A Godless Charter and Law Society?

If the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms were being drafted today, should there be a reference to God in its opening line as there is now: “Whereas Canada is founded upon principles that recognize the supremacy of God and the rule of law”? Assuming that the Charter’s s. 2(a) declaration of “freedom of conscience and religion” includes freedom to be an atheist or agnostic, doesn’t that opening line put atheists and doubters in conflict with Canada’s founding?

Also, we spend coins that are based upon the existence of God. Whereas all American coins state, “In God We Trust,” all Canadian coins now state: “D G Regina” in an arc in front of Queen Elizabeth II’s silhouette, which stands for, Dei Gratia Regina, which means, “By the Grace of God, Queen.”[i]

And by the grace of God, law societies. The “burning bush” question in our law schools today is, why don’t our law societies free our people from this land of unaffordable legal services, and our courts from self-represented litigants? Is it truly better to have one God instead of the panoply of gods of former times? Well what of the days when God supervised the several committees made up of that panoply, as are our law societies in Canada? Because God found that, that management structure doesn’t get anything done, so it is that there are several “access to justice” problems, the worst of which is the “unaffordable legal services problem,” that persists to persist. So you can’t blame that one on God, as do our law societies. They really do, in an expressly undeclared, impliedly-so way. Nowhere in their published declarations as to their alleged devotion to the public interest and to the undeclared constitutional principle of the independence of law societies from the rule of law, do they say that the “access to justice problem of unaffordable legal services” is their problem and their duty to solve it. They have “Access to Justice” committees, and they express “concern” about the problem, but nothing has happened during all the decades during which this problem has been inflicting more damage in one day than have all of the incompetent and unethical lawyers in the whole history of Canada, coast to coast to coast. The latter are obviously “bad for business,” so the law societies are proactive about preventing them. But in regard to the former, their “Access to Justice” committees haven’t got beyond asking their law societies to express more concern. Well so be it because we, and all of our law societies and their committees, have a constitutional right as to freedom of conscience. So the freer the conscience, the more our law societies imply that unaffordable legal services are an Act of God.

You see it works this way for example. The non-lawyer average resident looks at the Law Society of Upper Canada’s webpage in its website, that has the heading, “Your Legal Bill – Too High?” It says first, that you can’t get legal advice from this webpage—well of course not, that’s not what a law society is for. Then it says, “The Law Society does not set fees for legal services and cannot reduce a lawyer’s or paralegal’s bill that you think is too high.” And it ends with this sentence: “If you have a complaint about your lawyer or paralegal that does not involve the amount of the bill, see the Law Society’s page on Complaining about a lawyer or paralegal.” That tells every non-lawyer resident, in three ways of “we’re not responsible” repetition, that the problem of unaffordable and out-of-sight legal fees is not the Law Society’s problem. But in between those statements are suggestions as to submitting a claim in the Small Claims Court against the allegedly gouging lawyer, or having the lawyer’s bill reviewed at the Assessment Office of the Ontario Superior Court of Justice. But to do that effectively, one needs a lawyer, which might result in two additional legal bills being too high.

So the average person then says, “if it can’t be the Law Society’s problem, I guess it must be the government’s problem.” But then the Law Society replies quickly, “we can’t have governments ‘meddling’ into anything as important as our legal fees, and also, it would interfere with the constitutional principle as to the independence of the legal profession from government intervention.” So the average person then concludes quite rightly, that the problem is nobody’s problem, meaning that it is an act of God like the weather, and earthquakes, floods, volcanoes, tsunamis, and the uncontrollable economic forces that make legal fees too high for the majority of population and law society control. That is who the law societies impliedly blame, God, and which therefore puts them above the rule of law—the same law that gives them the powers to regulate the legal profession and the duties to: (1) advance the cause of justice and the rule of law; (2) facilitate access to justice; (3) protect the public interest; and, (4) act in a timely, open and efficient manner (s. 4.2 of the Ontario Law Society Act)—see my August post, The failure of law societies to accept their duty in law to solve the unaffordable legal services problem (also posted on the SSRN, and the Access to Justice in Canada blog). But not to worry, nobody in power reads those sources. So you can see why law society committees don’t work very well, God and the Charter notwithstanding. So maybe to acknowledge the reality of their status above the rule of law, the reference to God in the opening line of the Charter should be replaced with the words, “law societies,” which would therefore appear before the phrase, “rule of law,” and immediately after the words, “supremacy of.” Thus, following the example of our law society committees and their work-product, that would resolve, or circumvent, the issue as to whether “God” should remain in the opening line of the Charter.

Ken Chasse (“Chase”), member of the Law Society of Upper Canada (Ontario) since 1966, and of the Law Society of British Columbia, Canada, since 1978.

[i] Therefore, here’s some Canadian coinage history re invoking God, (courtesy of a Google search, with my God-given better punctuation added): coins minted from 1902 till 1910 under King Edward VII read, “D. G. Rex Imperator,” which is Latin for, “By the Grace of God, King and Emperor.” From 1911 to 1936, under George V, it read, “Dei Gra Rex Et Ind Imp,” which stands for, Dei Gratia Rex et India Imperator, which means, “By the Grace of God, King and Emperor of India.” From 1937 to 1947 under the reign of George VI, it read either, “Dei Gra Rex Et Ind Imp,” as before, or was abbreviated, “D. G. Rex Et Ind Imp.” From 1947 to 1952, still under George VI, after the confederation of India, they read, “Dei Gratia Rex.” From 1952 till 1964, it read, “Dei Gratia Regina,” under Queen Elizabeth II. From 1964 on, it was abbreviated on all coins to the current phrase, “D. G. Regina.”


  1. “So the freer the conscience, the more our law societies imply that unaffordable legal services are an Act of God.” God or the Market? Or, are these two the same?

  2. Thank you Ken. Well said.

    The Charter isn’t as long as what Christians call the “Old Testament”, but it’s the same kind of document. The priests cite it as an authority that the people won’t question. For those who reject the notion of a God we have “the rule of law”. In practice there’s not a lot of difference. I always try to point out to people the overt religious symbolism that is evident if on entering the Vancouver courthouse by the south entrance one ventures up the flight of stairs under the glass roofed atrium and faces the iconic statue at the other end. One might as well have entered a cathedral. I remember once as a child mistakenly attending a Catholic church and being treated to a service conducted in Latin.

    The courts ultimately are facing the same fate as the once powerful mother Church. The people will lose faith in them.