Quebec justice system in the midst of ‘collapsing, say leading legal actors

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.”

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Former Quebec Superior Court Chief Justice reflects on challenges posed by pandemic and lack of resources

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.”

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Report calls for paradigm shift to Quebec’s legal aid system

An independent panel of experts is recommending sweeping reforms to Quebec’s administration of the legal aid system to simplify the process to seek legal aid and alleviate the administrative encumbrances faced by private sector lawyers who take on legal aid mandates.

The experts, while affirming Quebec’s decentralized legal aid model because it ensures the independence of staff counsel and “respects” regional diversity, are nevertheless calling for a “paradigm” shift that would be anchored by the introduction of a secure digital platform to help establish a province-wide one-stop shop to receive, process and manage legal aid applications.

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Academics studying effects of Covid-19 pandemic on law

Quebec law faculties, having decided to offer courses remotely next fall in light of health and safety concerns stemming from Covid-19, are now also ramping up research efforts to assess the impact pandemics may have on law and the practice of law.

Public safety measures that have been introduced following the onset of pandemics such as Covid-19, SARS, and H1N1 have shaken up several areas of established domestic and international legal order, pointed out law professor Louise Langevin who is leading a team of 15 law professors at the Université Laval that will examine a wide gamut of legal issues that affect public and private spheres in the wake of  pandemics.

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Quebec ombudsman urges province to provide healthcare to Canadian children of parents with precarious immigration status

Nine months ago Amnesty International and Doctors of the World launched a joint petition to request health coverage for children born in Quebec whose parents are beset by a precarious immigration status.

The petition obviously went unheeded.

The Quebec ombudsman too is now calling on the provincial healthcare administrator to cease its “restrictive” and “faulty” interpretation of the Quebec Health Insurance Act and regulations to deny children of parents with a precarious migratory status healthcare coverage even though they are born in Quebec.

“The Quebec Ombudsman considers that the solution lies in applying the Act as written,” said an 18-page report by the Protecteur du Citoyen.

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Quebec Bar and Ombudsman want to make it easier for alleged victims of sexual assault

The Quebec Bar and the Quebec Ombudsman want to make it easier for alleged victims of sexual assault to gain access to the legal system and are calling on the provincial government to follow in the footsteps of the overwhelming majority of Canadian provinces and eliminate the prescription period for civil actions in cases of sexual assault.

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Free legal advice provided this weekend by Young Bar of Montreal

The Young Bar of Montreal will provide free legal advice by telephone this weekend. Volunteer lawyers and notaries will be available to answer questions on a wide range of subjects, from consumer to family law to labour to the management of estates.

People can call the hotline at 1 844-779-6232 on Saturday, October 14th and Sunday, October 15th from 9:00 to 16:30.

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Quebec chips away at government transparency

Quebec, once a pioneer that lead the movement towards greater government transparency, is now among the least transparent provinces in Canada after successive provincial governments introduced more than 150 legislative exemptions that undermined the province’s access to information legislation, according to a recently published comprehensive report by Quebec’s Commission d’accès à l’information.

With Quebec ranking 10th out of 14 jurisdictions in Canada, and 57th in the world, behind Honduras and Romania, the Quebec government should overhaul the provincial access to information legislation to compel all public bodies, even those partially financed by the provincial government, to be subjected to the access to information law, noted the 214-page, five-year report that issued 67 recommendations. The Commission, which also oversees provincial privacy legislation, also called on the Quebec government to beef up privacy protection measures.

“The access to information law has not been the subject of a thorough reform in 35 years, and the privacy legislation in 22 years,” remarked Diane Poitras, the Commission’s vice-president. “It’s time to re-establish the balance between the rights of citizens — who are calling for greater transparency and stronger privacy protection measures — and the needs of business and government organizations to collect and use” — and in some cases safeguard — information.

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Report urges overhaul of Quebec megatrials

A cultural change that emphasizes collaboration between all players of Quebec’s criminal justice system is the only way to ensure that costly and unwieldly megatrials do not end up in fiascos, according to a well-received comprehensive report on multi-defendant trials.

The long-awaited 180-page report also urges the Quebec government to provide more resources to the province’s Director of Penal and Criminal Prosecutions (DPCP), recommends that Quebec crown prosecutors limit the number of accused and concentrate their efforts on criminals most involved in serious crimes, advises the creation of a permanent forum for stakeholders to share best practices, proposes that police and prosecutors take management training, and calls on judges to use the powers they have more effectively. All told, the report makes 51 wide-ranging recommendations.

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