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Archive for the ‘Justice Issues’ Columns

Aboriginal Admissions to Law School

The Program of Legal Studies for Native People (PLSNP) was founded in 1973 to encourage Canadian law schools to admit Aboriginal law students to law school, and to encourage Aboriginal students to study law. As far as anyone could tell, at that time you could count the number of Aboriginal lawyers and Aboriginal law students in the country on your fingers. After nearly 40 years, has the need for the PLSNP disappeared?

I’d say there are at least two answers to that question. First, I’d say that it is impossible to know, because no one keeps track of the actual . . . [more]

Posted in: Justice Issues

Law and (In)humanity

In an earlier column I noted that we use the idea of justice in two different ways. According to the first, to call something just is to praise it morally and to call it unjust is to condemn it. This, the general sense of justice, does not signal any particular grounds for praise or condemnation: ‘just’ is little more than a thumbs-up, ‘unjust’ a thumbs-down. But we also use ‘justice’ in a second, more specific, way, to pick out a particular virtue that arrangements might have or lack. This is what Justinian’s Digest has in mind when it tells us . . . [more]

Posted in: Justice Issues

Why Should the Government Be Above the Law?

In Friends of the Earth – Les Ami(e)s de la Terre v. Canada (Governor in Council) 2009 FCA 297 [leave to appeal dismissed 2010 CanLII 14720 (S.C.C.)] , the Federal Court of Appeal let the Canadian government get away with open defiance of a statute of the Parliament of Canada,the Kyoto Protocol Implementation Act, 2007 (KPIA).

According to the federal government, its defiance is no business of the courts, because the obligations in the KPIA are “not justiciable”. The Federal Court of Appeal agreed, but with the thinnest of justifications.

This country signed and ratified an international convention on the . . . [more]

Posted in: Justice Issues

The Cost of Justice – Weighing the Costs of Fair and Effective Resolution to Legal Problems

Equal access to a civil and family justice system that can uphold rights and fairly and effectively resolve disputes is a fundamental and far-reaching component of democratic societies. It influences our lives every day via contracts and credit situations, the ownership and distribution of property, family relationships and their breakdown, personal injury, benefit entitlements, human rights, and various corporate arrangements.

At the most basic level, the civil justice system exists to provide people with access to knowledge about their rights, and if necessary to a means of enforcing them (Civil Justice Advisory Group, 2005, p.20).

Although the civil . . . [more]

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If I Had $1.8 Billion Dollars…

$1.8 billions dollars. That’s what the Truth in Sentencing plank of the Federal government’s ‘get-tough-on-crime’ policy will cost in new prison construction alone over the next five years. We’re not even talking about what it will cost to hire the additional correctional service employees to staff these new prisons. Keep in mind as well that Truth in Sentencing – which eliminates the long-standing two-for-one credit on pre-trial custody – is just one of the many new so-called anti-crime initiatives either already in force or soon to be in force courtesy of the Tory law-and-order agenda.

As a defence lawyer writing . . . [more]

Posted in: Justice Issues

First Nations Land to Settler Land Disconnect

Unforeseen circumstances have landed me in Campbell River, British Columbia for a few days. I’m trying to make the most of this detour by taking in whatever Campbell River has to offer. One of my better-spent days included a visit to the Campbell River Museum which has substantial displays devoted to the First Nations of the region, their history, material culture, place names, stories, and the colonization attempts by the Spanish and British. I know in general terms how that turned out – the British were the successful colonizers. And I know all to well what that meant for First . . . [more]

Posted in: Justice Issues

Technology and Access to Justice in Rural Communities

There is no doubt that residents of rural communities in Canada face greater access to justice limitations than their urban dwelling counterparts. In the last column we explored one such limitation, being reduced access to legal advice and legal advocacy due to a comparatively smaller number of lawyers practicing in rural areas. As we discussed, this is a trend that is forecast to get even worse in the near future. In addition to challenges in regards to legal advice and legal advocacy however, rural communities face additional challenges in another important access to justice factor, that being access to legal . . . [more]

Posted in: Justice Issues

Defining Civil Justice

[Written with Bradley Albrecht]

Since 1998, the Canadian Forum on Civil Justice has developed a number of online resources and databases which are designed to increase understanding about the civil justice system, and ultimately to improve access to civil and family justice. My last article focused on the Inventory of Reforms, which, alongside our Clearinghouse, is designed to provide greater access to information on the civil justice system and civil justice reform initiatives.

In all of our work at the Forum we have found that there is a real need to promote a stronger shared understanding and . . . [more]

Posted in: Justice Issues

Retroactive Injustice

One of the most wrenching questions in environmental law is who should pay for historic contamination which was legal at the time. There is no moral difficulty in holding today’s polluters responsible for the consequence of their acts. But historic contamination, the unintended result of perfectly lawful conduct, is different. Inco has been ordered to pay $36 million in damages for lost property value, after 2000, due to nickel emissions before 1984 that were legal at the time: Smith v. Inco 2010 ONSC 3790

Is this just?

The rule of law is an essential part of the fundamental bargain that . . . [more]

Posted in: Justice Issues

Beyond Justice

The Canadian Charter tells us (s.24) that if we think our rights have been violated, we can apply for ‘such remedy as the court considers appropriate and just in the circumstances.’ Does ‘just’ add anything to ‘appropriate’? Or is it, like ‘cease and desist’, only a bit of legal belt-and-braces?

Sometimes we do think of justice as mere propriety. For something to be unjust is for it to be out of kilter, morally speaking. On this way of looking at things, we can say that destroying the environment, abusing children, breaking promises, and torturing people are all unjust. They are . . . [more]

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When Bad Law Happens to Good People

Many of you are likely already familiar with the alleged facts in the disturbing and complicated case of Captain Robert Semrau. For those who are not, here’s a quick refresher. 

Capt. Semrau was serving a tour of duty with the Canadian military in Afghanistan. He was assigned to a small Operational Mentor and Liason Team (OMLT) tasked with working hand-in-hand with a larger force of Afghani military assisting them in becoming a self-sufficient fighting force capable of challenging the Taliban militia on their own when Canada’s mission comes to a close. On Oct. 19, 2008 his orders were to troll . . . [more]

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Aboriginal Law Skills

As director of the Program of Legal Studies for Native People (PLSNP) I have several roles. One is advising prospective Aboriginal law students about how they might best prepare for the Law School Admissions Test (LSAT). This often leads to a discussion about why they have to take it at all since it is not created for Aboriginal Canadians or demonstrated to be a valid measure of skills for Aboriginal Canadians. (I can’t argue with that – when I asked for statistics about how LSAT score correlates with success in law school for Aboriginal Canadians, I was told that would . . . [more]

Posted in: Justice Issues