UM Today UM Today University of Manitoba UM Today UM Today UM Today
News from
Faculty of Law
UM Today Network
LLM 2024 graduate Joel Lebois, stands proudly beside a research poster of his Master's thesis topic, which he wrote entirely in French.

LLM 2024 graduate Joel Lebois, stands proudly beside a research poster of his Master's thesis topic, which he wrote entirely in French.

In defence of ADR in post-secondary complaints processes

Manitoba lawyer Joel Lebois obtains LLM degree to research better ways to resolve conflict – in French

June 21, 2024 — 

Joel Lebois is the first graduate of the Master of Laws (LLM) program from the University of Manitoba’s Faculty of Law to write his thesis entirely in French. Lebois is a proud Francophone and practicing lawyer in Manitoba, who has appeared almost annually in the Royal Manitoba Theatre Centre (RMTC) Lawyer’s Play since his call to the Manitoba bar in 2009. While working as in-house counsel at the University of Manitoba’s legal department, he realized that he wanted to deepen his knowledge of the law in the area of post-secondary institution complaints processes, and was drawn to the Robson Hall community, which would allow him to complete his degree in French.

“People were always inviting me to alumni events, and I was regretfully having to say, “Actually, I didn’t study law here,”” says Lebois, who holds both a BA (2005) and an LLB (2008) from the University of Ottawa.

Lebois had initially selected the U of O because, he explains, “continuing my education in French was important to me, and very few options were available in Western Canada at the time. I was thrilled when Robson launched the A2J in French program, and saw an opportunity to celebrate that and participate in Robson’s French common law culture by completing my thesis in French.”

While Lebois was contemplating whether or not to do an LLM at the University of Manitoba, the founders of the Access to Justice in French (Common Law) Concentration program, then-Professor Gerald Heckman (now Justice Gerald Heckman of the Federal Court of Appeal), and Professor Lorna Turnbull, reached out for support from the Francophone legal community. The timing was right, and Lebois joined the Faculty’s graduate program in 2021 as an LLM student, inspired by the research of (now-retired) Professor Karen Busby, founder of the Centre for Human Rights Research housed in Robson Hall.

His thesis, written in French under Turnbull’s supervision, was titled, “Les modes substitutifs de résolution des différends en matière de violence à caractère sexuel ou de discrimination chez les institutions postsecondaires au Manitoba.”

Lebois’ thesis drew from a number of experiences including his time working as in-house Counsel at the University of Manitoba, where one of his portfolios was serving as Human Rights Counsel for the Office of Human Rights and Conflict Management. “As I was continuing to learn about the investigatory process and continuing to administer it at the University, I was also talking to counterparts across the country and seeing what was going on at their universities,” recounts Lebois. “I was asking questions about how their systems worked and what was successful within their areas, and how we could improve.”

These mechanisms are provincially legislated but not very standardized, and Lebois argues that they could be improved.

“My generalized observation was that everyone who is involved in the complaint mechanism is somehow diminished by the complaint process,” Lebois says. “So, whether you’re the complainant or the respondent, and regardless of how the outcome ended up flowing, whether the complaint was substantiated or not, whether there was obviously visible discipline of the respondent or not, that didn’t really matter, people were finding themselves lacking something for having participated in it.”   

He wondered if there was a better way to handle complaint mechanisms. Then he discovered the book, Achieving Fairness: A Guide to Campus Sexual Violence Complaints (Thomson Reuters, 2020) by Johanna Birenbaum and now-retired UM Faculty of Law professor Karen Busby, which goes into depth about the complaint mechanisms that exist across Canada at post-secondary institutions. He used this book as a roadmap and focused his research on a complimentary idea—how to better integrate certain types of dispute resolution models into the complaint mechanisms that currently exist.

Lebois’ bold and innovative research focuses on complaint mechanisms for human rights violations as they exist at postsecondary institutions in Manitoba. Based on his careful research and experiences, Lebois’ dynamic thesis proposes a different system than the one that postsecondary institutions currently use. The current model is a concurrent offering of resolution options, where a complainant is offered alternative dispute resolution concurrently to more formal mechanisms of redress. “Offering these concurrently is the wrong choice in my opinion, and that is what I argue in my thesis,” Lebois explains. “I believe that they should be offered as a cascade where the alternative dispute resolution for non-criminal behaviors should always be offered first before a formal complaint mechanism is explored.”

“ADR doesn’t get necessarily a great rap outside of certain types of uses, and certainly, there are some who say alternative dispute resolution is only appropriate in certain circumstances; for example, only when desired or asked for explicitly by a complainant. I’m not necessarily in agreement with that assessment,” Lebois explains. “I think that there are a number of examples wherein groups have participated in alternative dispute resolution even if it wasn’t given as an entirely opt-in option and that’s still benefited a number of the stakeholders. In the criminal sphere you see this a lot already, where you have diversion programs that move someone to sentencing circles or to alternative resolution where they have to take actions that are really specific to the crimes that they have committed, and the accused is expected to take ownership of the actions that they have posed within their community. And that is something that works.”

Lebois admits that there are valid critiques of ADR, and in some cases, it certainly draws out more of the complainant’s time and energy. But, as Lebois says, “There is a lot of opportunity for presenting a space in which the accused can take ownership, can apologize, can learn, and can make concrete steps towards restitution.”

He drew a lot of inspiration from the Dalhousie School of Dentistry case from 2015, where many of the students involved saw great outcomes from ADR rather than more formal mechanisms. “There is much more room for alternative dispute resolution to take centre stage as part of the complaint mechanisms that exist at post-secondary institutions,” is a key takeaway from this research according to Lebois.

When asked who benefits from his thesis, Lebois says, “It’s not really a stretch to say it’s everyone that benefits from this. […]  Universities are an economic driver within Manitoba, representing a lot of important work being done, a lot of important training being done, and a lot of innovation that’s taking place. You want the systems that underpin all of that to work well as well.”

However, the research itself gears more towards the decision-makers of complaint mechanisms, boards of governors and directors, depending on which post-secondary institution, because it is about the ways that the system can be adjusted to better serve everyone.

Lebois is a testimony to the University of Manitoba’s LLM program at the Faculty of Law.  Completing a master’s degree in law, being a Francophone lawyer, and conducting research in the French language are possible, even outside of Canada’s Francophone hubs like Quebec, Ontario and New Brunswick.

Even though his thesis topic is not related to language rights, his decision to write it in French, is “a nod to the language rights that are entrenched in the University of Manitoba Act,” he explains, “and an acknowledgement of the oft-forgotten cultural realities that founded both the province of Manitoba and the University of Manitoba (thanks to its founding colleges, one of them now operating as Université de Saint-Boniface). Just as we seek to show prospective JD students the value of completing the A2J in French program, I also wanted to be an example of that at the graduate level.”

Lebois recommends that lawyers with the capacity to upgrade French/English bilingualism to communicate clearly and concisely should do so, as this opens a lot of opportunities, including a graduate degree. He suggests that more lawyers should consider investing in their French skills because of the benefits to themselves and to the community they serve. “Bilingualism really does have a lot of benefits noted throughout the profession, and so I really wanted to shout that from the rooftops as much as I could to say it’s doable, and it’s worth taking the time and effort to do it,” he says.

The Faculty of Law at the University of Manitoba hosts the Access to Justice in French Concentration program for JD students, and now has graduated its first of hopefully many more LLM students in French.

, , , , , , , , ,

© University of Manitoba • Winnipeg, Manitoba • Canada • R3T 2N2

Emergency: 204-474-9341