Newspaper article The Canadian Press

Liberals Restore and Expand Court Challenges Program to Support Equality Fights

Newspaper article The Canadian Press

Liberals Restore and Expand Court Challenges Program to Support Equality Fights

Article excerpt

Feds restore court challenges program

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OTTAWA - The federal government is back in the business of giving money to those who want to fight it in court to protect and clarify language and equality rights, but cannot otherwise afford expensive legal battles to do so.

The Liberal government is making good on its campaign promise to restore -- and revamp -- the court challenges program, while also expanding its scope beyond equality and linguistic rights to include other sections of the Charter of Rights and Freedoms.

They include freedom of religion, expression, assembly and association, as well as democratic rights and the right to life, liberty and security of the person.

The program will also expand its scope to include parts of the Official Languages Act, including communications and services to the public, proceedings of Parliament, language of work within federal jurisdiction and the promotion of both English and French.

"No matter how conscientious a government is when it proposes legislation, or how thoroughly a government studies a piece of legislation before it becomes law, there may still be unforeseen impacts on guaranteed rights," Justice Minister Jody Wilson-Raybould said Tuesday as she and Heritage Minister Melanie Joly announced the renewed program.

"Protecting against these unintended consequences and ensuring that more vulnerable groups within society have the means to challenge the legislation under the Constitution and under the Official Languages Act is the right thing for government to do."

The program was originally established in 1978 and played an instrumental role in many major constitutional challenges, including the fight for same-sex marriage and battles to clarify the rights of Metis and non-status Indians, before it was abolished by the previous Conservative government shortly after it came to power.

In 2008, an out-of-court settlement led the government to agree to fund litigation that had already been approved under the old program and to set up a separate language-rights support program.

The latest version -- slated to be up and running by the fall -- will receive $5 million in annual funding to support individuals and groups as they develop or litigate test cases, as well as funding for legal interventions in order to make arguments in test cases that are broader than those presented by the participants. …

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