While Finance Minister Jim Flaherty was announcing tax cuts at the National Club on Thursday, November 23, some 30 Osgoode Hall law students rallied nearby at the Cloud Conservatory Park near Richmond and Yonge, charging the Tory heavy with impeding equal access to the law.
Their issue was his cutting $5.6 million from the Courts Challenges Program and $4.2 million from the Law Commission of Canada over two years.
Run by Heritage Canada, the Court Challenges Program helps offset costs in cases dealing with language and equality rights and has won rights for female victims of sexual assault, aboriginal groups and gays.
The Law Commission is an independent federal law reform agency aimed at renewing laws to ensure responsiveness and equal accessibility for all.
"It's looking pretty bleak for progressive law students who went to school because they want to do something good," says organizer Chris Donovan, a second-year law student.
Flaherty's office declined to comment, but Mark Quinlan, speaking for Justice Minister Vic Toews, says the Justice Department ensures through reallocation of funds that good programs to meet the legal needs of middle-class and working families remain available. He says the Law Commission "was rarely used and served as a consultative body."
Stephanie Hobbs, one of the five law students who made it inside the club, finds the cuts troubling. "In reality, the Court Challenges program costs less than 10 cents per Canadian a year,' she says. "We're putting a really low price on human rights."