Government of Canada

Government of Canada

February 07, 2017 14:43 ET

Government of Canada Reinstates the Modernized Court Challenges Program to Better Defend the Rights and Freedoms of Canadians

Broader scope will clarify fundamental rights and make the justice system more accessible

OTTAWA, ONTARIO--(Marketwired - Feb. 7, 2017) - Department of Canadian Heritage and Department of Justice Canada

The Honourable Mélanie Joly, Minister of Canadian Heritage, and the Honourable Jody Wilson-Raybould, Minister of Justice and Attorney General of Canada, are pleased to announce the reinstatement and modernization of a program that, historically, has helped clarify and strengthen the constitutional rights of Canadians by supporting test cases. The Court Challenges Program will provide financial aid to groups and individuals asserting their rights and hold the government accountable for defending the rights and freedoms of all Canadians. The Program will have an annual budget of $5 million.

The previous programs changed the course of history and played a significant role in most major court challenges associated with official language and equality rights in Canada. The programs have helped groups and individuals advocate for rights and freedoms at school, at work and in their day-to-day lives.

With the modernized Program, the government intends to better reflect changes in the Canadian jurisprudence by expanding the scope of eligible rights to sections of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms relating to fundamental freedoms, democratic rights, life, liberty and security of the person and most of the language rights guaranteed under the Official Languages Act.

The Program will have a modernized governance structure that is independent, transparent and accountable, and ensures the impartiality of funding decisions.

Today, the Government is launching a process to select an independent body that will be mandated to implement and manage the modernized Court Challenges Program. Interested parties have until March 6, 2017, to submit an application.

In the upcoming months, an open, transparent and merit-based process will also be initiated in order to select the members of two expert panels that will be responsible for making decisions regarding Program funding. More details will follow.

The Government of Canada is aiming to have a modernized Program operational by fall 2017.

Quotes

"We are extremely proud of our free and democratic society, which is recognized around the world. It inspires us to work continuously to make Canada more diverse, inclusive and equitable. The return of the Court Challenges Program is a testament to our government's commitment to protecting human rights and official language rights. The impact of this program on our history is tangible, and the modernized version will change the lives of many Canadians."

- The Honourable Mélanie Joly, Minister of Canadian Heritage

"Reinstating a modern Court Challenges Program will increase access to justice for vulnerable groups and official-language communities. Doing so as we celebrate the Charter's 35th anniversary is a clear affirmation of our Government's commitment to human rights and the rule of law."

- The Honourable Jody Wilson-Raybould, Minister of Justice and Attorney General of Canada

Quick Facts

  • In its ministerial mandate letters to the Minister of Canadian Heritage, and the Minister of Justice and Attorney General of Canada, the Government of Canada committed to modernizing and reinstating the Court Challenges Program.
  • The Program has been modernized following a detailed analysis of several relevant areas, including an evaluation of the former Court Challenges Program and Language Rights Support Program, the results of consultations held in spring 2016 with over 100 stakeholders, and the Report of the Standing Committee on Justice and Human Rights, released on September 19, 2016.
  • Of the annual $5-million investment, a minimum of $1.5 million will be allocated to the clarification of language rights. The balance will be allocated to the clarification of other rights covered by the Program.

Related Products

Government Response to the Report of the Standing Committee on Justice and Human Rights

Report of the Standing Committee on Justice and Human Rights

Summary report on the Court Challenges Program consultations

Mandate letter, Minister of Canadian Heritage

Mandate letter, Minister of Justice and Attorney General of Canada

Associated Links

The modernized Court Challenges Program

Submit an application to be the managing entity of the modernized Court Challenges Program

Stay Connected

Follow us on Twitter, Facebook, YouTube, Instagram and Flickr.

Backgrounder

Program precursors

Between 1978 and 2006, the former Court Challenges Program played a key role in helping Canadians clarify and assert the official language and equality rights guaranteed under the Constitution of Canada. The former Program was abolished in 2006. However, in 2008, following an out-of-court settlement, the Government of Canada pledged to fund the Court Challenges Program cases already approved (old cases still ongoing) and to establish the Language Rights Support Program.

Modernized Court Challenges Program

Anticipated outcomes

Through the Court Challenges Program:

  • Individuals or groups can obtain funding that allows them to bring and participate in test cases involving the rights and freedoms covered by the Program.

