Justice is something that all Canadians, regardless of race, language or remote location, are entitled to.
The chief justice of the Supreme Court of Canada firmly believes that anyone should be able to go to court and say "I am a human being. I am equal to anyone. . . . I am here. So judge my case."
Beverley McLachlin told Thompson Rivers University law students that access to justice is fundamental in the Canadian system. It's not perfect, but improvement takes time.
The students were joined by several judges, lawyers and the public in the 200-plus audience who took in McLachlin's address at the TRU House of Learning Monday afternoon.
Canada's first woman chief justice was born and grew up in Alberta. She has practised and taught law in B.C. and told her audience as chief justice, she has made a point of always having a few clerks on staff from Western Canada — including one former clerk who introduced her Monday.
The Supreme Court of Canada is not some austere institution on the banks of the Ottawa River, but is the court of everyone in the country, she said.
It shouldn't be just something for the use of rich people or big corporations, but a right for all — and that's a view McLachlin said she hopes all Canadians share.
"To me, justice is a basic good," she said.
But Canada has a shortage of lawyers, especially in rural and remote areas, she said. Also affecting people's access to justice is the cost — many people don't go to lawyers because they can't afford it.
In Ontario, the cost for a three-day trial is $60,000 — more than most Canadians earn in a year, she pointed out.
The result is people either don't go to court, or they represent themselves. The latter causes other problems — it slows down the courts because the self-representing litigants don't understand the system, she said.
The solution, at least in part, is new law schools like the one at TRU, that train people in areas where they might live and practice afterward, said McLachlin.
There are other remedies, including reviewing procedures and amendments to streamline processes, dispute resolution as an alternative, pro bono services from law firms and legal expense insurance.
She urged the students to get involved in their communities and in programs to help people get justice.
"The profession of law is a service profession," she said.