The Road Less Travelled

Transportation barriers to accessing justice

The Road Less Travelled

Everyone in Canada should have timely and affordable access to justice. But for many people living in rural or remote communities, transportation barriers inhibit access to justice. While urban communities generally have more transportation infrastructure in place to help people access legal services, rural or remote communities often grapple with transportation challenges that can inhibit access to justice. Addressing these challenges would go a long way to helping improve access to justice.

The Transportation Challenge

British Columbia covers nearly one million square kilometres. Although much of its population is concentrated in urban areas in the south, hundreds of thousands of British Columbians live in rural or remote communities. But many of these communities lack the transportation networks and infrastructure that urban centres enjoy, and the distances between these communities and legal service providers can be vast, making it difficult for residents to physically access legal aid, courts and other essential legal services.

Transportation costs can also be a significant obstacle. Especially for people with limited means, long travel to reach courts or legal service providers can be financially burdensome. The expenses associated with travel, such as fuel, vehicle maintenance and accommodation if overnight stays are required, can even deter people from pursuing their legal rights or accessing necessary legal advice.

This travel can also be a time-consuming process, which can pose a further barrier. People may need to take time off work or away from their family responsibilities. These time constraints can deter people from pursuing their legal rights or accessing necessary legal advice, especially when they have to make multiple trips due to court dates or other legal requirements.

Potential Steps Forward

Videoconferencing, teleconferencing and other digital tools can — and do — improve access to justice for many people living in rural or remote communities, including by potentially removing the need for physical travel altogether. But not everyone in these communities benefits equally from these tools. In today’s digital age, where many legal services and court proceedings are now online, accessing justice can be especially challenging for people in rural or remote communities who lack the technological tools or practical skills to participate effectively. So, while online resources can potentially mitigate the need for physical travel, they can also create new disparities for people on the wrong side of the digital divide.

Addressing transportation barriers to accessing justice in rural or remote communities requires a multi-pronged approach, including:

  • Virtual hearings: Minimizing the need for in-person appearances, saving time and money.
  • Digital resources and support: Supplying more digital equipment, expanding hi-speed internet access and providing additional training and support can help bridge the digital divide.
  • Transportation infrastructure: Investing in better transportation infrastructure in rural and remote communities can help make accessing legal services more feasible.
  • Mobile legal clinic services: Legal aid organizations can deliver mobile legal clinic services that visit remote areas periodically, offering legal advice and assistance to residents.
  • Encouraging lawyers to join rural communities: Encouraging lawyers to establish practices in rural and remote communities, such as by forgiving student loans for those who move to these communities, can help increase the number of lawyers who live and work in these communities.

Justice should be accessible to all, regardless of geographic location. However, transportation barriers in rural and remote communities continue to impede access to justice. Addressing these challenges requires a combination of policy changes, technological innovations, and community supports to ensure that justice is truly accessible to everyone, regardless of where they call home.