Court challenges program ought to be law, Coquitlam-Port Coquitlam MP contends

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If you ever need to go to court to protect human rights in Canada, the Canadian government should help cover your costs.

That’s the basic idea behind the Canadian Court Challenges program. Originally introduced in 1978, the program was scrapped in 2006 before being partially and then fully restored in 2017.

It’s a good program but, according to Coquitlam-Port Coquitlam MP Ron McKinnon, it ought to be a law.


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“It plays a vital role in ensuring that the government acts within the bounds of the constitution,” McKinnon told his colleagues in Parliament.

On Monday, McKinnon introduced a private member’s bill that, if approved, would turn the sometimes polarizing program into the law of the land.

The bill aims to “give a voice to those who might not have the ability to bring court challenges forward” that have national significance on Canada’s language rights and human rights.

Besides breathing life into constitutional equality, McKinnon’s bill also contended that the move would “hold government to account.”

Coquitlam-Port Coquitlam MP Ron McKinnon. file photo

“It will send a strong message about the importance of protecting the rights of Canadians,” McKinnon said Monday.

The bill passed first reading Monday.

How it works

The government puts $5 million toward the program each year, with $1.5 million earmarked for language rights cases and the remainder for cases dealing with human rights.

While the University of Ottawa runs the program, two independent panels, both of whom report to the university, make funding decisions regarding test cases.

Cases can cover issues ranging from freedom of religion and assembly to gender equality and democratic rights. In general, the panels backs issues which haven’t been addressed by the courts.

Amid its reintroduction in 2017, the program received support from University of Ottawa law professors Kyle Kirkup and Carissima Mathen.

Writing in Policy Options, the professors argued the program was valuable in a situation where a new law has unintended effects or when a government presses ahead with a controversial law it believes can be defended.

“In such situations, Canadians should not be forced to depend on the pro bono services of lawyers and experts in order to vindicate their constitutional rights,” they wrote.


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