June 24, 2010

The New Public Commission on Legal Aid Wants to Hear From You

The Law Society of B.C., the B.C. branch of the Canadian Bar Association, and four other legal groups have launched the Public Commission on Legal Aid which will hold public hearings across British Columbia to gather recommendations on how to improve the province's flagging legal aid system.  A schedule for the hearings has not yet been released, but the Commission will focus on communities where the need for legal aid is highest
The Commission will be led by well-respected lawyer Len Doust, who will create a report on the hearings to be submitted to the provincial government.  The hearings are being held by legal groups to draw attention to the strained state of legal aid in British Columbia, with the hope that the provincial government will overhaul the system.

British Columbia is not the only province facing a legal aid crisis, and increasingly, lawyers are responding to the issue by refusing to take on legal aid work.  Last year I wrote about the legal aid boycott by some Ontario criminal lawyers, and the controversy surrounding their strike

Now the Canadian Press reports that, "The commission comes just weeks after lawyers in Kamloops ended a four-month legal aid boycott aimed at protesting the closure of several regional legal aid offices in B.C.  In Ontario, more than 1,000 defence lawyers refused to take legal aid cases for six months, before the province promised in January a 40 per cent increase in lawyer fees over seven years.  And in Manitoba, the government announced additional funding earlier this year to prevent the province's courts from grinding to a standstill with Legal Aid Manitoba facing a multimillion-dollar shortfall."

Once released, the hearing schedule will be posted on this site.

June 14, 2010

SCC Decision Brings Charter Rights Within Your Reach

In a decision released last Friday, the Supreme Court of Canada has ruled that administrative tribunals have the power to enforce Charter rights, including the authority to provide a remedy when those rights have been violated. The decision pulls together conflicting caselaw in recent years which has created uncertainty among boards and tribunals as to the scope of their authority.

This decision has important consequences for many Canadians. Administrative tribunals are like mini-courts which make a huge number of decisions in many areas of government authority including immigration, pensions, the competence of health care providers, benefits entitlement and residential tenancy relationships to name just a few. Allowing these tribunals to apply the Charter means that people appearing before them will be able to enforce their Charter rights without having to appeal the tribunal's decision to the court, which can cost a tremendous amount of time and money.

The Supreme Court of Canada appears to have had the access to justice crisis in Canada in mind when it unanimously found, "the jurisprudential evolution affirms the practical advantages and the constitutional basis for allowing Canadians to assert their Charter rights in the most accessible forum available, without the need for bifurcated proceedings between superior courts and administrative tribunals."

No doubt this decision will mean a steep learning curve for tribunal members, who will have to ready themselves for an onslaught of constitutional files. Despite what may be a bumpy road ahead, the Supreme Court of Canada's decision has made the Charter a lot more relevant to the average Canadian.

June 13, 2010

Mea Culpa

I have been very negligent (to throw around another gratuitous legal term) in updating this blog. This is due to the arrival of a very small, but very persistent, human who absorbs almost all of my time and incapacitates almost all of my brain cells. I was surprised and encouraged to see that this site is still getting almost 1500 visits a month, so I am going to shake myself out of the fog and start writing again, however sporadically. Thank you for sticking around!