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Archive for the ‘Justice Issues’ Columns

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a lawyer, for the hours of driving that followed I could think of nothing but how to get the fine reduced or the ticket withdrawn.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

Halt and Catch Fire (HCF)

“An early computer command that sent the machine into a race condition, forcing all instructions to compete for superiority at once. Control of the computer could not be regained.”

Those words appear on the screen of the opening scene of the first episode of the AMC program “Halt and Catch Fire”, a fantastic show set in the early days of the personal computing revolution. Wikipedia offers further insight into the truth or fiction of the actual HCF concept, but my purpose in introducing the term is to use it as a framework to comment on the efforts of . . . [more]

Posted in: Justice Issues

Why Special Rules for Wind Projects on Endangered Species?

Ontario has an elaborate system that allegedly protects endangered species. Under the Endangered Species Act (ESA), endangered, threatened or extirpated species and their habitats cannot be harmed or destroyed, except by permit or if authorized under the regulations.

Leaving aside the massive exemption regulations for industry and agriculture that are presently under attack in the courts, endangered species and their habitats are supposed to be harmed only with the personal permission of the Minister of Natural Resources (MNR). Most regulatory permits in Ontario are issued by civil servants; requiring that endangered species permits be issued by the Minister personally underscores . . . [more]

Posted in: Justice Issues

Transgender Rights in Canada: Another Letdown Looms

In Canada, in fact all around the world, transgender individuals face some of the highest risks of human rights violations of any sector of society. By any measure, the levels of violence, discrimination and other abuses they face are shockingly high.

It is a grave human rights problem in need of attention. More needs to be done to assure and uphold the equality rights of transgender individuals, and protect them from discrimination. More also needs to be done to keep them safe from hateful acts of violence.

For ten years there have been efforts in Parliament to do just that; . . . [more]

Posted in: Justice Issues

The Power of Invoking

I just came back from Uganda and Kenya, two countries fighting two wars: one with the odds against ‘getting to Denmark’ (to borrow a Fukuyama phrase), and the other with terrorism. I left Uganda as prosecutor Joan Kagezi, who was leading the prosecution of suspected Al Shabab terrorists, was shot dead. The murder was claimed by Al Shabab. I left Kenya at the end of the day that saw the murder of almost 150 students at the Garissa University by that same Al Shabab. On the one hand both states are dealing with a very acute and direct threat against . . . [more]

Posted in: Justice Issues, Practice of Law

Everyday Legal Problems and the Cost of Justice in Canada

Last month, as part of a five-year SSHRC funded research project exploring the costs of justice, the Canadian Forum on Civil Justice released the first data from its national legal problems survey, “Everyday Legal Problems and the Cost of Justice in Canada”. Completed in 2014 with over 3000 respondents, the survey finds that everyday legal problems are ubiquitous in the lives of adult Canadians. Over any given three-year period almost 50% of adult Canadians will experience at least one legal problem that they find series and difficult to resolve.

What Are Everyday Legal Problems?

Everyday legal problems are the . . . [more]

Posted in: Justice Issues