Expanding Horizons: Rethinking Access to Justice in Canada

Background

In preparation for the Symposium, participants were provided with a number of press clippings and three background documents. (The background documents, as well as all of the presentations delivered at the Symposium are reproduced in Appendix B) We also received a letter from Ms. Cherry Kingsley from Save the Children-Canada. Ms. Kingsley was unable to attend the Symposium due to prior commitments, and therefore requested that her letter be included in the final Symposium report as a way of providing voice to sexually exploited children and youth in Canada. This letter is reproduced in Appendix C.[2]

In a background essay titled “Citizen Access to Justice: Issues and Trends for 2000 and After”, Mark Kingwell, a philosopher at the University of Toronto, discussed five main trends and issues for access to justice: 1) the growing diversity of Canada; 2) globalization and citizenship; 3) the complex isomorphic relationship between culture and political experience; 4) the role of technology; and 5) the possibility of new forms of citizen action.

“The project of realizing the basic principles of justice, of guaranteeing all citizens fair access to justice, has lately become vastly more complicated, more challenging, and more confusing.”

Mark Kingwell

Professor Kingwell noted that the growing cultural and ethnic diversity presents special challenges “to make the social and political infrastructure of the country a reflection of the many kinds of people who choose to call themselves Canadian.” As individuals in a rapidly changing society, we “need to make time for reflection, to open up spaces both within ourselves and in our social interactions for thoughts about justice that are not driven, in the first instance, by the imperatives of policy-making or problem-solving.”

Ab Currie, Research and Statistics Division, Department of Justice Canada, prepared the other two background papers. The first of these, “Some aspects of Access to Justice in Canada”, identifies the main features and programs of access to justice as they currently exist. They include Legal Aid, Public Legal Education and Information, Court Workers, Court Reform, Alternative Dispute Resolution, Pre-Paid Legal Insurance, Public Interest Advocacy and Pro Bono Services. After reviewing the mechanism for access to the justice system, the author concluded that “our conventional concept of justice and how to achieve it is a reflection of the traditional justice system” and may not in fact correspond to the preferred approaches to achieving justice of minority groups and many ordinary people.

“...community-based access to justice implies equipping individuals to play a more active role in constructing solutions to their justice problems.”

Ab Currie

Mr. Currie’s second paper, entitled “Riding the Third Wave – Notes on the Future of Access to Justice”, traced the development and evolution of access to justice towards more recent “holistic” or multidisciplinary approaches. However, reforms of the legal system occur slowly and do not necessarily keep pace with the changing expectations of society. While these newer trends have not replaced traditional system-based approaches, they do seek “more effective and durable solutions to justice problems.” Initiatives fostering greater reliance on community-based access-to-justice services are positive in that they commit “the considerable resources resident in the communities to addressing access to justice issues.”


[2] The proceedings of the Symposium were recorded in the following ways:

  1. Note takers were assigned to each of the 12 tables during the morning and afternoon plenary, and two note takers attended each of the four workshops.
  2. Presenters provided their speaking notes for inclusion in this Symposium report (reproduced in appendix B).
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