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Extending the protection of the law to vulnerable populations in Canada and internationally

July 14, 2016

The Right Honourable Beverley McLachlin, Chief Justice of Canada, the Honourable Joseph Kamara, Attorney General of Sierra Leone, and CBC’s National Parliamentary Bureau reporter Alison Crawford, joined IDRC on June 16, 2016, for a conversation exploring the challenges and solutions of bringing access to justice to scale.

Access to justice is one of the driving forces of development, and is now recognized with a dedicated goal under the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). Although basic legal services are widely recognized as essential to allow people access to justice, efforts to reach marginalized communities have thus far been few and far between.

“Access to justice means basically that everybody, every woman, man, and child will have access to the justice system,” said the Right Honourable Beverley McLachlin. “When they need the law, the law should be there for them.”

McLachlin explained that the legal system of a country reflects its culture, including the challenges it faces as a whole. In Canada, she says, corruption in the court structure and policing is largely absent. This inspires public confidence, a crucial foundation for a sound justice system, but one that is lacking in many countries.

“Many new Canadians come from places where the judicial system is corrupt, and they regard the system with some suspicion,” said McLachlin. “We need to help new Canadians learn about and trust the system. Education and information are very important.”

The Honourable Joseph Kamara echoed McLachlin’s position, stressing that the provision of information and education about justice and the law is key to its wide adoption. “If you talk to me about access to justice it means nothing to me if I don’t know the law is there,” Kamara said.

He explained that in Sierra Leone, legal aid is central to increasing people’s knowledge about their rights, and once an individual has awareness of their rights, they also know that there is room for redress. “A responsible government ensures that its citizens have equal rights,” Kamara said.

Health, economic outcomes, and a successful society in general are all tied to a strong legal system. It is a tool for good governance, but its success in any country is dependent on putting an end to corruption. “It is not just making sure that the law is there,” said Kamara, “it is ensuring that the law is implementable.”

Watch the event