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Archive for the ‘Justice Issues’ Columns

Making Tough on Crime Count

Budgets have no bottoms. Promises know no bounds. No baby has gone un-kissed. It must be Federal election time in Canada.

With political pandering at a fever pitch and politicians tripping over themselves to promise the earth, moon and stars to an election-weary electorate, it is an ideal time to exercise some wish-list thinking when it comes to criminal justice reform.

For all the bumps and bruises suffered by the ruling Conservatives at least one aspect of their message continues to garner broad popular support – ‘tough-on-crime’. With the outlier exception of legalizing marijuana, only the most suicidal politician would . . . [more]

Posted in: Justice Issues

Legal Problems and the Poor

The Legal problems of Canadians are not evenly distributed. Data from the 2014 CFCJ survey – Everyday Legal Problems in Canada – indicates that a disproportionate percentage of persons who experience legal problems bear the burden of a significant amount of all legal problems— 10% of persons who have at least one legal problem experience 1/3 of all legal problems. Additionally, data indicates that a large cross-section of persons who experience legal problems are among the poorest in Canadian society. The CFCJ survey also confirms that overall, there is a high prevalence of everyday legal problems within Canadian society, with . . . [more]

Posted in: Justice Issues

Basis for Optimism About the Future

Should young persons be optimistic about the future?

Does history set the context for the present and the future? Is the past prologue?

Based on history, I submit that a young person should be optimistic about our future.

Some of our history that supports an optimistic outlook are :

  1. improvements in the health sciences and life expectancy;
  2. the growth of educational opportunities;
  3. the consolidation of governments;
  4. the growth of democratic government;
  5. the decline in violence over the centuries;
  6. the decline of wars by the major powers;
  7. the expansion of global trade.

1. Health:

In Canada our life expectancy has increased . . . [more]

Posted in: Justice Issues, Legal Publishing

The 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development & Justice

A few days ago, on 11 August, the co-facilitators of the process that had to produce the successors to the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) sent a letter to the President of the UN General Assembly that their mission had been accomplished. In diplomatic speak: an outcome document containing a draft of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) had been adopted by consensus. In the diplomatic universe this means that the Heads of State and Government and High Representatives will rubberstamp the document when they meet at the United Nations Headquarters in New York from 25-27 September 2015 for the UN’s 70 . . . [more]

Posted in: Justice Issues, Practice of Law

The Dutch Climate Case: Beginning of a New Era of Climate Litigation?

In an worldwide first, the Hague District Court has ordered the Dutch government to cut its greenhouse gas emissions (GHGs) by at least 25% compared to 1990 levels by the end of 2020. The decision, an English translation of which can be found here, has been widely reported and discussed (including in an interview on CBC Radio’s The Current with Dianne). It has rekindled hopes around the world that courts can spur governments into taking serious steps to deal with climate change.

Could a similar case be brought successfully in Canada?


The suit was brought against the Dutch . . . [more]

Posted in: Justice Issues

Speeding in Espanola

While on a family road trip in summer of 2013, I was ticketed for speeding on a stretch of highway west of Sudbury, Ontario. Being a lawyer, for the hours of driving that followed I could think of nothing but how to get the fine reduced or the ticket withdrawn. After all, the police speed trap was such that even the most cartoonishly-stereotypical of deep-south state troopers would be impressed by its audacity.

I was reminded of this episode when in preparation for a discussion with some Ontario judges on innovation in the courts, I came across a treasure trove . . . [more]

Posted in: Justice Issues

A Perspective on Legal Aid in Canada

Our national, decentralized, legal aid system is an important part of the access to justice landscape in Canada. Because of the presence it commands within the justice system overall, legal aid has the potential to play a crucial role in expanding access to justice in Canada. Innovation has long been a defining feature of legal aid, driven by the perennial need to do more with less or, at least, with less than was required. As to what we mean by a “legal” problem, justice and access to justice evolve with innovation and new ways of thinking. Legal aid plans are . . . [more]

Posted in: Justice Issues

Slaughtering the Judicial Scapegoat

Thousands of years ago the Hebrew Bible records a practice of the ancient Israelites. Aaron, spiritual leader and High Priest, would select two goats designating one as a sacrifice for God while the other – designated by a red string tied around its neck – had the distinct misfortune of representing the nation’s sins and was cast off the precipice of a cliff; the original scapegoat.

Centuries later, far from the desert wilderness of the early Jews, Prime Minister Harper (along with a host of pundits, authors, and a sizeable portion of Canadians) has tied a similar crimson knot into . . . [more]

Posted in: Justice Issues

Time for a Human Rights Defenders Action Plan: the Shrinking Space for Advocacy and Dissent in Canada

Last month Voices-Voix, a coalition of 200 organizations – large and small, local and national – from all corners of the country, released a deeply troubling report detailing what has become a campaign, some go so far as to say siege, against advocacy and dissent in Canada. It is a gloomy but necessary report, well worth a read.

My own organization, Amnesty International, has been centrally involved in Voices since the outset. Voices came together in 2010 because it had become clear that a growing number of groups and individuals who expressed views that went against federal government views on . . . [more]

Posted in: Justice Issues

Citizens Justice Emerging

Two weeks ago a new initiative was launched: the Wildlife Justice Commission. It’s a private initiative (with which I mean non-state) that seeks to disrupt criminal networks engaged in wildlife crime. It does so by gathering evidence, having that validated by experts, and bringing the validated evidence to the attention of national law enforcement authorities for action, if need be with a pinch of targeted pressure. In short: it does what looks a lot like law enforcement.

This fits into a wider trend I see: the emergence of citizens’ criminal justice. Let me share a few more examples.

First, . . . [more]

Posted in: Justice Issues

I Believe the Law Students Are Our Future

This past spring, I designed and taught an upper-­year course at the Allard (i.e. UBC) School of Law called “Access to Justice and the Modern Litigant.” For three hours each Thursday afternoon, my students and I discussed the deepening crisis in access to justice for working and middle-­class Canadians. We explored the philosophical foundations of the common law, traced the evolution of the concept of equal access to justice, and considered different sociological analyses of how ordinary Canadians interact with the civil justice systems built to serve them. We also reviewed the history of public legal services in Canada, and . . . [more]

Posted in: Justice Issues

Introducing the Access to Justice Research Network!

Access to justice issues have frequented academic, legal, political and mainstream debates for many years (with Slawyers often initiating or driving the dialogue happening in the Canadian blogosphere!). Yet, until now, there has been no identifiable, central platform in Canada where a wide range of justice stakeholders can exchange research and resources, raise questions and share ideas and concerns about access to justice issues. As fellow blogger Karen Dyck notes there is “… innovation in access to justice happening everywhere…[but there is] little evidence of either coordination or collaboration toward what seems to be a common goal.”

In response to . . . [more]

Posted in: Justice Issues