Canadian Government to Revive Independent Commission for Legal Reform

The Canadian federal government is planning to revive an independent commission that will provide advice to the cabinet on the reform of Canadian laws. The Justice Minister's office is expected to announce the commission's revival soon, but has not provided any details other than the Minister's eagerness to get it going again. The new Law Commission of Canada was allocated $18 million over five years and $4 million in annual funding in the 2021 federal budget. The previous Law Commission of Canada was shut down by Stephen Harper's Conservative government in 2006.

The commission has a non-partisan history, providing valuable critical examination of Canadian laws for weaknesses, according to former Liberal attorney general Allan Rock. Rock, who later served as president of the University of Ottawa, considers the commission as a useful resource that identifies areas where reforms are necessary. However, despite its non-partisan nature, the commission has had a controversial history, being opened and closed by different governments.

The Canadian Bar Association president Steeves Bujold also expressed the usefulness and necessity of having a Law Commission in Canada. He cited the recommendations from previous iterations of the commission, including updating the Bank Act, creating a unified family court, and removing restrictions on same-sex marriage.

The commission is expected to be composed of legal experts, practicing lawyers, former law enforcement officers, and advocates, sitting on an advisory council, and to be led by a full-time president and four part-time commissioners. Its role would include examining important topics such as systemic racism in the justice system, access to justice, legal issues around climate change, establishing a new relationship with Indigenous Peoples, and rapid technological shifts in the world.

The commission would also be able to answer questions about the constitutionality of proposed legislation and its potential effects on international laws, including trade agreements. Additionally, the commission could proactively address potential problems with laws, such as those related to sex work, mandatory minimum sentencing, and medical assistance in dying, before they become issues before the courts.

Despite the commission's usefulness, Rock acknowledged that governments may still decide to avoid politically sensitive areas of the law. He mentioned his own government's delay in addressing assisted dying after the Supreme Court of Canada challenged the prohibition on it in 1993, and the subsequent ruling in 2015 that called the ban unconstitutional, which imposed a deadline for legislation, before Prime Minister Justin Trudeau's Liberals passed a new law. The courts are there to determine the validity of laws tested against the Constitution, but governments should address gaps in the law proactively.

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