Canada’s chief justice of Supreme Court says the country’s public faith in Canadian justice is at risk due to barriers Canadians and others face gaining access to courts, particularly in civil matters.
Chief Justice Beverley McLachlin, on Saturday, warned of the judicial hoops that Canadians must jump through for justice during a rare news conference at the annual conference of the Canadian Bar Association, according to a report in The Chronicle Journal.
“Being able to access justice is fundamental to the rule of law. If people decide they can’t get justice, they will have less respect for the law,” Ms. McLachlin said.
“They will tend not to support the rule of law. They won’t see the rule of law, which is so fundamental to our democratic society, as central and important.”
McLachlin did not offer specific solutions for the Canadian justice system, but urged lawyers, judges and government to come together and break down barriers between citizens and their judicial system.
The chief justice said the question of judicial accessibility is under review by the Action Committee on Access to Justice in Civil and Family Matters. That organization, formed under the Chief Justice, is chaired by Justice Thomas Cromwell. Committee members include the Canadian Bar Association, Justice Canada, and the Canadian Judicial Council.
McLachlin described difficult recent cases her court has decided on including, among others, the Vancouver Safe Injection site appeal.
In late 2011, in an unanimous ruling, the Supreme Court declared that the Insite clinic could stay open, ordering the federal health minister to grant an immediate exemption. The clinic allegedly injects drug abusers with drugs. Preliminary observations published in 2004 in the journal Harm Reduction indicate that the site successfully attracted injecting drug users and thus decreased public drug use.
Asked to expand on that case, McLachlin skirted specifics, only saying “It is difficult and it’s high profile and it matters a lot, and so it was simply one case that, I think, stood out amongst many in the year.”
Reporters also asked McLachlin to respond to those in B.C. who are upset about the recent sentencing of former RCMP officer Monty Robinson.
The disgraced former RCMP corporal, who was also involved in Robert Dziekanski's Taser-related death in Vancouver, is not getting jail time for an unrelated conviction stemming from a fatal crash.
Robinson was sentenced to a one-year conditional term on Friday for attempting to block the police investigation of that October 2008 collision with a motorcyclist in Delta, B.C.
“Appeal to the Supreme court of Canada,” she fired back, adding she could not comment on a specific case.
After making the point that the Canadian people are losing faith in the country’s judicial system, the Chief Justice seemed to immediately backtrack.
“There is in place a very good appeal system and an excellent set of courts of appeal across the country. If citizens think that a particular sentence is inappropriate then that is the avenue – at least appeal to the court of appeal. These issues have to be resolved in the court system.”
Ms. McLachlin, 69, in office since 2000, said she has no plans to retire.