Chief Justice of Canada’s annual press conference

Opening statement by the Right Honourable Richard Wagner, P.C.
Chief Justice of Canada

Good morning everyone, and thank you for joining me here at my second annual press conference.

Last year when I spoke to you here, I had been Chief Justice for six months. So this is my first time reporting to you on a full year’s work. And it’s been a busy year.

A lot has happened since I last spoke here. The Court has continued to find new ways to reach out to Canadians and help them understand our work. We launched our first annual Year in Review, something I mentioned was in the works last year. It can be viewed and downloaded from our website, in both official languages. It explains the Court’s work using clear text, photos, and graphics.

We’ve continued to publish our Cases in Brief – which explain our decisions in plain language – bringing the total so far to 54. We’ve reached millions by posting them on Facebook and Twitter, and they’ve been accessed on our website over 250,000 times. Each Case in Brief is meant to help Canadians understand an area of law a little better.

We’re planning to visit Winnipeg this fall, as I announced at the last press conference. But we’re also going to hear two cases while we’re there, to give people in a different part of the country an opportunity to see their Court in action. It’s the first time in history that the Court will sit outside of Ottawa, and we’re looking forward to speaking with Manitobans while we are there.

My colleagues and I continue to visit different parts of the country to share our thoughts and hear from Canadians. In the past year, I’ve spoken at about three dozen events, from swearing-in ceremonies for judges to a pro bono law conference to a moot court event. I’ve also traveled abroad to speak to judges and legal audiences in other countries to support the rule of law globally. I’m proud of the strong system of justice and the rule of law we have in Canada, and proud to have the opportunity to share what we’ve learned with other countries.

On the operational side, we’ve made changes to the Court’s Rules of Practice to make it easier to file documents electronically, and to make it optional to use agents present in Ottawa.

As Chief Justice of Canada, I have roles outside of the courtroom. As Chair of the Canadian Judicial Council, we’ve taken a hard look at our mandate and have already taken steps to improve our governance. At the National Judicial Institute, which I also chair, we continue with our mission of judge-led education, both in Canada and abroad.

I am very proud of our judiciary, a key component of our democracy. Our judges work hard every day to ensure that the law is applied clearly and fairly to all Canadians.

All of this is done with the goal of building and maintaining public confidence in our judiciary and in our legal system.

Since my appointment, I’ve spoken a lot about access to justice. Everyone has. It’s a buzzword these days. Lately, I am finding the word “access” to be somewhat narrow. It suggests that we just need to install a bigger door to let more people in. It suggests that if people don’t come in through our big door, maybe they just don’t want to visit us.

But there could be other reasons our neighbours don’t drop by. Maybe our entryway is dark and overgrown, making them nervous to approach. Maybe we’re never outside, and the curtains are always closed. Maybe, once they enter, people find the rooms small and stuffy, or find our habits strange and formal.

While I and others have talked a great deal about “access,” I fear it’s becoming just that — talk. We don’t need any more talk. We need action. To continue our little house metaphor, maybe we need to put in a garden and add some colour. Maybe we need to think about an open-concept design, so our guests feel more comfortable when they visit. Maybe we actually need to sit out on the front porch and invite them in. Maybe we need to get our street together to help each other out once in a while.

So instead of “access to justice,” these days I’m thinking more in terms of “action for justice.” By that I mean real, tangible steps that we’re taking—and that we can take in the future—to make justice happen. Access—real access—depends on action, and the resources necessary to make that action happen. To make sure Canadians get the justice they need, when they need it, and give them the peace of mind of knowing it’s there for them even when they don’t. To make sure       they know that the edifice of justice is well-maintained and in no danger of collapse. To make sure they know our door is always open, and they are welcome.

The actions I’m thinking about don’t have to be big ticket items. Our house has good walls and a strong foundation, so as long as we keep up with the yearly maintenance, we don’t need to rebuild it from scratch. But all of us who are actors—and I use the word actors deliberately—need to pitch in and do what we can to improve processes, provide more and better information, and make sure everyone gets the legal help they deserve.

And now, I will happily take your questions.


Opening statement by the Right Honourable Richard Wagner, P.C.
Chief Justice of Canada
On the occasion of the Chief Justice of Canada’s annual press conference

Ottawa, Ontario
June 20, 2019