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Archive for the ‘Justice Issues’ Columns

Show Not Tell: Why I Am Declining to Participate in a Runnymede Society Debate


I was recently invited to participate in a Runnymede Society debate against Asher Honickman—a co-founder of the Society—on “the future of legal education and curriculum.” I paused. I consulted. I reflected. And now, I am declining that invitation. But I want to explain why.

As a former debater and mooter, I love to argue. But as a legal scholar—and especially, a scholar of critical race theory—I am mindful of power and its inseverability from the conversations we engage in. Thinking about power, and its particular dynamics within the context of this proposed Runnymede Society debate, is ultimately what led me . . . [more]

Posted in: Justice Issues

Unbundle the Courts

It’s been a long time since I did an analysis of the constitutional give-and-take between the courts and the legislature when it comes to Charter decisions, so I’m not going to opine on Justice Minister David Lametti’s remarkable musings last month that the government might legislate a solution to court backlogs caused by enforcement of the Jordan decision during the pandemic.

As the defence lawyer states in the linked article, the Supreme Court’s ruling already allows for flexibility around “illness or extraordinary circumstances,” and COVID-19 certainly qualifies as both. There’s no need to legislate a solution to Jordan backlogs . . . [more]

Posted in: Justice Issues, Practice of Law

The Two-Fold Dilemma of the Self-Represented Litigant: COVID-19 and Navigating the Court System

[This post was a collaboration written by Anna Sallah and Julie Macfarlane.]

COVID-19 has driven up anxieties and everyday challenges for everyone, but for the self-represented litigant, it has raised new and especially difficult issues. Being a self-represented litigant on a normal day is no small feat: it involves tackling issues ranging from searching for and identifying legal resources, to applying arcane and complex rules and procedures, all while navigating unfamiliar territory.

Moving from dealing with the regular uncertainties of being an SRL to being an SRL during COVID-19 is like moving from the frying pan, to the fire.

As . . . [more]

Posted in: Justice Issues

Lawyers and Self-Represented Litigants: Taking Pintea More Seriously

The 2017 decision Pintea v Johns has been heralded as a watershed moment for self-represented litigants in Canada. In a very short decision written by Justice Karakatsanis, the Supreme Court endorsed the Canadian Judicial Council’s (CJC) Statement of Principles on Self-Represented Litigants and Accused Persons.[1]

The Canadian Judicial Council’s statement on self-represented litigants sought to articulate proactive guidelines respecting judges’ responsibilities when hearing cases involving self-represented litigants. Recognizing the disadvantage to self-represented litigants who are not familiar with or understand the procedural and substantive law, the Statement of Principles was meant to provide guidance for judges, court administrators and . . . [more]

Posted in: Justice Issues

Justice for Resilience

There are many reasons why well-functioning justice systems are important. The Corona crisis made me more aware of its importance for resilience. Louise Vet, a widely distinguished ecologist from the Netherlands, said in a recent interview that our economies are aimed at reducing diversity. That makes us vulnerable, she said. Ecosystems can teach us how to do better. Resilient ecosystems are made up of many small connections. Each individual connection may not matter that much, but together they matter a lot. They create a fine web of resilience. A lot of diversity allows you to spread risk. If something goes . . . [more]

Posted in: Justice Issues, Practice of Law

Community-Based Access to Justice: Impact and Opportunity

The COVID-19 pandemic has had wide-ranging and profound impacts on our society. The crisis has led to a surge in legal problems related to tenant rights, employment issues, domestic violence and other areas. Most would agree that, pandemic or not, access to justice is still a goal that is far beyond our grasp. Making real headway is complicated and no easy solutions exist, but in this moment there is opportunity for meaningful change. Can we seize it?

This week CLEO released a new report, Community Justice Help: Advancing Community-Based Access to Justice. It is the product of a fellowship . . . [more]

Posted in: Justice Issues

A Journalist Shield Law for the Provinces

This piece is based on my Parkland Institute report entitled, “Alberta’s Inadequate Legal Protection of Whistleblowers, Journalist Sources and Others Who Speak Out in the Public Interest.” The report is expected to be published online later this year.

A person who wants to blow the whistle on wrongdoing in our society has a lot to worry about. On the legal front, they may lose their job or be sued. Whistleblower protections in Canada, which extend only the public sector employment, are poor. Moreover, only three provinces have anti-SLAPP legislation. Most choose to feed a tip, leaked document, or their first . . . [more]

Posted in: Justice Issues

A Historic Verdict

History was made on June 26, 2020, in the Ontario Superior Court of Justice decision in R. v. Theriault.

It was a very detailed and meticulous decision that was well over 300 paragraphs long. It cited nearly 50 cases, and carefully went through the evidence and the law. But that’s not what made it noteworthy.

For the first time in Canadian history, the verdict was read out loud and live-streamed via Zoom on YouTube, to a massive audience. Over 20,000 people were reported to watch the verdict, which consisted of a judge reading his decision into a screen for the . . . [more]

Posted in: Justice Issues, Substantive Law: Judicial Decisions

“You… Are Your Brothers’ and Sisters’ Keepers”: Now Is the Time to Move From Words to Deeds

Reflections on the 19 June 2020 UN Human Rights Council resolution on systemic racism, police brutality, and unlawful suppression of peaceful protest.

“Black Lives Matter. Indigenous Lives Matter. The lives of people of colour matter.” – Michelle Bachelet, UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, 17 June 2020

The brutal torture and murder of an unarmed Black man, George Floyd, in the United States (US) on 25 May 2020 has sparked global outrage about systemic racism and impunity for police violence against Black people, Indigenous Peoples and people of colour. Protestors have taken to the streets in thousands of places around . . . [more]

Posted in: Justice Issues

Quarantine Diaries: Law Students Reflect on Their New Reality

[This post was a collaboration written by Julie Macfarlane, along with NSRLP research assistants Katie Pfaff, Negin Shahraki and Arathi Arit.]

How are students in law school coping with the impact of the lockdown on their studies, their lives, and their feelings of well-being and optimism?

I asked our NSRLP research assistants for their thoughts and reflections on what it was like to finish out last semester – and anticipate beginning next semester – in a virtual learning space. Below, three 1Ls share their hopes, their challenges, and their ongoing questions about what happens next.

Katie Pfaff

When the announcement . . . [more]

Posted in: Justice Issues

The Unintended Consequences of Innovation

The Legal Health Check-Up (LHC) is an innovation that has been successfully implemented by several community legal clinics in Southwestern Ontario. Reviewing the outcomes of the LHC over the past 5 years reveals how this innovation has had transformative impacts on service delivery in 3 community legal clinics in Ontario. The LHC was first piloted by Halton Community Legal Services (HCLS) between October 2014 and January 2015, after which it became a permanent component of the delivery approach. Three other clinics began experimenting with the LHC at about the same time. Hamilton Community Legal Clinic, the Legal Clinic of . . . [more]

Posted in: Justice Issues

More Problems With Conflict of Interest Legislation Revealed in Recent Alberta Controversy

In prior posts, I have highlighted problems with conflict of interest (or ethics) legislation regulating politicians in Canada. In particular I have commented on how legal privilege (for example cabinet confidence in the SNC Lavalin controversy) thwarts investigations. I have also highlighted the loophole in ethics rules (and their interpretation by some commissioners) that exempt political gain as an interest that may conflict with a member or Minister’s duty to serve the public interest.

A recent controversy in Alberta politics has exposed more loopholes in ethics rules. Part of that controversy was that Alberta Health Minister Shandro, who is . . . [more]

Posted in: Justice Issues, Legal Ethics