The Quebec justice system is in the midst of “collapsing,” sagging under the weight of underfinancing and bedevilled by a “catastrophic” shortage of court personnel, with more than 20 per cent of employees resigning in a year, prompting leading legal actors to describe the situation as “embarrassing” and even more alarmingly, kindling a public lack of confidence in the province’s justice system.
The situation has never been so dire, worse than late this spring when a vexed legal community warned the Quebec government that the justice system, mired in a series of crippling labour standoffs that spurred mounting adjournments, was desperately in need of more funds to prop up the justice system. But while tense labour relations with a host of legal actors have subsided since the fall thanks to new collective agreements and a new legal aid accord, legal pundits assert far more has to be done to halt the exodus of courtroom personnel who are leaving in droves because remuneration is simply not competitive.
“There is a crisis in the justice system that has led to a crisis of confidence,” noted Catherine Claveau, president of the Quebec Bar. “And I, as the president of a professional order whose primary mission is the protection of the public, when the situation of underfunding in particular means that our institutions are undermining the right of citizens to have access to effective and quality justice, well for me, this corresponds to a real crisis.”
A sperm donor was granted access rights by the Quebec Court of Appeal after he was deemed as a “significant” third party whose presence “could probably benefit” the child in a decision that has perplexed some family law experts.
The Appeal Court decision has ostensibly watered down the notion of significant third parties, leaves open the question whether a similar finding would have been reached if the third party did not have a biological connection with the child, and serves as a timely reminder that parents involved in a “parental project,” or assisted procreation, should carefully consider whether they want to hand third parties access rights, according to family law experts.
“It’s an assisted reproduction project that deviated into something else, and this is a phenomenon that we are now seeing and will be seeing more often,” remarked Michel Tétrault, a leading family law expert and author of a series of tomes on Quebec family law. “From the time that these ladies allowed access to take place, a form of status quo was created. That’s a message that needs to be sent out: the moment you allow a third party who is supposed to be in no way involved in the parental project to become involved, it opens a door.”
First Nations that have implemented youth protection legislation under the auspices of the federal Bill C-92 have jurisdiction over youth welfare regardless of place of residence held a provincial court judge in a decision viewed by legal experts as a precedent.
The long-awaited decision, widely regarded by legal pundits as an important stepping stone towards the right to self-government for First Nations, reaffirms the generic right to self-determination, confirms the authority of Aboriginal communities to withdraw children from the care of Quebec youth protection authorities, and highlights the importance of negotiating in good faith.
“This is the first judgment in such a matter, and we hope it will create a precedent,” said Frédéric Boily, a lawyer with Simard Boivin Lemieux in Dobeau-Mistassini in the Saguenay-Lac-Saint Jean region who represented the the Conseil des Atikamekw d’Opitciwan, an intervener in the case. “So another Aboriginal community that wanted to follow in our client’s footsteps would indeed have good moorings on which to build.”
A series of wide-ranging concrete administrative and structural reforms, coupled with a new regional or municipal court, legal aid for all Inuit, and greater inclusion for traditional Inuit dispute resolution methods, should be implemented by the Quebec government and legal authorities to provide greater access to justice and tackle the alarming and increasing caseload in Nunavik, according to a recently published report.
After seven years at the helm of Quebec Superior Court, the last two particularly challenging and exhausting, Justice Jacques Fournier has stepped aside and became a supernumerary judge, with the reins being handed to Marie-Anne Paquette, a puisne judge of the Superior Court of Quebec for the district of Montreal.
In a tenure he described as not “not being a calm river” or not without obstacles, former Chief Justice Fournier began his mandate in 2015 dealing with the introduction of a new Quebec Code of Civil Procedure, a major reform that “needed to be assimilated” as it granted judges broader case management powers and bestowed a greater role to the principle of proportionality, followed by the landmark Jordan ruling and a legal battle with the Court of Quebec over monetary thresholds that wound up before the nation’s highest court, culminating with coming to grips with the “very demanding” pandemic.
“The decision (to step down) was very difficult, extremely difficult,” the 71-year old Justice Fournier told me. “I am going to miss it. But after seven years, you also have to know when to leave. At some point, it takes its toll without realizing it. I loved it, but there’s more to life than that.”
“During these incidents the offender punched the victim in the knees, hit her on the head and on her ears, pushed her, dragged her on the ground, slapped her, bit her, spat in her face, head-butted her, shook her, pulled her hair and grabbed her by the shoulders while threatening to throw her off a balcony. During one incident, he threw various objects at her. During another, he took a knife and threatened to remove the baby she was carrying in her womb.”
