A quarter-century later, the Charter is at a crossroads. While there may be much to celebrate, the process of using it to establish rights is time-consuming and expensive, almost entirely dependent on government subsidies and the benevolence of lawyers to bankroll cases, sometimes costing millions of dollars.
Restrictions on legal aid and a decision last fall by the Conservative government to kill the Court Challenges Program, which helped fund individuals and citizen groups fighting for constitutional protections, have made the Charter more inaccessible than ever.
Today, many experts are pessimistic about its future as a tool in battling for equality and fending off unwarranted government intrusions into people’s lives. Like fine champagne, the Charter is in danger of becoming a luxury many never taste.
Interesting quotes from a conservative on rights for the average Canadian.
Rainer Knopff, a political scientist at the University of Calgary, said the program was “a biased boondoggle that had gone well past its `best before’ date.”
The program only funded groups on “one side” of the political spectrum while “socially conservative groups never got any money. Not a penny, as far as I know,” said Knopff.
He also echoed then-Treasury Board president John Baird’s suggestion, made in defending the decision to kill the program, that it made no sense for Ottawa to spend public money helping groups challenge its own legislation.
“I don’t want to pay for surrogate litigants,” said Knopff, arguing public interest groups should raise their own money for Charter cases. “If they can’t raise the money – tough.”
Apparently conservatives feel rights are for those that can afford them. Not that this is surprising, however, it is nice to have it so neatly laid out.
One can only hope that during an election campaign these words along with those of Harper saying that ordinary Canadians aren’t protesting complete with scenes of farmers and seniors and youth out protesting, find major play in party ads.