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Archive for the ‘Justice Issues’ Columns

Proof and Causation: When Courts and Scientists Disagree

[This column was written with the asstance of Meredith James.]

One of the challenges in environmental work is the inconsistent and erratic relationship between law and science. To be effective, environmental policy needs to be based on good science, which is why current government cuts to key environmental research are so harmful, in both the short and the long run. But even when good science exists, the law struggles to properly incorporate it, and sometimes science can’t (yet?) answer the questions the courts are interested in. What should happen then?

Criminal cases

The courts sometimes seem to have a poor . . . [more]

Posted in: Justice Issues

Home on the RangeFindr

Legal research is often the bane of a criminal lawyers’ existence. Whenever I glance at the mountain of paperwork that forms the spine of a civil case I give a reassuring nod of my head secure in my early career decision to abandon corporate commercial litigation for the more fly-by-the-seat-of-your-pants lifestyle of a criminal barrister.

And yet, arriving in court without a meticulously researched legal position is less fly-by-the-seat-of-your-pants and more akin to showing up before the bench without any trousers at all.

Sentencing law in particular raises a unique challenge for the busy criminal practitioner. While textbooks can provide . . . [more]

Posted in: Justice Issues

Immovable Object, Meet Irresistible Force

For over 30 years, every Canadian law student has read these words:

Mr. Pettkus and Miss Becker came to Canada from central Europe, separately, as immigrants, in 1954. He had $17 upon arrival. They met in Montreal in 1955. Shortly thereafter, Mr. Pettkus moved in with Miss Becker, on her invitation. She was thirty years old and he was twenty-five. He was earning $75 per week; she was earning $25 to $28 per week, later increased to $67 per week.

To protect their privacy interests, is it too late to re-style the case P (L) v. B (R)?

I . . . [more]

Posted in: Justice Issues

Sentries of Injustice: Fees and Costs

Few people welcome the experience of arguing in court over intensely personal issues. Fewer people would pay a single nickel for the experience. With the very odd exception, ordinary people appear in court because they have no real choice in the matter. A mother fights for the custody of her infant son out of concern for his safety. A factory worker seeks wrongful dismissal damages to pay his mounting bills. A disabled man resists eviction from his subsidized apartment to avoid homelessness. And yet in spite of these common scenarios and the human need to correct actual or perceived injustice, . . . [more]

Posted in: Justice Issues

Pour Des Raisons Technologiques… Et Juridiques! / a Website Overhaul… for All the Right Reasons

[ français / English ]

Pour toutes sortes de raisons, il est temps d’une grande refonte de la présence Web d’Éducaloi. En effet, nous travaillons depuis plusieurs mois à refondre le site Web d’Éducaloi tout en travaillant également à refaire l’image de marque de notre organisme qui existe depuis l’an 2000. La mise à jour de notre image de marque vise à s’assurer que le grand public et le milieu juridique comprennent mieux qui nous sommes et ce que nous faisons. Aussi, elle vise à augmenter la notoriété d’Éducaloi dans la population québécoise. Ces deux grands chantiers se font en . . . [more]

Posted in: Justice Issues

Fisheries Act: Weaker or Tougher?

(and by Meredith James)

With Bill C-38, the omnibus Budget Implementation Act, Bill C-38, the Conservative government will bring sweeping changes to Canada’s environmental landscape. To make approvals easier for oil sands projects and related pipelines, the Fisheries Act will be particularly affected. Major changes will dramatically narrow what a reduced corps of fisheries officers will attempt to protect. However, while there will likely be even fewer prosecutions, penalties for those that convicted will soar.

According to the federal government, the purpose of these changes in is “to focus …on the protection of fish that support commercial, recreational . . . [more]

Posted in: Justice Issues

The Justice System Is Not About Other People

I met with my client after supper on a Friday in the vestibule of a church. It was near my place and, it being a pleasant spring evening, I walked there, pushing my then-infant daughter in her stroller. He was a regular at this particular church, and Fridays were reserved for family social events. His young children were also at the church – a rare and special occasion, authorized in this instance by the family court. The child welfare officer was due to return shortly so we chatted only briefly before he signed over his $2700 tax return and rejoined . . . [more]

Posted in: Justice Issues

Aging Gracefully

Recently while sitting in a packed courtroom in Newmarket agonizingly waiting for my brief ‘speak-to’ matter to be called, I began to question one of our statutory traditions and the grace towards our elders that it mandates.

Don’t get me wrong. Since I was a child it has been ingrained upon me to honour and respect my seniors. I’ve crossed my share of streets hand-in-hand with little old ladies and vacated countless seats on sardine-stuffed subway cars but something about watching counsel be called in order of their year of call smacks of anachronism and inefficiency.

Although not applied in . . . [more]

Posted in: Justice Issues

What Part of “No” Don’t You Understand, O Gracious Crown?

In the thesis I’m in the midst of writing, about burdens of proof in litigation between First Nations and the Crown pursuant to s.35(1) of the Constitution Act, 1982, I argue that the Crown invariably takes a position that denies any meaning to the guarantees of Aboriginal and treaty rights in that section, contrary to numerous Supreme Court decisions.

I’ve just come across a statutory example of the same sort of conduct in the Proceedings of the Senate Committee on Aboriginal Peoples, from May 31, 2010, almost two years ago.

In 2088, Parliament amended the Canadian Human Rights Act ( . . . [more]

Posted in: Justice Issues

Pro Bono Meets “Low Bono” at Big BC Law Firms

In the black and white world of organized pro bono legal services, something is either pro bono or it’s not. Legal services are provided for zero compensation, or they’re not considered pro bono. This absolutist perspective is crude and fully disconnected from the simple translation of pro bono from Latin as “for the good”, but necessary to give relevance and integrity to pro bono as a functional concept. If the concept is stretched to include contingency fees or unpaid bills or reduced rates, then it ceases to have reliable meaning for lawyers and their clients. So for pro bono . . . [more]

Posted in: Justice Issues

Twitter, Facebook and the Rule of Law

To have a country governed by the rule of law and not the rule of man requires that the law be known. As few communication networks are as efficient for disseminating information as social media networks, it should not be that surprising that Twitter, Facebook and other networks can very effectively serve that objective.

Twitter and Facebook will not and should not supplant the role of government and the courts to make the law known, but even the law makers themselves can and are making increasing use of social media to augment their efforts.


Before adopting too pious a . . . [more]

Posted in: Justice Issues

Too Easy Rests the Crown

I have been thinking lately that there is a certain similarity between how I observed the Crown operating in the lower courts in the 1970s and how I have observed the Crown working at the highest levels more recently. Let me explain and offer some brief biographical account.

I first started to do a certain kind of paralegal work – what would later be called “Native Courtwork” – making a connection between a Native person accused of an offense and a lawyer willing to represent the accused (and often doing much of the factual research) at Akwesasne, the Mohawk community . . . [more]

Posted in: Justice Issues