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JUST Committee Report

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Mr. Anthony Housefather
Standing Committee on Justice and Human Rights
House of Commons
Ottawa ON   K1A 0A6

Mr. Chair:

     Pursuant to Standing Order 109 of the House of Commons, and on behalf of the Government of Canada, we are pleased to present the Government’s response to the Report (the Report) of the Standing Committee on Justice and Human Rights (the Committee) on Access to Justice, Part 1: Court Challenges Program (the Program). We would like to commend and thank the Committee for its work on this Report and to express our appreciation to all those who appeared before the Committee to share their perspectives.

     As you know, this Report comes at an opportune time since, as stated in Budget 2016, we are working to reinstate and modernize the Court Challenges Program. By contributing to an improved justice system, this priority is key to the Government’s commitment to a more inclusive and fair Canada. The Government of Canada recognizes the importance of the Canadian Constitution, including the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms, as a pillar of our free and democratic society. In the context of prohibitive legal costs, the government is mindful of the importance of supporting citizens who wish to challenge government measures, decisions, policies or legislation when they believe that their fundamental rights have been violated. These test cases help to clarify and reinforce the world-renowned rights that Canada guarantees and that support both our identity and our diversity.

     To this end, in March and April 2016, the Government of Canada consulted more than a hundred organizations and individuals with an interest in human rights and official languages rights, through a series of bilateral meetings, multi-party roundtables and an electronic questionnaire. In parallel, the Government closely followed the six meetings held by the Committee from February to May 2016. The testimonies of the many experts and stakeholders who appeared were considered in our analysis and in the elaboration of options for a modernized program. A consultation report was published on the Department of Canadian Heritage’s website in early September 2016 (

     The Government will soon be announcing how it plans to reinstate and modernize the Court Challenges Program. As you will see below, the Government shares the Committee’s overall vision of the renewed program, and supports the spirit of its recommendations. This response categorizes the Committee’s thirteen recommendations into four thematic priorities that will help guide the development of the new Program.

Reinstatement and sustainability of the Program

     First, the Government shares the Committee’s view that the Program should be reinstated as quickly as possible. With this in mind, the Department of Canadian Heritage is working with the Department of Justice to develop a renewed Court Challenges Program, which is expected to be implemented in 2017.

     We hope that grounding reinstatement in principles of efficiency, transparency and independence will ensure an effective and indispensable program for Canadians and will contribute to the Program’s sustainability.

Fair and efficient management of the new program and accountability

     The new Program will be characterized by a modernized governance structure that will meet the highest standards of independence, transparency and accountability. The principles of independence and autonomy set forth by the Committee inform the design of this governance model.

     To recognize the specific nature of the different rights covered by the
Program, the Government intends to ensure that decisions regarding funding are made independently, on a separate basis. As noted in the Report, it is essential that the decision‑making process be as impartial as possible to ensure that both stakeholders and the public have confidence in this Program. For this reason, the Government is committed to conducting an open, transparent and merit-based selection process that takes into account the diversity of Canadian society.

     The Committee’s recommendations concerning allowances and the reimbursement of eligible expenses for committee members, conflicts of interest procedure and clear and transparent funding criteria align with the Government’s vision and have been taken into account.

     The Government also shares the Committee’s concern regarding transparency
and will ensure that the necessary measures for effective reporting are put in place.

Maximizing the funding envelope

     Like the Committee, the Government believes that it is necessary to maximize
the funding envelope of the renewed Program, particularly by streamlining administration costs. The Government intends to maximize funding toward the attainment of the Program’s primary objective, which is the clarification of human rights and official languages rights. To guarantee optimal outcomes, eligibility criteria will allow for a preselection of the test cases that could be funded. The criteria suggested by the Committee in the Report will be taken into account.

Expanding the scope of the Program

     Lastly, the Government aims to ensure that the modernized Program reflects evolving jurisprudence, changing demographics and the transformations occurring in Canadian society. The Government also believes that it has a responsibility to set an example in terms of accountability and respect for the rights of all Canadians. These considerations play a central role in defining the scope of the new Program. Like any government program, the new Program will be reviewed regularly and the Government remains open to considering changes in the future, based on the results achieved.

     On behalf of the Government of Canada, we would like to thank you and the other members of the Committee for your excellent work on access to justice and for your highly useful recommendations.

     Yours sincerely,

__________________________________    __________________________________

The Honourable Jody Wilson-Raybould                    The Honourable Mélanie Joly
Minister of Justice and                                                Minister of Canadian Heritage
Attorney General of Canada