Getting A2J onto the Political Agenda in the Federal Election

Getting A2J onto the Political Agenda in the Federal Election

On October 19, Canadians will go to the polls to vote for federal representatives. There will be struggles over critical issues including the funding of public services, tax reform, immigration and social integration, and of course, leadership values and qualities. Will we hear anything about Access to Justice?

So far, the answer looks like no. Access to Justice – affordable resolution processes, defence of core rights, legal protection of the vulnerable, and access to effective representation – is nowhere to be seen on the agendas of the major political parties.

Criminal justice issues – mandatory minimum sentencing regimes, law and order crackdowns, or “alternatives” to the costs of incarcerating so many Canadians – sometimes make it onto the political agenda, but family law? Civil law? Not a whisper.

Is Access to Justice is important enough to ordinary Canadians to be a vote-getter? Something that candidates feel they need a position on? We believe that it is.

Getting A2J the attention it deserves from federal candidates

Questions about A2J – the crisis in access in affordable legal services that brings more than half the litigants into family court unaided by legal counsel – and a commitment to finding solutions, should be part of candidate presentations, doorstep conversations, and national leaders debates.

It takes time for a new issue – and the A2J crisis in family court has dramatically intensified in the last 5 years – to make it onto a party political agenda. This is especially difficult when those most negatively affected by the issue are relatively powerless – and when those who prefer the status quo are powerful, well-organized and constitute many of the aforesaid politicians (and may have successfully convinced their fellow “non-lawyer” politicians that they “know best” on legal matters). In fact, every federal politician should be informed about and have a position on Access to Justice issues in 2015, not least because so many of their constituents are and will be affected.

Many of the A2J issues that NSRLP works on are the primary responsibility of the provinces – for example public legal assistance is delivered by provincial legal aid boards – and the provincial bar associations. But the federal government has a critically important role in setting policy and priorities for A2J. For example:

  • The federal government works with the provinces to set public legal assistance priorities and new programming.
  • The federal government also appoints most of the judges in Canada (with the exception of provincial court judges).
  • The federal government can reopen the “bargain” of self-regulation between the legal profession and government. This “deal” – the legal profession will govern itself and government will not interfere with its markets – is based on a commitment that the profession must serve the public interest. If it is not doing so, it is not keeping up its end of the bargain.

Three questions for you to ask candidates in your riding

So here are three suggested questions for candidates in your ridings. We shall suggest more in the coming weeks, and we encourage you to propose other questions to us for inclusion in the list.

Please consider asking these questions if you meet candidates out campaigning, raising them at public meetings, and sending them in writing – feel free to simply cut and paste! – to those who would represent you.

Rebuilding the Public Trust - v3-01-2A2J Question One

Today more than half the people who go family court now in Canada are there without a lawyer, because they cannot afford to pay for one and don’t qualify for Legal Aid. Many people who are forced to “represent themselves” in court feel that they do not get a fair hearing and are at a big disadvantage, especially when they are up against a lawyer on the other side (and research shows they do not do as well in court as those who can afford lawyers to make their case for them).

What is your position on ensuring that Canadians can have access to affordable legal services?

 Rebuilding the Public Trust - v3-01-2A2J Question Two

Legal Aid Boards have to work with the federal government on new programming and services. Every Legal Aid Board is facing growing numbers of people who do not qualify for their services – which are only available to those on extremely low incomes – yet cannot possibly afford lawyers.

Do you have ideas about how to address this huge gap in services for Canadians?

Rebuilding the Public Trust - v3-01-2A2J Question Three

There have been a number of new judges appointed by the federal government in the last few months, and some of these new appointments have been quite controversial, raising questions about political patronage. These are important and powerful positions – and today more and more judges have to work directly with members of the public who are coming to court without lawyers.

What types of judges with what types of skills do we need for this job? Should the federal cabinet be making this decision, or do you think that the public should have a voice in judicial appointments?

If you ask these questions – or others – about A2J to candidates in your riding and get some answers, we would love to hear them.



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Comments (7)

  • bcaptijn

    Reblogged this on CONSUMERS' REFORM TARION.

