No quick de­ci­sion on fed’s pow­ers

Winnipeg Free Press - SundayXtra - - NEWS CANADA - Se­nate re­form case will take time: jus­tice By Jennifer Gra­ham

SASKA­TOON — The Supreme Court of Canada is about to wade into the de­bate over the fu­ture of the Se­nate, but Chief Jus­tice Bev­er­ley McLach­lin cau­tions it will take time.

The fed­eral govern­ment asked the Supreme Court in Fe­bru­ary to clar­ify the govern­ment’s pow­ers to re­form or abol­ish the Up­per Cham­ber and the court will hear ar­gu­ments this fall.

McLach­lin said it can take any­where from three months to a year for a judg­ment on dif­fi­cult cases.

“We will do our best to get an an­swer for the Cana­dian peo­ple as quickly as we can, but ob­vi­ously there’s a lot of work to be done, a lot of thought to be put into the ques­tions, which are not easy, and it’s a huge re­spon­si­bil­ity,” McLach­lin said Satur­day at the Cana­dian Bar As­so­ci­a­tion con­fer­ence.

“We have to make sure that we have di­gested all the sub­mis­sions be­fore us and that we’ve given each ques­tion our deep and most con­sci­en­tious con­sid­er­a­tion, so that may take a lit­tle time.”

She says the court will an­swer ques­tions as to how change can be made and what is re­quired in terms of con­sent by the prov­inces.

Ot­tawa has said it should be able to re­form the Se­nate with­out re­open­ing the Con­sti­tu­tion.

There are ques­tions about whether a ma­jor­ity of prov­inces have to be on side with re­forms, or whether all of them must agree. But the Con­ser­va­tives ar­gue the high court can de­cide, in some cir­cum­stances, to al­low the fed­eral govern­ment to side- step the prov­inces in mak­ing changes to the Se­nate.

Calls to re­form or abol­ish the up­per cham­ber have grown be­cause of a con­tro­versy over the ex­pense claims of a hand­ful of se­na­tors.

McLach­lin said she doesn’t know how tough the case will be.

“I re­ally can’t an­swer that un­til we get into it, then I’ll know how dif­fi­cult it is, but at this mo­ment I just know that it’s a case that’s com­ing our way,” she said. “We have many dif­fi­cult cases, and we’ll do our best with it.”

McLach­lin also used the con­fer­ence to talk about ac­cess to jus­tice, some­thing she said is a grow­ing prob­lem for many Cana­di­ans. The chief jus­tice said if peo­ple can’t get ac­cess to the sys­tem, they ei­ther don’t re­solve their prob­lems or have to re­solve them in other ways.

“The re­sult can be in­creased vi­o­lence, in­creased in­tim­i­da­tion of in­di­vid­u­als, it can be ne­glect, it can be hav­ing to live with your par­tic­u­lar prob­lem for the rest of your life in­stead of re­solv­ing it and turn­ing the page,” she said.

“Peo­ple can be, and are, to­tally in­ca­pac­i­tated by the fact that they can’t re­solve their le­gal griev­ance un­til it over­comes them and their lives are ru­ined. Their lives are ru­ined and their con­tri­bu­tion eco­nom­i­cally and so­cially to so­ci­ety is di­min­ished.”

McLach­lin said a lot of peo­ple don’t get ac­cess to jus­tice be­cause they don’t know where to go. She also would like to see ac­tion taken to en­sure costs are af­ford­able and there are enough courts and staff to hear cases.

A full re­port on ac­cess to jus­tice will be re­leased this fall, but a sum­mary re­port is to be re­leased to­day at the con­fer­ence.

McLach­lin said it’s im­por­tant for the as­so­ci­a­tion and gov­ern­ments to act so the re­port doesn’t gather dust on a shelf. “Well, I think the ba­sic re­spon­si­bil­ity is to have enough court­rooms and judges and court staff to hear all the cases, to en­sure that the costs of us­ing the sys­tem are not so pro­hib­i­tive that peo­ple don’t want to or can­not ac­cess it,” she said.

— The Cana­dian Press

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