Budget promises lots of bits and pieces of cash to justice issues

  • April 28, 2021

The proposed Canada-wide early learning and child-care program was likely the most-discussed line item in the budget presented by Finance Minister Chrystia Freeland on April 19, and was certainly welcomed by members of the Canadian workforce most affected by the pandemic-related she-cession.

But other items were as important in their own way for the legal profession and the justice system. While it will take time to see whether the government can deliver on the aspirations therein – at first glance there appear to be a number of items that will find favour with many CBA members.

For example, the budget proposes to revive the Law Commission of Canada, something the CBA has called for. The purpose of the Law Commission, which was shut down in 2006 as a cost-saving measure, is to offer independent advice to the government on complex legal and policy issues. Originally established in 1971 as the Law Reform Commission of Canada, its recommendations are reflected in everything from the establishment of unified family courts to the recognition of same-sex marriage.

There is also money for 13 new judges, which we hope will address court backlogs and improve access to justice. The government also plans amend the Judges Act to reform the judicial conduct process.

Budget 2021 would extend funding for immigration and refugee legal aid for asylum seekers, an additional $26.8 million, in 2021- 22.

The government proposes to spend $3 billion over five years to establish standards for long-term care facilities, an area that came sharply to public attention during the COVID-19 pandemic. The CBA called on federal, provincial and territorial governments to establish National Quality Standards in long-term care, in a resolution adopted at the February 2021 AGM.

There is a proposal to make it easier and less expensive for people who have served their sentences to seek pardons. Budget 2021 promises ongoing funding to support up to 25 additional drug treatment courts. It will also increase funding under the Youth Justice Services Funding Program in support of diversion programming and to help reduce the overrepresentation of Indigenous peoples, Black Canadians, and other racialized groups in the youth justice system.

At the beginning of the pandemic the CBA wrote about the dangers the virus posed for incarcerated individuals. This budget proposes to provide $154 million in the next year to Corrections Services Canada to spend on PPE and other measures to keep staff and inmates safe. It also proposes funding to keep courts safe for hearings during the public health crisis.

“To modernize Canada’s justice system, support evidence-based policies, and ensure accountability within the criminal justice system, the government needs to update and fill gaps in its collection and use of data,” the budget document says. The government proposes money for collecting and using disaggregated data as part of an effort to address the over-representation of Indigenous people and racialized groups in the justice system, and it would also set aside money for academic research into systemic barriers facing those groups.

Since it was first elected in 2015, the Trudeau government has promised to promote reconciliation between the government and Indigenous peoples in Canada, and this budget appears to deliver on that commitment, with proposals to:

  • $6.7 million over five years to Justice Canada and Statistics Canada to improve the collection and use of disaggregated data as part of the effort to address the over-representation of Indigenous people in the justice system
  • $12 million over three years to fund research into systemic barriers facing diverse groups
  • Accelerating work on the National Action Plan called for by the Inquiry into Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls, and the Calls to Action recommended by the Truth and Reconciliation Commission
  • $74.8 million over three years to improve access to justice for Indigenous people and to support the development of an Indigenous justice strategy, including money to help Indigenous families navigate the family justice system, help Justice Canada develop legislation and initiatives to address systemic barriers in the criminal justice system, funding to increase prosecutorial capacity in the North
  • $724.1 million to launch a comprehensive Violence Prevention Strategy to expand access to culturally relevant supports for for Indigenous women, children, 2SLGBTQQIA+ people facing gender-based violence
  • $49.3 million and to support the implementation of Gladue principles
  • $8.1 million to strengthen community-based justice systems and support self-determination.

Other items include a National Action Plan to address gender-based violence and funding for a national program for independent legal advice and representation for victims of sexual assault.