On Feb. 7, Justice Minister Jody Wilson-Raybould and Heritage Minister Melanie Joly announced the Liberal government would resurrect the Court Challenges Program, the federal fund for third parties to challenge the constitutionality of laws.
The CCP was created in the 1970s by the Pierre Trudeau government to launch court challenges to laws based on equality and language rights. The Harper government nixed the program in 2006 and Justin Trudeau ran in 2015 vowing to bring it back. Wilson-Raybould and Joly announced that the new CCP will expand its scope to include freedom of religion, freedom of democratic rights, and the right to liberty and security. Wilson-Raybould said the renewed program, which Joly insists will be independent of the government, ensure that the government “promotes access to justice for Canadians who need it the most.”
The Court Challenges Program was criticized by many conservatives. Among the critics were University of Calgary political scientist Ted Morton and REAL Women’s Gwen Landolt repeatedly criticized the CCP for encouraging judicial activism by funding left-wing special interest groups to take the government to court to overturn laws they couldn’t change through the democratic process.
When the Justin Trudeau Liberals brought back the program, Landolt called it “appalling” and went so far as to say it became “a tool to undermine Canada’s Judeo-Christian values.” She said while REAL Women was repeatedly turned down for funding applications, the feminist Women’s Legal Education and Action Fund (LEAF) was supported in 140 different court challenges.
The Rebel Media’s Brian Lilley said the CCP was used by “the Lefty government of the day” to push unpopular policies; when the courts ruled in favour of radical changes to the law, the government would “stand back and say they have to follow the court’s orders, they have no choice.”
In the press conference announcing the government was bringing back the CCP, Joly said, “Our laws are not perfect, and that is why it is important to allow Canadians to fight for their rights. That is the program’s biggest strength.”
The British Columbia Civil Liberties Association, a frequent challenger of Canadian laws including successfully overturning the prohibition on euthanasia and assisted-suicide, applauded the announcement. In a statement the BCCLA said, “We and many others had asked the government to expand the scope of the previous program, which prior to its cancellation in 2006 was limited to equality rights and official language rights cases.”
John Carpay of the Justice Centre for Constitutional Freedoms said his group will be watching the CCP to see if it is as political as the previous incarnation. He told LifeSiteNews, “it has been used very successfully by left-wing groups to advance their agenda … I don’t know what the new incarnation will be like.”
The government announced that initial funding for the CCP will be $5 million, with about a third of it reserved for minority language rights cases. When the Tories shut the program down in 2006, its budget was $2.8 million.
Wilson-Raybould said it is good that governments are challenged on the constitutionality of its laws and said even the government’s Medical Aid in Dying legislation could face a challenge, although she did not indicate whether the complaint would be that it was too permissive or restrictive.