Not having to deal with constitutional challenges: Priceless

It seems a little redundant to write two posts slagging the Tories for access to justice issues in just three days, but I couldn’t pass this one up. A recent announcement of $1 billion dollars in cuts includes giving the axe to the Court Challenges Program, which provides federal funding (about $3 million per year) for minority groups wishing to challenge laws they believe violate their constitutional equality rights, and unable to finance their own legal team to face off against the goverenment’s.

The program operates at arms-length from the government, and on the basis of solicitor-client privilege does not disclose whom it approves funding for, or how much. Justice Minister Vic Toews has been particularly critical of this aspect of the program recently, though one would suspect that the Tories would need little excuse to get rid of a program which provides access to constitutional justice. When you decry any recognition of constitutional rights as judicial activism, it makes very little sense to provide those equality-seeking thorns with funding.

Vic Toews

The CCP has never exactly been popular with much of the right. I’ve seldom read a more gleeful press release than the one from those disturbingly hostile anti-family advocates at Lifesite contemplating the program’s demise. And I would be very surprised if either Harper or Toews disagreed with the principles in this Western Catholic Reporter piece, which claims that the CCP is unfair because it only supports leftist causes: “Christians generally have been supporting the law as it stands.” It must be rough, after a couple of millenia of having your beliefs enshrined as the state religion, to have that privilege removed by degrees. Fortunately for them, the power of the disenfranchised to challenge the status quo has today been greatly diminished.

~ Gnomes


  1. O'Smiley said,

    Monday, 25 September 2006 at 8:28 pm

    I agree that this program is pretty important in ensuring that the constitution reaches everyone, especially those who can’t afford legal counsel, however, I don’t see the reason for preventing full transparency of this programs funding. If anything, I would think that transparency would provide greater evidence for keeping the program alive.

  2. Gnomes said,

    Monday, 25 September 2006 at 11:39 pm

    I don’t think the program could ever be made accountable to the government in terms of giving them oversight over the decisions made; by its nature it can only function properly as an independent entity.

    In order to make any meaningful review of funding decisions, the government would need the details of the case plans submitted to the CCP, but since it is the government arguing against the constitutional challenge in court, that would mean applying to the program would damage your case.

    Additionally, the program, by its very nature, involves challenges to the government policy, so on what criteria is the government going to review funding decisions? (Though plenty of people will tell you it’s actually all a grand conspiracy to implement policy through the courts. You’d think if the Liberals could keep a secret that big they would still be in power.)

  3. O'Smiley said,

    Tuesday, 26 September 2006 at 12:48 pm

    Just because it is independent does not mean that it can’t be auditable for both fair distribution and validity. Without transparency, for all we know, the program administrators could be misusing the funds for personal gain.

    I think that any and all programs funded by the government should be transparent and auditable. I have doubts, however, that that will ever be the case.

  4. Manatee said,

    Tuesday, 26 September 2006 at 9:32 pm

    See page 11 and onward of this report.

  5. Gnomes said,

    Tuesday, 26 September 2006 at 9:45 pm

    Thanks for that Manatee. I was going to say that I’m sure they have independent bookkeepers making sure the money is given the claimants, but for the reasons of confidentiality and conflict of interest I mentioned above, that information can’t be either made public or provided to the government.

    As for the particular cases which do proceed to court and are public record, one in particular caught my eye:

    Harper v. Canada (Attorney General)
    (Supreme Court of Canada)
    The National Citizens’ Coalition challenged the constitutionality of the third-party election spending limits and related restrictions in the Canada Elections Act under ss. 2(b), 2(d) and 3 of the Charter. The Court Challenges Program funded Democracy Watch (which acted in coalition with the National Anti-Poverty Organization) to intervene at the Supreme Court to advocate that s. 15(1) of the Charter was an important contextual factor that favoured the spending limits and the egalitarian model of democracy they promoted.

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