Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Access to justice partially restored - Court Challenges Revamped and Restricted

You wouldn't know it to read most of Canada's national news media, but the Conservative government partially backtracked last week on its decision to completely axe the Court Challenges Program. This program, initially established under the Liberals to provide funding to groups who wanted to take Charter cases before the courts, was slashed over a year ago. Last week, the government launched a "new" program that will restore funding for groups who are seeking to use the courts to defend linguistic rights either under the Charter of Rights and Freedoms, or other constitutional documents.

I'm pleased for the minority language communities for whom this program's predecessor proved to be such an invaluable tool in securing education rights and other language rights. However, I'm disappointed that the government has decided to be so piecemeal about restoring the program. Other groups that had used the Court Challenges Programs to restore other Charter rights will not have access to a similar program. This may be bad news, for example, for a group like the Little Sisters bookstore, which has been fighting for decades against the inequitable treatment of gay and lesbian publications by Canada Customs.

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