Reaching Equal Justice — 10 Years Later

Will we get there by 2030?


Reaching Equal Justice — 10 Years Later

In the fall of 2013, CBA released Reaching Equal Justice: An Invitation to Envision and Act, a complete and detailed framework for moving toward equal justice. It made over 30 recommendations to engage and inspire us to reach a state in 2030 where Canadians could protect their interests and were empowered to manage their own legal matters with a strong emphasis on prevention. Everyone, regardless of income, region, age or any other factor, should have equal access.

In B.C., we are making incremental progress toward many of those goals. There is an Access to Justice Centre for Excellence at the University of Victoria. Law students are learning about access to justice before graduation. Access to Justice BC established a connection point for A2J leaders in B.C. to identify ways to collaborate. Innovation includes consultation with the people our systems intend to serve. Many entities in B.C. provide information to the annual report on Canada’s Justice Development Goals. These are just a few areas of progress.

Sadly, where we are making very little progress is in legal capability training and legal aid funding.

Legal capability training refers to law as a life skill that is shared through public education curriculum and embedded in workplaces and communities for specific groups at particular stages (young adults entering the workforce, new relationships, retirement, newcomers to Canada). Understanding basic legal principles and the law around employment, family, and tenancy law as well as how to prevent and resolve problems and where to get legal help can prevent or reduce many legal problems.

Reaching Equal Justice set a target that by 2020, Canadians living at or below the poverty line would be eligible for the full coverage of essential public legal services. By 2025, Canadians whose income is two times the poverty line would be eligible for full coverage of essential public legal services. “Essential” refers to the legal problems that put a person or their family’s security, health, employment, housing or ability to meet the basic necessities of life at risk. It includes children’s residency and child support.

British Columbia is the only province in Canada that does not provide legal aid for routine family law matters. In contrast, other provinces offer significantly more coverage. Ontario, Alberta, Nova Scotia, Saskatchewan, Manitoba, New Brunswick and Newfoundland all provide coverage for divorce, parenting disputes, and spousal and child support. In addition, Ontario and Manitoba also have retainers for out of court settlement processes such as mediation or collaborative law.

In its annual submission to the B.C. Standing Committee on Finance, CBABC again recommended that government provide sufficient funding to restore this area of coverage. The Committee endorsed that recommendation, as it has in previous years. What remains to be seen is if the government makes that investment, which would benefit many British Columbians. A significant investment would truly improve on access to justice for families.

The Honourable Robert Bauman, retired Chief Justice of B.C., oversaw the launch of Access to Justice B.C. back in 2014. Establishing that entity was one of the steps recommended by Reaching Equal Justice. He chaired it throughout the next nine years encouraging justice system participants to remain committed to improving access to justice in British Columbia. As he said in 2017, “There must be more support, education and truth-seeking.”

This month’s BarTalk explores the many ways lawyers are breaking barriers to justice. As the Chief Justice said in an address in February 2020, “Advocacy is a response to society’s challenges; in the face of a difficult problem, a good advocate shows us a way forward, and explains why we should take it. Going forward, I hope more and more lawyers will use their advocacy skills to take up the challenge of making our system more equitable and just.” Let us keep up that work.