Law Commission of Canada

Law Commission of Canada

What Happened

The Law Commission of Canada had its budget cut in September 2006. It was forced to close down shortly after the announcement. Treasury Board President, John Baird, said the government was not interested in funding an organization that had opposed the government’s legislation.

In September 2006, the Harper government announced $1 billion in spending cuts, which included the elimination of the budget of the Law Commission of Canada (LCC).

The government justified the fatal cut by claiming it would save the government $4.19 million over the following two years (2007-2008). Treasury Board President, John Baird, stated that the LCC was not “meeting the priorities of Canadians” and was not providing good “value for money.” But Baird also admitted that the government was no longer interested in providing funds for a program that opposed legislation the government believed was right. In fact, Mr. Baird appears to have misunderstood the LCC’s role which was not to “oppose” legislation at all, but to undertake studies and research on modernizing the law and making it more efficient, economic and accessible.

Legal experts agreed that the LCC made important contributions to a number of diffferent areas of law such as Aboriginal rights, child abuse in Canadian institutions (a report undertaken following a request from the Minister of Justice), extending rights and obligations beyond conjugal relationships, and the removal of restrictions on same-sex marriage. In 2004, the LCC also suggested electoral reform through mixed member proportionality.

As well, an LCC report on Participatory Justice guided the development of alternative dispute resolution methods. That Report was used by the Québec Bar for its approach to mediation. Other reports included modernization of the Bank Act, policing and the regulation of private security, and on improvements to make possible secured investments in intellectual property.

The Canadian Bar Association (CBA) expressed concerns about the impact of these spending cuts on the LCC for Canadians, including a potential decrease of law reforms and limited access to justice. The Vice President of the CBA, Guy Joubert, told the Law Times that the Commission was “another balancing factor that existed within our legal system (and) an impartial body.” The LCC’s recommendations ultimately resulted in more modern laws and better definitions of legal concepts, according to Joubert.

The CBA’s President, Parker MacCarthy, said that Canada needs an institution that focuses on the future of our country’s laws. “The decision to cut the programs leaves significant holes in our justice system,” said MacCarthy. “The rights of Canadians are at stake.”

Darin Barney, Canada Research Chair in Technology & Citizenship at McGill University, wrote to the Justice Minister, Vic Toews: “The social issues Canadians have in their communities are complex and dynamic. The Law Commission facilitates an approach to law reform that recognizes this complexity and is equal both to Canada’s diversity and to its common commitments to justice, equality, fairness and accountability… it engages everyday Canadians directly in deliberating upon how law and the legal system can best serve their communities.”

The closing of the LCC was the second time that a federal conservative government had abolished a law reform agency. The Mulroney government abolished the Law Reform Commission of Canada in the early 1990s.

The LCC was cut at the same time as the Court Challenges Program.

Relevant Dates:

  • 1993: The Mulroney government abolishes the Law Reform Commission of Canada
  • 1997: The Law Commission of Canada is formed as an independent federal law reform agency to advise Parliament on how to modernize and improve legislation. Roderick Macdonald, one of Canada’s pre-eminent jurists, is named its first President.
  • September 2006: The Harper government announces $1 billion in spending cuts, including programs like the LCC and the Court Challenges Program.
  • 2006: As a result of the spending cuts, the LCC program is shut down.

Role or Position

Formed in 1997, the Law Commission of Canada (LCC) was established to study and review the laws of Canada, offering independent advice on improvements, modernization and reform aimed at a just legal system that meets the changing needs of Canadian society. It was an independent law reform agency that advised Parliament for  nine years.

Implications and Consequences

  • Democracy: The elimination of the LCC reduces the federal government’s capacity to modernize Canada's legal system, while making it more economical and forward-looking. A well-functioning legal system is key to a healthy democracy.
  • Democracy: The elimination of the LCC, a leading research-based knowledge organization, silences yet another informed and independent voice that advocated for intelligent non-partisan solutions to problems for all Canadians.

Published: 21 February 2012