee: 

Black Legal Action Centrewww.blacklegalactioncentre.ca 

A non-profit community legal clinic that provides free legal services for low or no income Black residents of Ontario.

Black Women in Motionwww.blackwomeninmotion.org

A Toronto-based, youth-led organization that empowers and supports the advancement of Black women and survivors of sexual violence.

Black Health Alliancewww.blackhealthalliance.ca

A community-led registered charity working to improve the health and well-being of Black communities in Canada. 

Reviews of Select unConference Sessions

unConference Keynote: White Privilege and Family Law
Review by Hilary Linton

Keynote speaker Sabreena Delhon opened the unConference with thoughtful insight into the ways that the legal profession “others” people who deviate from the dominant culture, including the use of terms like ‘non-lawyer’. 

Our legal system sees white people and their experiences as the norm, creating a very binary legal culture, i.e. “you are either like me or you are not like me.”

Talking about race is hard for family law professionals, she noted.

“Neutrality is not enough: use your privilege to effect change”, she invited the 80 participants.

“Do the hard work of unlearning the binary logic. Shift from being non-racist to anti-racist.”

Neeraj Goel, “Sustainable MOU’s”
Review by Alex Howard

As a lawyer-mediator, Neeraj often sits on both sides of the mediation and was able to offer mediators insight into the mindset of a lawyer. His presentation on sustainable MOU’s was a wonderfully interactive session with incredibly useful information about how to get your MOU past the scrutiny of lawyers.

Staying abreast of the law is crucial for mediators but knowing the difference between legal information and legal advice is first and foremost of importance, according to Neeraj. The responsibility of the mediator is not to do the job of the lawyer; however, it would be remiss to make their job more difficult because of a lack of knowledge about the law, or about what is appropriate under the (ever-changing) law. One should remember mediators write reports, lawyers write agreements. Interestingly, without condoning it or criticizing it (clearly a very neutral mediator!), Neeraj did point out the double standard in the treatment of non-lawyer mediators by lawyers. There is much more leeway given to mediators who are also lawyers when it comes to the MOU and certain language or legalese. This is something to be aware of when contemplating a sustainable MOU. 

He left us with the great suggestion of asking clients for a copy of the final agreement after their ILA had signed off on it for further learning. Having the opportunity to compare the MOU to the final agreement gives mediators an opportunity to see what changed, if anything, in order to strengthen the success of future MOU’s undergoing the inspection of ILA. 

Mardi Edelstein, “An EI Power Toolkit”
Review by Alex Howard

In a short 45 minutes, Mardi was able to dive deep into the topic of Emotional Intelligence and how to load up your figurative toolkit to connect with clients. Lines like “you can’t solve a problem you don’t understand, so ask why” really stood out for me and encouraged the need for more curiosity into what parties are experiencing during separation and mediation. 

For Mardi, empathy is the act of understanding, and that is the fundamental role of the mediator. Clients need, first and foremost, to be heard and to be understood – that is the foundation of relationship building, which mediators need in order to build rapport with their clients. Asking questions, using active listening and reflecting – these are all tools to reach clients and create trust. As the mediator, role modelling the behaviour of openness and willingness to listen also encourages parties to listen to each other more clearly. This “mirroring” helps parties create further understanding between them, and ultimately a stronger more resilient resolution.

A great tip from Mardi for the mediator: choose your words wisely! Changing verbiage such as “ground rules” to “guidelines”, for example, changes the tone of mediation from a battle atmosphere to one of a conversation. Another great tip: allow for silence and reflection during the session. Reflection and journaling do not need to be relegated to a time outside of the mediation. Allowing for reflection during sessions enables folks to slow down, move away from rash decision making, and ask deeper, more thoughtful questions. 

David Lewis-Peart, Clodagh Rawle Davis, Karima Kinlock, Priscilla Ocran: Innovating and Evaluating Family Group Conferencing (FGC) for Black Families
Review by Hilary Linton

Presenters from the African, Caribbean and Black FGC Project shared fascinating stats and research with unConference attendees. Lead presenter David Jerome, having spent time in the Ontario child welfare system himself, described the genesis of the project which took him from Ontario to the UK and back as he worked with a leading British child psychologist and the (now-defunded) Provincial Child Advocate’s Office to design and build an ethno-centric process that supports African, Caribbean and Black families who are ‘absolutely overwhelmed’ with the child welfare experience. 

The presenters shared their research and evaluation of the project to date, describing the disproportionate effect that the child welfare system can have on Black families, made worse by Covid-19. Thank you for this wonderful presentation and the great work being done.

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