Canada’s online legal magazine.

Archive for the ‘Justice Issues’ Columns

Immigration Reforms : “Good for Canada” or Bad for Democracy?

In January 2012, at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, Prime Minister Stephen Harper announced that his government would reshape the immigration system to make it “good for Canada”. This begged the questions whether the immigration had been “bad for Canada” up to now and whether this reshaping was necessary. Nevertheless, the government did proceed to institute a series of reforms that have now become part of Canadian law. Since 2012, we have seen increased Ministerial powers to bar individuals from entering Canada for vague public policy consideration, increased Ministerial powers to declare arrivals “irregular” and imprison the arriving . . . [more]

Posted in: Justice Issues

“What Do Those Indians Want, Anyway?”: Some Legal Issues Underlying Idle No More (Update)

The arrival of a group of Cree youth from Whapmagoostui, the northernmost Cree village on Hudson Bay at the end of a 1,500 km walk (and the many friends they picked up along the way) after a two month trek through the northern bush should remind us that the spirit of Idle No More (INM) has not died. It has simply gone off the grid. The young people left Whapmagoostui (aka Great Whale) on January 16 and were expected in Ottawa on March 25. The first long leg of their journey – from Whapmagoostui to Chisassibi was on snowshoes and . . . [more]

Posted in: Justice Issues

Do We Have Rights to a Healthy Environment?

Do governments owe us clean air and clean water? Many Canadians expect our government to protect us from contamination and other environmental harms in outdoor air, water and land. But is this a legal right?

The first formal recognition of environmental rights is found in the Stockholm Declaration, signed in 1972. Principle 1 recognizes our “fundamental right to freedom, equality and adequate conditions of life, in an environment of a quality that permits a life of dignity and well-being.” But this is international law, more of a statement of aspiration than a legal requirement.

David Boyd, one of Canada’s . . . [more]

Posted in: Justice Issues

Smoked by Mandatory Minimums

When did sentencing policies shift from merely being questionable, misguided or ill-advised to becoming downright absurd?

For many years now, the blunt hammer of mandatory minimum sentencing has been gaining traction in repeated Criminal Code amendments. Long a feature of only the most heinous criminal act imaginable – murder – mandatory minimums leaked into the broader sentencing framework in the battle against drunk drivers imposing minimum licence suspensions followed by mandatory jail stints for repeat offenders. Since then, they have been invoked in an ever-growing array of anti-crime objectives including the war on drugs, to battle the scourge of gun . . . [more]

Posted in: Justice Issues

Unbundling Legal Information

Because law belongs to the people, the governments and courts that issue law must make it available to the people. This is a simple and widely accepted fact.

In practice, as governments and courts carry out their responsibilities to make law available, they do so in a wide variety of ways. For example, the digital versions of federal statutes available from Justice Canada are “official”, and they exist in forms and with rights extended to all and sundry that permit reuse and republication without royalty or permission. However, in some provincial jurisdictions, a surprising range of limitations exist. . . . [more]

Posted in: Justice Issues

Violence Against Indigenous Women: Need for Action Long Overdue

I have always remembered the words of a First Nations woman, a tireless advocate for action to keep Indigenous women in Canada safe – long before the issue was attracting any media or political attention. We were sharing the podium for a press conference on Parliament Hill back in 2004. She realized how crucial it was to make people understand how serious and widespread violence against Indigenous women and girls was, right across the country. She put it simply, noting that “every aboriginal community, family and individual in Canada has lost a sister, mother, daughter, niece, cousin, neighbour or friend . . . [more]

Posted in: Justice Issues

Art, Courts and Social Media

In 2012, the Pew Internet & American Life Project conducted a survey of over 1,200 arts organizations to “understand how arts organizations are using the internet, social media, and other digital technologies to connect with the public.” The study found that enhanced public awareness, sharing and debate brought about by use of social media and other digital technologies are clear drivers of engagement with arts organizations and with art itself. Would a comparable survey of Canadian court use of digital technologies and social media disclose a similar effect on public engagement with the law and the Canadian justice system?

Yes. . . . [more]

Posted in: Justice Issues

Anti-Wind Litigation: Is There an End in Sight?

After nearly two years of vigorous anti-wind litigation in Ontario, anti-wind activists have failed to satisfy any court or tribunal that wind energy development in accordance with government standards will cause serious harm. Many wind projects have been approved, and wind-based electrical generation is growing fast. However, the same concerns keep being raised, and we know of no Ontario wind farm that has obtained its approval without the cost and delay of litigation.

Renewable energy approvals in Ontario

Ontario was the first Canadian jurisdiction to set up a special approvals regime for renewable energy, through the Green Energy Act. To . . . [more]

Posted in: Justice Issues

Predictions: Crime & Punishment in 2013

Another year is in the history books as the creaking structure of the Canadian justice system stumbled along under the weight of crushing new legislation and in the face of chronic underfunding. What does 2013 portend? Read on for some predictions of trends to watch for in the New Year.

1. Prison Overcrowding

About a decade ago prison overcrowding was a major news headline in jurisdictions across the country as an under-funded system struggled to deal with a growing population and a steady increase in the number of incarcerated persons. A multi-faceted approach that included an increase in non-custodial sentences . . . [more]

Posted in: Justice Issues

Chicken Little, Pandora[1] Et A. v. the Federal Court

There is a virus going around which incites selected journalists and commentators to lambaste the Courts for certain decisions, particularly constitutional decisions, and more particularly decisions about Aboriginal peoples. (For the moment I am refraining from saying “Aboriginal or treaty rights” for reasons that will become evident a short distance below.) It is always an advantage enjoyed by those who want to indulge in such lambasting not to have read the decision, or to have followed the proceedings, either in that Court or any other Court or any public inquiry or parliamentary committee that may be studying related issues. Indeed, . . . [more]

Posted in: Justice Issues

McJustice – Who’s Lovin’ It?

This column is an unintended and rather abstract follow-up to my last column entitled “Self-Represented Litigants Are Not Things” on the need for reformers to better consider the unique “real life” perspectives of lay litigants when redesigning justice system rules and processes. (It also marks the first time that I have written a column using the first person singular— a monumental occasion for me in overcoming anal retentive tendencies and long-misplaced notions of “proper” writing style.)

My involvement in the upcoming Vilardell v. Dunham appeal and extended reflection on the difficult task of facilitating fair and efficient resolutions to messy . . . [more]

Posted in: Justice Issues

Looking Back to the Future

This has been quite a rule of law year. One peak was in August 2012, when the United Nations General Assembly devoted its first-ever opening debate to the rule of law and adopted a Declaration on the Rule of Law at the National and International Levels. As Juan Botero, director of the World Justice Project poetically described it to me: “193 government leaders walked up to the podium and said rule of law is good. And that is good.”

It is. But it could have been better. In March, UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon issued a report called Delivering Justice . . . [more]

Posted in: Justice Issues