  • The perspectives of individuals or groups who have received funding are brought before the courts in the context of test cases.

  • The rights and freedoms covered by the Program are clarified and strengthened.

An independent body

In order to avoid any real or perceived conflict of interest with the Government of Canada, the Court Challenges Program will be implemented and managed by a third party. Among other duties, the independent body selected will be responsible for the general administration and implementation of the Program, including the management of the two panels of experts.

Panels of experts

Decisions as to which cases or projects will be funded under the Court Challenges Program will be made by two independent panels of experts: an Official Language Rights Expert Panel and a Human Rights Expert Panel. The seven members of each panel will be selected on the basis of their relevant legal expertise, and will report to the independent body.

A selection committee composed of senior civil servants and experts in official languages and human rights will be responsible for pre-selecting qualified candidates for each panel, and recommending them to the Minister of Canadian Heritage.

Funding priorities

The Court Challenges Program will provide funding for:

  • developing test cases;

  • litigation in test cases;

  • legal interventions.

Rights covered by the Program

The modernized Court Challenges Program will include all of the rights covered by the former Court Challenges Program and the Language Rights Support Program:

    • Equality rights in the Charter (section 15; section 28 on gender equality; section 27 on multiculturalism)

    • Official language rights in the Charter (sections 16 to 23 of the Charter; freedom of expression in section 2 of the Charter when invoked in an official language minority case)

    • Official language rights in other parts of the Constitution and related laws will also still be included (section 93 or 133 of the Constitution Act, 1867, or as guaranteed in section 23 of the Manitoba Act, 1870)

The modernized Program will include these additional Charter rights:

    • Freedom of religion, expression, association and assembly (section 2)

    • Democratic rights, that is, the right to vote and be a candidate for election (section 3)

    • The right to life, liberty and security of the person (section 7)

It will also include these parts and provisions of the Official Languages Act:

    • Part I (Proceedings of Parliament)
    • certain sections of Part II (Legislative and other instruments)
    • Part IV (Communications and services to the public)
    • Part V (Language of work within the federal institutions)
    • Part VII (Promotion of English and French)
    • section 91 (Staffing)

Quotes from stakeholders

"The revived and enhanced Court Challenges Program is a welcome and important addition to the enhancement and enforcement of constitutional human rights in Canada. Too often citizens cannot afford the litigation costs of maintaining democratic rights and freedoms granted by the Canadian Constitution. The expansion of the Program to cover not only additional official language rights and constitutional equality rights, but also fundamental Charter rights, is a demonstration of Canada's commitment to democracy, freedom and human dignity."

- Michael Bergman, lawyer, cofounder of The Association of English Speaking Jurists of Quebec, and former member of the Board of Directors of the previous Court Challenges Program

"The Court Challenges Program is fundamental to the preservation of our Francophone minority communities. Asserting these rights is not easy, and the Program supports those who take action for the good of us all. For our community, this means a school and learning centre where we can learn, share, eat, play, laugh, sing and, yes, even dance together in French."

- Noëlla Arsenault, Principal appellant, Arsenault-Cameron v. Prince Edward Island (2000) (Minority Language Educational Rights, Article 23, Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms)

"We at the Women's Legal Education and Action Fund (LEAF) welcome the renewal of a modernized Court Challenges Program. Our cases have sought to improve women's equality rights since our founding in 1985. Although much remains to be done before equality is achieved, support from this program will improve access to justice by helping LEAF and other equality-seeking groups to ensure that members of disadvantaged groups will have a meaningful voice in the evolution of constitutional equality rights in Canada."

- Dr. Kim Stanton, Legal Director, Women's Legal Education and Action Fund

"The Court Challenges Program is an important tool in creating equitable access to the justice and legal system with respect to equity rights. It is also an effective program that recognizes social change and emerging equity issues."

- Pardeep Singh Nagra, Executive Director of the Sikh Heritage Museum of Canada

Contact Information

  • Pierre-Olivier Herbert
    Press Secretary
    Office of the Minister of Canadian Heritage
    819-997-7788

    Media Relations
    Canadian Heritage
    819-994-9101
    1-866-569-6155
    pch.media-media.pch@canada.ca

    David Taylor
    Director of Communications
    Office of the Minister of Justice and
    Attorney General of Canada
    613-992-4621

    Media Relations
    Department of Justice
    613-957-4207