    August 25, 2015 at 2:15 pm
  • Nic

    retweeted this very important initiative and suggestion . Congratulations on a clear display of important insight and genuine assistance for litigants !!

    August 25, 2015 at 4:29 pm
  • Allen

    Dr Julie, I asked the 3 main party leaders in Alberta’s recent provincial election some questions along these lines but NOT A SINGLE ONE of them paid me any attention.

    Only one had in his prospectus that he would address Rules of Court issues. The others are so out of it they do not even recognise there are major access to justice issues. We need something more forceful such as organising SRLS to attend campaign stops and strategically pin point the candidates and leaders attention.

    I have written to our legislature too and copied my letter to the direct attention of each party leader as well as independents of my legislature including about the misbehaviours of our Attorney General’s office. NOT A SINGLE ONE of them paid me any mind. They are kotched up in our legislature thinking they are home free

    I went as far as to wage my own personal campaign against our then Attorney General and Minister of Justice n his constituency. I got excellent reception with many people telling me thanks for informing them about what was happening and they promised they would go out and vote. I think many did as promised

    August 25, 2015 at 5:44 pm
  • John Meyer

    Agreed. The legal and court system is replete with an overburden of cases and without accountability particularly for the middle and vulnerable population. Secondly, the lack of enforceability of reasonable, fair, and workable legislation and bylaws is ensuring that problems can only be solved by litigation.
    Townhomes, residential single family dwelling, and unaffordable housing are lacking the support of statutory regulations that protect the consumer rather than the builder. Minimum standards and codes become the justification for abusive real estate agents, lawyers, and builders. Will the feds claim that this is all the territory of the provinces and the municipalities? Probably…

    August 25, 2015 at 9:41 pm
  • aferenc

    Great questions.

    August 26, 2015 at 11:13 am
  • Federal Election Issues, Self-Represented Litigants, and Fear of the Other | The National Self-Represented Litigants Project

    […] that we could ask politicians questions and have at least some informed debate about this issue (Getting A2J Onto the Political Agenda in the Federal Election)…but oh […]

    October 6, 2015 at 12:47 pm
  • Ken Chasse

    There is no effective response from politicians because there is insufficient pressure on politicians in regard to the consequences of the unaffordable legal services problem. That is because the great majority of people think of needing a lawyer only 3-4 times at most in their lives. And such times are widely spaced, and therefore legal services by lawyers are not thought of as being of continuous need as medical services are thought of. No matter how healthy we are, we all want our doctors and hospitals always readily available. And we all have aged relatives who have to draw heavily on the medical services professions. So in contrast, the necessary public pressure for affordable legal services will build very, very slowly. So don’t expect the equivalent of the Saskatchewan doctor’s strike of July 1962 as a reaction to the first socialized medicine plan in Canada. Governments aren’t going to do that for legal services until they see that there is sufficient public pressure.
    So, (1) organize pressure among self-represented litigants and get them complaining on the social media–help them write their complaints and stories of misery; (2) make better known, people’s need for legal services re. legal problems they don’t know that they have, e.g., one unserviced legal problem often leads to several more–e.g., termination of employment without cause or compensation, means debt, loss of property, family break-up, depression, substance abuse, and sometimes suicide, etc.; and, (3) enlist the help of the social media, news media, pressure groups, and those political parties in opposition to governments; (4) everyone should complain loudly to all of the above about law societies’ failure to try to solve the unaffordable legal services problem–their failure to attack it is the cause. It is a law society-caused problem capable of a law society-caused solution as the law requires that they do; (5) make it a federal government issue. Socialized medical services plans are within provincial jurisdiction. But it is a big federal government issue because of the federal government money needed for those provincial plans, and socialized medicine is by far the most popular social welfare program in all of Canada.
    So stop assuming politicians are stupid not to see how important the unaffordable legal services problem is. Think like a politician. They believe, “there’s no votes in justice,” i.e., there are no votes to be gained by improving the justice system. That’s why the justice system is so poorly financed in all of its aspects, particularly so the criminal justice system. See: Ken Chasse,
    “No Votes in Justice Means More Wrongful Convictions”; at: (free pdf download). It relates my 51 years as a lawyer, dealing with the justice system.

    March 10, 2017 at 11:01 am

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