Wait a Minute: Has the Federal Election Campaign Been About Access to Justice All Along?NSRLP
In last week’s blog, I bemoaned the fact that we had made little progress this election season in raising the desperate issue of access to affordable legal representation for the huge numbers of self-represented litigants in our courts.
In that blog I compared the characterization – and demonization – of the “Other” which has been so dominant in this election campaign with the way that many see SRLs . This blog obviously struck a chord with many, both SRLs and those working in the justice system.
And then it occurred to me…
Is the Election Campaign All About Access to Justice?
While this assertion risks the accusation that if all you have is a hammer, everything looks like a nail…
This weekend I thought again about the “absence” of Access to Justice issues in the federal election campaign.
And I realized that in fact the hardest and scrappiest debates in this 2015 election campaign have actually all been about Access to Justice – just not about the particular issue of affordable legal representation.
- The drama over Zunera Ishaq wearing her niqab to take the oath of citizenship
- The extension of police and CSIS powers (to detain, restrict movement, and gather data) in C-51 (the “Terror Act”)
- The refugee crisis and Canada’s response (see http://www.thestar.com/news/gta/2015/10/13/academics-demand-radical-expansion-of-help-for-refugees.html)
- The extension of powers to revoke Canadian citizenship in C-24
At Heart, These are Access to Justice Issues
Each of these four critical issues in this election has, at its heart, a question about Access to Justice. For example,
- When public safety concerns are reflected in extended powers for law enforcement, how can we still protect fair process, civil liberties, and encourage grounded decision-making? (C-51, C-24)
- How do we realize individual rights to express our religious beliefs in a proudly multicultural nation? (the niqab)
- As a member of the international community, what role should Canada play to provide access to safe havens for refugees fleeing war?
Each of these issues is ultimately about individual and collective rights to Access to Justice – to be treated fairly, non-arbitrarily and without bias, to be listened to and valued as a member of a diverse community, to demonstrate Canada’s commitment to a fair and non-arbitrary process in an international refugee crisis, and above all, to achieve just outcomes.
Each illustrates the tensions between Access to Justice values, and the different roles that the State can play along a spectrum from protector to oppressor.
What these four story lines are really about is how we both understand and defend Access to Justice in Canada.
Why These Issues?
The issues that come to the fore in an election campaign are calculations –made principally by the governing party – that these are the particular issues that will get the attention of voters bored after weeks of political ads – and of course that their own position on the issue will increase their support with the voting public (and if the polls are accurate, they are correct).
Of course, I am not suggesting that in making these four issues a big part of the election chatter, the Conservative government has in mind the type of national dialogue on Access to Justice that the NSRLP and its supporters are lobbying for.
These issues have been framed by the governing Conservatives (the authors of C-51 and C-24, the appellant in the niqab case, and the current decision-makers on refugee policy) as matters of public safety and security. The underlying message may be that A2J is less important than, and must be subjugated to, such concerns.
But Access to Justice is the clear counter narrative being raised by their critics.
How We Understand Access to Justice is Important to Canadians
I think that what this tells us is that Access to Justice is a core value for Canadians, even as those values are presently amidst a battleground of competing ideas and visions.
And as these four story lines continue to circulate through the almost constant election coverage now, it seems clear that our politicians’ positions on the niqab, C-51 and C-24, and the refugee crisis are influencing how Canadians place their vote in the 2015 Federal Election.
Otherwise, they would have long fallen out of the news cycle.
So, let’s take heart that we can get yet another Access to Justice issue – affordable legal representation – onto the political agenda well before the next election.