The courts are beginning to take a harder line against domestic abuse. Over the past year Quebec Superior Court has awarded damages to victims of spousal abuse. Ontario Superior Court followed suit in late February 2022 after it recognized a new tort in family violence.
So too is the justice system and Quebec government, a movement that gained much traction over the past year, particularly since the beginning of the year.
The architecture of the Canadian Constitution has been dramatically altered, with the emergence of a third level of government, after the Quebec Court of Appeal ruled that Indigenous people possess an existing right of self-government that is protected by section 35 of the Constitution Act, 1982, according to legal experts.
The “bold” decision, a reference case brought by the Attorney General of Québec after it challenged the constitutionality of the federal government’s Indigenous child welfare law, marks the first time a self-government right has been clearly recognized by the courts as a right of all Indigenous peoples in Canada, added aboriginal and constitutional legal experts.
“The Court recognized that Indigenous peoples in Canada have a right to self-government over child and family services recognized and affirmed by section 35 of the Constitution Act, 1982,” said Claire Truesdale, a Vancouver lawyer with JFK Law Corporation who practices Aboriginal, environmental and constitutional law. “This is remarkable.”
Following in the footsteps of Quebec, a new tort in family violence has been recognized in Ontario.
In Quebec, there are some 20 cases that awarded damages to victims of spousal abuse, a figure that is less than the number of decisions that have granted damages to ex-spouses for online harassment, point out legal experts. But there are signs that is about to change.
… I am prepared to award $150,000 in compensatory, aggregated, and punitive damages for the tort of family violence. I recognize that making such a significant damage award is well-outside the normal boundaries of family law. In the typical marriage, characterized by economic interdependence and mutual support, the family law statutory framework will be a complete code that allows for the fair, predictable, and efficient resolution of the parties’ financial issues post-separation.
 However, the marriage before me was not typical: it was characterized by the Father’s abuse, and a sixteen-year pattern of coercion and control. It was not just “unhappy” or “dysfunctional”; it was violent. The family violence the Mother endured at the hands of the Father is not compensated through an award of spousal support. Indeed, the Divorce Act_, R.S.C., 1985, c. 3 (2nd Supp) specifically prohibits me from considering “misconduct” when making a spousal support award: s.15.2(5). On the rare and unusual facts before me, the Mother is entitled to a remedy in tort that properly accounts for the extreme breach of trust occasioned by the Father’s violence, and that brings some degree of personal accountability to his conduct.
Justice Pro Bono is seeking Quebec lawyers who want to support and facilitate the integration of Ukrainian refugees who will arrive in Quebec. The organization is looking for lawyers with an expertise in labour law, health law, education law, and housing law. For more information, reach out to them at firstname.lastname@example.org
In the same vein, lawyers from the Immigration Law section at the Canadian Bar Association have launched an initiative to provide services, free of charge, to individuals affected by the war in Ukraine. More information can be obtained here.
A 2017 fatal Montreal police shooting of a man underlined a lack of sufficient training to de-escalate situations when faced with people in the midst of a mental health crisis, found Quebec coroner Luc Malouin.
Pierre Coriolan, 58, was tasered, struck with a rubber bullet and shot three times. Malouin castigated police for using rapid-response tactical training, whose aim is to isolate and control the threatening person. But it is not appropriate approach to deal with people whose mental state is “disturbed,” said Malouin in his 33-page report.
“This intervention does not meet what is expected of police officers trained in recent years. And, in my humble opinion, this is the biggest problem of this intervention: police officers who have not had the most recent training in intervention with people in crisis (and) therefore acted with outdated methods that were in no way up to date with current knowledge.”
Those in the line of duty recognize that training is deficient. According to a 2021 report by an expert panel on Quebec policing, nearly 40 per cent of police consider mental health crisis management training to be inadequate. More than 70 per cent of patrol officers working for the Quebec provincial police believe their training is “deficient” to deal with people facing mental health issues. At present, about 480 hours of training in the police college training program are devoted to “interventions of a social nature.”
From the report:
On-duty police officers “lack the tools, resources and training to fulfil their social role, particularly in terms of intervention with people with mental health problems, sexual violence, domestic violence, or to make effective contact with members of ethnocultural communities.
From a police perspective, the gap between training and the challenges encountered on the street is based on the fact that many of the skills and behaviours adapted to the new realities are not easily acquired in schools or through refresher training, but rather are the result of the experience acquired or the basic temperament of the police officer. (my underlining)
In 2019 Quebec police received more than 80,000 calls to deal with people facing mental distress.
The Quebec government is forging ahead with the deployment of a series of specialized sexual and domestic violence court pilot projects in spite of forceful opposition by the Chief Justice of the Court of Quebec, the tribunal that will manage and operate the new endeavour.