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Archive for the ‘Justice Issues’ Columns

A Roadmap for Change, the Final Report of the Action Committee on Access to Justice in Civil and Family Matters

Canada has a system of civil courts that would be the envy of many countries. We have a large, well- trained and dedicated legal profession. The legal aid system in Canada provides more service in civil matters than is available in many places throughout the world. Yet, with all this and all that it costs, we are not meeting the legal needs of the Canadian public. The final report of the Action Committee on Access to Justice in Civil and Family Matters, A Roadmap for Change, tackles the difficult problem of why this is the case and lays out . . . [more]

Posted in: Justice Issues

Freedom of Expression Before Environmental Regulators?

Environmental regulators and tribunals bear substantial responsibilities and make important decisions regarding development in Canada. If they won’t listen to opponents of a project, will they breach the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms?

The issue has been raised before the courts recently regarding both a pipeline approval before the National Energy Board and regulation of ongoing fracking activities before the Alberta Energy Regulator. The AER replaced the Energy Resources Conservation Board (ERCB), and provides “full-lifecycle regulatory oversight of energy resource development in Alberta – from application and construction to abandonment and reclamation, and everything in between.”

The mandate . . . [more]

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Confessions of a Prosecutorial Defence Lawyer

Switch hitting. Going over to the dark side. Seeing the light. I’ve been the target of a lot of clichés since my decision several months ago to dip a toe into the waters of becoming a per-diem Crown Attorney. My motivation was a desire to gain a deeper understanding of the machinery that inexorably grinds our system forward inch by inch (and not by the laughable pay rate that has the dubious distinction of being the only legal remuneration to make Legal Aid funding appear moderately generous). After spending nearly fifteen years exclusively as a criminal defence lawyer, my . . . [more]

Posted in: Justice Issues

Increasing Access to Justice Is Not a Zero-Sum Game

You probably know that pro bono publico translates as “for the public good”. But you may not know that some justice system stakeholders view doing the public good as not much good at all. Generally lauded by judges and leaders of the profession, the long-term systemic value of pro bono legal service is a matter of limited but uneasy debate in the community of reformers, progressives and do-gooders dedicated to the concept of equal access to justice for everyone. Within that virtuous circle, not everyone is convinced of pro bono’s net benefit to the mission.

The typical knock against . . . [more]

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Justice Innovation Contradictions

One way of stimulating justice innovation is to organise a competition. As I write, the 2013 HiiL – Innovation Justice Awards and the Human Rights Tulip are open for pubic online voting for one more week (see By the time this column is published the jury will be deliberating about the winners and on 11 December we will have the award ceremony. This is the third time the HiiL – Justice Innovating Justice Award has been awarded. And each consecutive year a growing number of fantastic initiatives and ideas that strengthen justice delivery reach, with an extra . . . [more]

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UN Human Rights Review and the Canadian Cold Shoulder

In previous columns I have written about the fact that Canada’s approach to implementing its international human rights obligations is rather a shambles. I have written of the pressing need for action to address violence against Indigenous women and girls in Canada. And I have highlighted the mystifying failure of the Canadian government to sign on to a UN torture prevention treaty that is more than a decade old.

Those all came together in a very significant way earlier this fall. Sadly the disappointment and shortcomings have only deepened.

2013 has brought Canada’s second turn through the UN Human Rights . . . [more]

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Back When I Knew Everything

Back when I knew everything the world was much simpler. Any topic, situation, challenge or choice could be easily placed into one of two categories. Category 1 consisted of matters where I was right and category 2 consisted of matters that didn’t matter.

Back when I knew everything there were no hard choices. Other people’s resources were best directed to ends of my choosing and my own resources were merely allocated between “now” and “soon”, possibly to “later”, but never to “never”.

Back when I knew everything there was no gap between . . . [more]

Posted in: Justice Issues

BC’s New Civil Resolution Tribunal

BC’s Civil Resolution Tribunal Act, passed in May 2012 (not yet in force) sets the stage for an ambitious new tribunal that embraces modern notions of technology and access to justice.

The Civil Resolution Tribunal, expected to launch in the Autumn of 2014, will be North America’s first online tribunal. It will provide an alternative to court for people seeking to resolve small claims and strata property (condominium) disputes in BC. Users will have access to a full array of online tools to help manage and resolve their disputes fairly, quickly and cost effectively.

Online dispute resolution (ODR) processes . . . [more]

Posted in: Justice Issues

The Courts, the Politicians, and the Environment

A lot of government decision-making makes people who care about the environment want to tear out their hair. Sometimes they go further and sue. Does it help?

Suing the government can certainly draw attention to a decision. Sometimes, the subsequent negotiations can lead to a better result. Very occasionally, Canadian courts actually do force a government to to do a better job on an environmental matter. For example, they have required the federal government to actually come up with a plan for protecting an endangered species, as the Species at Risk Act specifically requires them to do. And in Oldman . . . [more]

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When Is a Crime Not a Crime?

Two tragic deaths, months and thousands of kilometers apart, recently collided in my consciousness as I pondered the topic of my latest contribution to this SLAW Justice Column.

In late March of 2013 a jury found Richard Kachkar not criminally responsible (“NCR”) in the tragic high-profile death of Sgt. Ryan Russel. Kachkar had been charged with murder after an early morning barefoot rampage in a stolen snowplow. By the time the evidence at this trial was done, both the defence and crown psychiatric experts had reached the conclusion that Kachkar was suffering from a serious and debilitating mental illness. The . . . [more]

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Did the National Apologies to Aboriginal People Grant Absolution to the Government?

On June 11, 2008, the House of Commons met in the Committee of the Whole to allow the Prime Minister, Stephen Harper, the Leader of the Opposition, Stéphane Dion, Jack Layton, the leader of the New Democratic Party, and Gilles Duceppe, leader of the Bloc Québecois to each offer apologies for the harm done to First Nations and other Aboriginal students through their residential school experiences.[1]

Two new issues, related but readily distinguishable, have arisen in the past few months, about the residential school experience, neither of which were public knowledge at the time of the apology and certainly . . . [more]

Posted in: Justice Issues

Sold Out: Trade Trumps Human Rights in Canada’s Relationship With Colombia

By any measure one of the most entrenched and distressing human rights tragedies in the Americas has been the decades of conflict and abuse in Colombia. The statistics are staggering. Highest number of internally displaced people in the world. Most dangerous country on the planet to be a trade unionist. Amidst an enduring crisis that has impacted virtually every part of Colombian society, the plight of the country’s Indigenous peoples is particularly harrowing. Their fate has become so alarming in fact that UN experts and the country’s own Constitutional Court are starting to talk about extermination and possible genocide.

By . . . [more]

Posted in: Justice Issues