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Professor Richard Clément co-authored the U of O's proposal for the program. Photo: Photo courtesy of Richard Clément.

Program aims to clarify rights of Canadians, with focus on language rights

The University of Ottawa has been chosen as the home of the new Canadian Centre for the Court Challenges Program (CCCCP), Mélanie Joly, Minister of Canadian Heritage, announced on Tuesday, Sept. 5.

A collaboration between the U of O’s Faculty of Law and Official Languages and Bilingualism Institute, the centre will be responsible for implementing the Court Challenges Program. The program will consist of two panels of legal experts responsible for allocating federal funding to support Canadians’ legal fees in pursuing what are called ‘test’ cases. The litigation in these cases would set new precedents, clarifying the rights of Canadians.

According to Richard Clément, a professor of psychology at the U of O’s Faculty of Graduate and Postdoctoral Studies, the role of the program is to “financially help court test cases that are in the national interest and that concern the Charter of Rights,” with an aim to “strengthen the interpretation of the law, and explore different interpretations of the law.”

Clément, who co-authored the university’s proposal for the program said that “everyone seems very excited from up and down the hierarchy here about the program.”

First implemented in 1994, the Court Challenges Program funded many cases such as the Egan case, about a gay couple who were not eligible to receive governmental benefits due to being in a same sex relationship. The CCP helped clarify wide aspects of Canadians’ rights, but was shut down by Prime Minister Stephen Harper in 2006. A decade later, the Trudeau government has set aside $5 million for the reimplementation of the program with a mandate to continue its work, with an additional focus on language rights. The U of O will be responsible for logistical support and providing resources for the CCCCP without influencing its work or decisions.

While the program seemingly has its benefits, it has been criticized for being costly and for slowing down the legal process. Clément, however disagrees with these criticisms, explaining that the program “helps clarify laws, it helps people who are unable to achieve justice, and just generally strengthens the rights of Canadians.”

When asked if the program would slow down the justice system, Clément said, “no, not at all, in fact, it might make justice more accessible by providing some funds, so I think on the contrary, it will be very helpful at all levels.”

Clément cited the university’s bilingual nature as one of the reasons why the university got involved with the program. Clément also noted that “we have quite the good expertise for matters regarding linguistic rights and regarding human rights.”

There is currently an open call for applicants to fill the expert panels that make up the Court Challenges Program. Clément hopes that the program will begin taking new funding requests before April 2018.