Media Release: Access to Justice Stifled by Harper’s New Government

RAMA, ON, Sept. 28 /CNW/ – “Tuesday’s announcement by the Conservative Government of their intention to eviscerate the Law Commission of Canada and the Court Challenges Program, is a blow to access to justice for Aboriginal people and indeed all Canadians”, said Indigenous Bar Association President, Jeffery Hewitt.

Yesterday Prime Minister Harper’s New Government announced its plans to “eliminate wasteful and ineffective programs”, including, among others, two key institutions promoting access to justice: the Law Commission of Canada and the Court Challenges Program.

“It is unimaginable that any Government in Canada would pointedly suggest that access to justice is wasteful and ineffective. It appears that Harper’s New Government put all Canadians on notice this week that our dearly held views that we are a society who cares for the most vulnerable among us is not the Canada that Harper’s New Government intends to uphold for us” said Jeffery Hewitt.

By many accounts the Law Commission is a success, perhaps most notably through some of its key initiatives such as: its report entitled “Restoring Dignity: Responding to Child Abuse in Canadian Institutions” , which generated significant research leading to the resolution of abuses against former Aboriginal residential school students; its “Indigenous Legal Traditions” initiative calling for true legal pluralism with the inclusion of legal traditions (common, civil and Indigenous), of all three founding partners of Confederation in Canada’s laws; and its “Beyond Conjugality” report that called for a better reflection and protections in law of how Canadians chose to live their lives every day in, traditional marriages, common law partnerships, civil unions, same-sex unions, blended families, and the like.

In addition to eliminating the Law Commission, funding has evaporated for several independent, non-partisan research institutions such as the Court Challenges Program, which assists important court cases that advance language and equality rights guaranteed under the Charter of Rights and Freedoms. According to Treasury Board president, John Baird, funding for the Court Challenges Program was eliminated because he “didn’t think it made sense for government to subsidize lawyers to challenge the government’s own laws in court”, which incidentally is one of the cornerstones of a progressive and accountable democracy.

With the elimination of these important institutions one is left to assume that Harper’s New Government believes it knows best what Canadians need and that does not include the Charter, the Constitution or an accountable government.

In the recent Speech from the Throne, Harper’s New Government spoke about the importance of checks and balances in bringing accountability back to government, noting however that the “trust of citizens must be earned every day.”

“Ironically” says IBA President “when it comes to justice and accountability in Canada, Harper’s New Government has failed to recognize the fundamental importance of checks and balances and on Tuesday failed to earn the trust of Canadians”.

For further information: Jeffery Hewitt, President of the Indigenous Bar Association at: jhewitt@indigenousbar.ca or call at (705) 330-6203