20th February 2024


Rule of law

Chief justice of Canada urged investments in court resources while CBA President issued call to step up efforts to ensure safety of judges and users of the justice system.

CBA President John Stefaniuk

CBA President John Stefaniuk
Photo: Blair Gable

In his address to the Annual General Meeting of the Canadian Bar Association, Chief Justice Richard Wagner sounded a note of caution regarding the global rise of tyranny and systemic corruption as threats to the rule of law. Citing the most recent index by the World Justice Project, which for the sixth year in a row shows a majority of countries experiencing declining rule of law, he highlighted Canada’s role as a beacon of justice on the world stage.

“Despite the overall health of our legal system, we know that some challenges remain,” said the Chief Justice, emphasizing the need to safeguard the principles of democracy and judicial independence. “We must always strive to be a role model for the global community.”

Wagner also expressed concerns about access to justice for marginalized Canadians if governments don’t remedy the “persistent” lack of resources for the courts and “considerable” delays in filling judicial vacancies.

As of January 1, there were 78 vacancies in federally appointed judicial positions. He noted that some courts have been coping for years with vacancy rates as high as 10 to 15%, adding that it isn’t rare for vacancies to go unfilled for months and even years.

“Unfilled positions on the bench escalate an already alarming situation in some courts that are facing a critical lack of human and financial resources.”

The situation does little to inspire public confidence in the judicial system, he stressed, further adding that governments must understand that the Supreme Court’s Jordan ruling, handed down in 2016, was a consequence of the challenges faced by the courts and not the source of the problem.

The Chief Justice thanked the CBA for its efforts to promote “justice, equality, and the rule of law at all levels of our justice system” and applauded the association’s work in support of legal education and professional development — “crucial in promoting a fair and effective legal system in Canada.” 

He also congratulated the Canadian Bar Review on its 100th anniversary. “I tip my hat to all who have contributed to its success,” he said in French.

Echoing Chief Justice Wagner’s sentiments, CBA President John Stefaniuk spoke of the worrying threats to the rule of law and judicial independence and, in particular, noted incidences of violence in courthouses in the United States and Canada, including a recent knife attack on a court interpreter in a Quebec courthouse.

When speaking in defence of the independence of the judiciary, Stefaniuk said, the CBA must again stress the importance of ensuring the “physical safety of judges and their families” as well as court personnel and users of the justice system. 

“The CBA speaks with one, united and powerful voice on this,” he said, adding we will not stop in our efforts “publicly as well as behind the scenes as we work with stakeholders to find practical solutions to the issue before it reaches the kinds of proportions we are seeing elsewhere.”

Stefaniuk highlighted CBA advocacy successes of the past year, including its support of the constitutional challenge by the Federation of Law Societies of new mandatory disclosure rules in the Income Tax Act on reportable transactions. 

In his pre-recorded address, Minister of Justice and Attorney-General of Canada Arif Virani spoke of many common objectives with the CBA, which he called “an effective and important voice for the entire legal community.” Some of those shared priorities include equal access to justice for all, fighting inequalities and racism in the criminal justice system, reinforcing our justice system and ensuring its jurists reflect the population they serve.

Virani added he’s looking forward to Parliament passing Bill C-40 on establishing an independent commission to review miscarriages of justice, which the CBA supports. 

Virani commented on judicial vacancies, noting that 685 judges had been appointed since 2015, including 62 since he took office in late July 2023. “Please consider applying for this important role,” he told CBA members. “Help me replenish the pool of applicants with people with distinguished legal acumen who reflect the diversity of our society.”

CBA Vice-President Lynne Vicars announced that Bianca Kratt, K.C, a partner at Parlee McLaws in Calgary presented, had been elected as the 2024-2025 Vice-President.

This year’s AGM featured debates and votes on 13 resolutions covering various topics ranging from governance to abortion rights and the use of AI in immigration law and delivery.