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Being there: CBA supports occasionally travelling Supreme Court

SCC hearings outside Ottawa could enhance Canadians’ appreciation for their democratic institutions.

Image of a map and suitcase with a compass
Photo by Kira auf der Heide on Unsplash

Canadians are losing confidence in their justice system, says Supreme Court Chief Justice Richard Wagner, who’s thinking of taking the high court on the road to bring it closer to the citizens it serves.

“The idea is to be close to the people,” he told the Globe and Mail last June, outlining his proposal to take the court out of Ottawa for a few days of hearings, and maybe making it an annual event.

“It’s all in line with our policy to be present in each province, to make sure that every citizen feels that the Supreme Court is there for them. And to give the chance to those people who cannot be in Ottawa, to look at how it’s done. How the arguments are made. How the judges are doing their thing.”

A 2015 Statistics Canada report suggests that just over 50 per cent of Canadians have some degree of confidence in the justice system. And the CBA’s own Reaching Equal Justice report noted that many Canadians, particularly those in poor and marginalized communities, do not believe they will be treated fairly by the justice system.

In a recent letter to Chief Justice Wagner, CBA President Ray Adlington noted that technology isn’t always the be-all and end-all when it comes to taking the message to the people, and that the Supreme Court’s investment in webcasting and broadcasting still only reached those with the financial and technological resources to access television or the Internet.

The CBA supports the idea of occasional Supreme Court sittings outside Ottawa, as a way to enhance public appreciation of Canada’s law and democratic institutions. The CBA also suggests some factors to take into consideration, such as the case’s relationship to the region where the hearings would be held, the cost to the court and the parties, the ability to take advantage of opportunities for public engagement and education, and public perception of the stressors in the justice system generally. The suggestions were taken from consultations with national Sections and Branch presidents.

“Additional dimensions of understanding and appreciating of the SCC’s work are available for those able to attend in person,” noted President Adlington.