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Archive for the ‘Justice Issues’ Columns

Of Taj Mahals and Strip Malls

A professional friend of mine in the health-care field once confided to me his very wise approach to automotive shopping. “You want to be classy. Refined. Executive. I can’t show up in an old econo-box and still expect the patients to trust and respect me” he said. “On the other hand, there’s a balance. You don’t want to be so classy, refined or executive that your patients leave your office through the parking lot wondering why they’re paying you so damn much.” Kia and Porsche? Not so much. Stylish but sensible Acura? Just right.

It turns out that courthouses can . . . [more]

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Beware of Obviosities: Can the Obvious Ever Be a Settled Question?

A long time ago – sometime back in the last millennium, as a I recall – Michael Enright, the C.B.C. host and motorcycle rider – during yet another debate on gun control, said of the bill then before Parliament, “I should think it would be an obviosity.” Besides any other criticism of this neologism, the case for (or against) gun control is anything but obvious. Any legislative proposal that divides the country almost evenly in half does not deserve to be called an “obviosity.” I have not heard this noun used since, and I remain, by and large a . . . [more]

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As Goes Access to Law School, So Goes Access to Justice – Part I

[The memosphere strikes again! Between submission and publication of this column, Omar Ha-Redeye posted a very informed and insightful Slaw entry entitled, “Access to Justice Starts With Legal Tuition“. Playing Bell to my Meucci (that reads rather strangely), Omar covers much of the same analytical territory as me—with the bonus of journalistic rigour. Still, I like to think that both posts deserve your attention.]

A lot happens in a year, and the Quebec student protests that dominated the news last spring are a distant memory now. The students went back to school, Quebec elected a new government that . . . [more]

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Closing Canada’s International Human Rights Implementation Gap

Canada is far from perfect when it comes to its domestic human rights record. Obviously the scale and gravity of concerns do not compare with tragedies unfolding in countries like Syria or the Democratic Republic of Congo, the threat to survival faced by so many of Colombia’s Indigenous nations or the relentless discrimination women endure in Afghanistan. But the concerns are nevertheless very real and longstanding, ranging from the alarmingly high and entrenched levels of violence experienced by Indigenous women to punitive new immigration detention laws; from the failure to tackle homelessness in the country to national security practices that . . . [more]

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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]

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“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]

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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]

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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]

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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]

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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]

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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]

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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]

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