CCCABC signs on to the letter to the Prime Minister: Save the court challenges program!


The Court Challenges Program has been cancelled by the Conservative minority government. This is a blow to all those in Canada who believe in fairness, equality and language rights for French and English minorities. Help reverse this decision.

A Steering Committee representative of both language rights and equality rights communities has prepared materials.

History of Court Challenges Program [PDF]

What can YOU do?

1. YOU can write your own letter as an individual or organization to the Prime Minister [E mail address:] and forward a copy to the Steering committee for their records

2. YOU can write your own Member of Parliament and send them a copy of the letter to the Prime Minister.

MP’s E mail addresses: use your postal code to find your MP.



Date …
The Right Honourable Stephen Harper
Office of the Prime Minister
House of Commons [*postage free]
Ottawa, Ontario
K1A 0A6

Dear Prime Minister,

We write today to ask you to reinstate the Court Challenges Program. Only by reinstating the Program can you demonstrate that your government intends to respect the human rights of Canada’s people.

The Canadian Constitution establishes important constitutional rights, including the rights of official language minority groups to education and government services in their primary language and the rights of everyone to equality before and under the law and to equal protection and equal benefit of the law without discrimination. However, these rights are empty unless the individuals and groups they are designed to protect can exercise and enforce them.

Since the Charter was adopted 25 years ago, successive federal governments have recognized that they have a responsibility to ensure that disadvantaged minorities have funding to take Charter cases forward. The Court Challenges Program, by providing modest contributions to the cost of important test cases dealing with language and equality rights, has made these constitutional rights accessible to Canadians. Without the Court Challenges Program, Canada’s constitutional rights are real only for the wealthy. This is unfair. And it does not comply with the rule of law, which is a fundamental principle of our Constitution.

The Honourable John Baird has been quoted in the press as saying that it does not make sense “for the government to subsidize lawyers to challenge the government’s own laws in court.” This statement implies that: 1) lawyers are the prime beneficiaries of the Program and 2) the government should not support challenges to its own laws. On both counts, deeper analysis is needed.

First, the beneficiaries of the CCP are individuals and groups who believe that laws and policies discriminate against them or deny them their language rights. They cannot go forward without lawyers to represent them, since constitutional challenges are legally complex. Secondly, when a country like Canada enacts constitutional rights it takes for granted that residents, when they believe the government is violating their rights, can and will challenge the offending law or policy. If residents cannot use their rights because of financial barriers, then Canada’s constitutional democracy is hollow. Governments must care that the rights they embrace are not meaningless, and the CCP has provided a simple and modest way of ensuring that they are not. We should emphasize that what the CCP provides is far from universal access to the exercise of constitutional equality and language rights. The CCP provides only limited funds for selected test cases.

Critics of the CCP dislike some of the cases that it has supported: cases related to same sex marriage, voting rights for federal prisoners, criminal law provisions regarding hitting children. The fact that some individuals or groups do not agree with some of the test cases funded by the Program is not a reason to cancel it. No one among us is likely to agree with every single test case that appears. The point of a constitutional human rights regime is to ensure that diverse claims, perspectives and life experiences are respected and taken into account in the design of laws and policies. The equality guarantee and the language rights in the Constitution were designed to help minorities, whose views and needs may not be reflected by governments, to be heard on issues that affect them closely. Cancelling the Court Challenges Program mutes their voices further, and makes Canada a meaner, less tolerant society.

The Minister of Justice, the Honourable Vic Toews, has questioned the accountability of the Court Challenges Program. This is not a sustainable objection. The Court Challenges Program has an established track record as an effective and accountable institution that promotes access to justice. It provides quarterly reports on its activities to the government and publishes an annual report with statistics on the number and types of cases that it has funded. The annual reports are public documents and are available on the CCP’s website: It has been evaluated on three separate occasions by independent evaluators, most recently in 2003-2004, and received an extremely positive report each time.

The CCP is subject to some legal restrictions on disclosing information about cases that are before the courts. This information is protected by solicitor-client privilege and cannot be released by CCP, in the same way that legal aid organizations cannot divulge information about their clients. The CCP’s responsibility to protect this information was affirmed by a Federal Court ruling in 2000 (L’Hirondelle v. The Queen).

In short, Prime Minister, criticisms of the Court Challenges Program are feeble, and the need for the Program is strong. It is disturbing that your Government, in a budget-cutting exercise, would take the step of cancelling this Program that is considered by many Canadians a cornerstone of our justice system.

Commitment to the protection of the Charter rights of disadvantaged individuals and groups is one of Canada’s core values. Prime Minister, you recognized this commitment in the last election campaign, when you stated that if elected, a Conservative government would “articulate Canada’s core values on the world stage,” including “the rule of law”, “human rights” and “compassion for the less fortunate.”

In May, 2006, your Government appeared before a UN Committee in Geneva to defend it’s commitment to human rights in Canada, and described the Court Challenges Program as evidence of this commitment. Your Government wrote to the UN Committee:

The Court Challenges Program (CCP) provides funding for test cases of national significance in order to clarify the understanding of the rights of official language minority communities and the equality rights of disadvantaged groups. …

It is not possible for the government to support all court challenges, but this uniquely Canadian program has been successful in supporting a number of important court cases that have had direct impacts on the implementation of linguistic and equality rights in Canada. A recent evaluation found that there remain dimensions of the constitutional provisions currently covered by the CCP that still require clarification and the current program was extended to March 2009.

The cancellation of the Program stands in contradiction to the position that you and your Government have taken publicly on the Charter and human rights.

Finally, cancelling the Program shows profound disrespect for the francophones who live in provinces outside of Quebec, the anglophones in Quebec, and for all Canadian residents who may need the protection of equality rights, including women, Aboriginal peoples, people with disabilities, members of racialized minorities, immigrants, refugees, lesbians and gay men, children and seniors.

The laws of Canada are never perfect. Those who need to point out the imperfections in our laws, in order that they may live on an equal footing with others, deserve to be heard. By cancelling the Court Challenges Program, your Government has indicated that they will not be and do not deserve to be.

Please reverse this decision and give us back a Canada that supports human rights.