Focus On

Access to Justice: #A2J Week in Canada is reason to celebrate | Beverley McLachlin

Friday, October 29, 2021 @ 9:58 AM | By Beverley McLachlin


Beverley McLachlin %>
Beverley McLachlin
It is Access to Justice Week in Canada. Every year across the country we take the last week of October to gather — in small groups, large events, between justice service providers, with the public — to talk about the access to justice issues. In other words, we focus on people-centred justice.

Why do we need a week for this? Because A2J remains a crisis in Canada.

Across Canada, civil legal needs go unmet, legal services are out of reach for many people, and there is a widening gap between those who can and those who cannot get help for their life problems.

Here’s how we stack up according to the World Justice Project’s 2021 Rule of Law Index:

  • 65th in the world for “people can access and afford civil justice.”
  • 67th in the world for “civil justice is free of discrimination.”
  • 55th in the world for “civil justice is not subject to unreasonable delay.”
  • For the third year in a row, Canada’s access to justice rating has dropped.

The crisis is deepening. This year, we confronted the legacies of residential schools and genocide across Canada; racism and systemic discrimination continue to exclude and harm communities; people’s legal problems grew exponentially through the seemingly never-ending pandemic; and we experienced the real-life impacts of climate change to housing, livelihoods and safety.

A2J Week is a focused opportunity to address all of these concerns — by building community and knowledge sharing for those who work on A2J and expanding the available information for the public. A national public relations social media campaign launched this week with the tagline “Justice is fair when it is accessible to everyone.” The themes of the A2J week discussions underscore the truth in that statement.

This year’s A2J Week events have been particularly impressive, both in number and reach. A record number of events were held across Canada — in person, tailored to local audiences and online for national participants. Important national conversations addressed the issues that we are all facing, including:

  • A Closer Look: The Justice Sector’s Response to the TRC Calls to Action.
  • Access to Justice: Indigenous Perspectives.
  • Reflections on the Impact of COVID-19 on Online Adjudication.
  • People Centred Access to Justice: Best Practices for Serving Clients with Mental Health Needs.
  • Duty Counsel Day.
  • Developing and Engaging in a Reconciliation Mapping Exercise.
  • Rural Access to Justice.
  • Advancing Community-Based Justice.
  • Disability Justice: Accessibility and Beyond.

Online events welcomed people across the country to learn from each other and connect with people in different jurisdictions and different professions. Online events had 200-300 registrants, with some capping out at much higher numbers. Local events connected people who have been isolated from their peers for months. Across the country A2J organizations led the planning and worked together to hold these events and learn from each other.

A2J Week is a chance to be inspired to act — to renew our efforts to make meaningful change. A national dialogue on access to justice is of critical importance. It is why I founded the national Action Committee on Access to Justice in Civil and Family Matters — because without national attention, dialogue and pressure, A2J will remain a crisis in Canada.

A2J Week events, including those listed above, recordings and contacts can be found at www.justicedevelopmentgoals.ca.

The Right Honourable Beverley McLachlin served as chief justice of Canada from 2000 to mid-December 2017. She now works as an arbitrator and mediator in Canada and internationally and also sits as a justice of Singapore’s International Commercial Court and the Hong Kong Final Court of Appeal. She chairs the Action Committee on Access to Justice in Civil and Family Matters.