Debating National Justice Care

One of the highlights of the CBA’s Envisioning Equal Justice Summit, now about six weeks ago, was a lunchtime debate on the merits or demerits, the feasability or impracticality of a national justice care system. The exchange was witty and entertaining, and solid, thoughtful, substantive arguments underlay the edgy discussion.

Beverly Spencer posted a superb summary of the debate in the CBA National Magazine’s Legal Insights & Practice Trends: Should there be a national “justice care” system in Canada?, and it is worth a read to get a flavour of the issues and arguments on either side of the question.

Dr. Alex Himelfarb provocatively argued “for” the resolution. Dr. Himelfarb is Director of the Glendon School of Public and International Affairs and is also a former Clerk of the Privy Council and Secretary to the Cabinet. Opposing the proposition was Sharon Matthews, Q.C., partner at Camp Fiorante Matthews Mogerman. Ms. Matthews is also Past President of the CBA’s BC Branch.

This roundup of commentary on the debate offers a flavour of the points made and of the provocative tone of the discussion. From my take, Dr. Himelfarb’s position centred on the idea of a national justice care system as the right thing to do in a just society. He acknowledged an “age of austerity,” and suggested we refute and tackle this outlook. He suggested, rather, we focus on sparking the political imagination to make a national justice care system happen—as important to society as national health care. Yes, we’d see tax increases in this pursuit, but real and measurable benefits to society will result.

I heard Ms. Matthews to note that efforts toward a national justice care system would divert crucial attention and resources from current efforts. While a national justice system might seem a laudable goal, investment in a national justice care system can dilute the progress currently made and truly foreseeable in present access to justice initiatives. She cautioned against losing vulnerable access to justice accomplishments in the pursuit of what she dubbed, tongue-in-cheek, “Conradcare” – state support whether or not an individual needs it.


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