Court Challenges Program Restored and Expanded to Increase Access to Justice for People With Disabilities

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By Julia Munk, Student-at-Law, ARCH Disability Law Centre, Toronto (Shared with permission from March 17, 2017 Issue of ARCH Alert)

On February 7, 2017 the Federal Government announced that funding for the Court Challenges Program (CCP) would be reinstated in an effort to increase access to justice for people with disabilities and other vulnerable groups, including official-language minority communities. Since it began funding human rights cases in 1985, the objective of the CCP has been to protect and advance substantive equality and access to justice for disadvantaged groups. CCP funding has allowed disability issues to be brought to Canadian courts, resulting in a positive impact on the lives of people with disabilities.

The CCP was eliminated in 2006 by executive order, however in February 2017 the Government of Canada announced that it would update and reinstate the program. While the CCP will continue to be implemented by an independent organization to avoid any real or perceived conflict of interest on the part of the Government of Canada, the accountability framework that will be used is unclear. What is known is that the Government has decided not to use the internationally recognized community based framework under which the CCP previously operated.

The types of cases that will be considered for funding under CCP will no longer focus exclusively on advancing substantive equality and access to justice for disadvantaged groups and official language minority communities. In addition to cases that focus on equality and language rights, the CCP will now consider funding cases that address:

  • Fundamental freedoms such as freedom of religion and freedom of expression;
  • Democratic rights including the right to vote;
  • Gender equality; and
  • Multiculturalism;

Cases that address the rights of indigenous people protected under section 35 of the Charter and those that are outside of federal jurisdiction will not be considered for funding by the CCP in its current form.

While some of the changes to the program are concerning, the reinstatement of the CCP is a positive step towards increasing access to justice for vulnerable and historically disadvantaged communities, including disability communities.