The Steering Committee of the Law Union of Ontario is urging all of its members to resign from the Canadian Bar Association (CBA) as a result of the CBA’s intervention in Chevron Corporation, et al. v. Yaiguaje, et al. We have written to CBA to this effect; the full text of this letter is at the end of this post.
In 2011, after nearly 20 years of battle, an Ecuadorian court ruled that Chevron had to compensate victims for the destruction it had caused. The Supreme Court of Ecuador ratified this decision and set damages at US $9.51 billion.
In December 2013, the Ontario Court of Appeal held that Ecuador’s indigenous communities were entitled to have their case against Chevron Canada heard in Ontario. Chevron is appealing this decision to the Supreme Court of Canada (SCC).
In September 2014, the CBA announced its decision to have Blake Cassels & Graydon LLP submit a brief to the SCC on issues of corporate identity. Blakes represents Chevron in other matters. This decision by the CBA both followed and propelled widespread criticism from CBA sections and CBA members, including the CBA’s Legislative and Law Reform Committee, which had recommended against proceeding with the intervention when it was first proposed. Critics pointed to a lack of consultation in the intervention decision-making process and a violation of the CBA’s stated public interest/access to justice mandate.
In calling for CBA member resignations, we follow the lead of advocates, lawyers, and law students who are protesting both the process and the substance of the CBA’s intervention. In particular, we would highlight the following statements:
Petition to CBA: Withdraw from the Supreme Court of Canada or Don’t File an Argument
We write to advise you that the Steering Committee of the Law Union of Ontario is urging all of its members to resign from the CBA as a result of your intervention in Chevron Corporation, et al. v. Yaiguaje, et al at the Supreme Court of Canada.
Your intervention flies in the face of any concern for the environment; your stated commitment to access to justice; your own members’ objections; and our profession’s ethic requiring us to act in the public interest, unless acting for a party to litigation.
The Law Union of Ontario (LUO) writes to express its concern regarding the proposed merger of seventeen independent community legal clinics in the GTA into a few mega-clinics.
In particular, we are concerned that this amalgamation does not reflect a model of community lawyering that responds to the needs of low income people. We call on Legal Aid Ontario (LAO) and the Province of Ontario to ensure access to justice by providing increased funding to existing community legal clinics in catchment areas with high levels of poverty. Additionally, any major clinic transformation should only occur after meaningful, extensive, and widespread consultation with clinic-users and low-income communities.
The federal government announced on Sept. 25, 2006 that it was abolishing the Court Challenges Program, a small program that provided modest contributions to the cost of important test cases dealing with language and equality rights. Without this Program, Canada’s constitutional rights are real only for the wealthy. A website is now online to coordinate national efforts to save it: http://www.savecourtchallenges.ca
Examples of cases supported by the Court Challenges Program – Equality Rights
Canadian Newspapers Co. v. Canada (Attorney General),  2 S.C.R. 122
A man was charged with sexually assaulting his wife. The woman applied for an order banning publication of any information that would identify her. Canadian Newspapers Co. took the position that the Criminal Code contravened the guarantee of freedom of the press in the Charter. The Supreme Court of Canada ruled that the the Criminal code section is justifiable since ito encourages victims of sexual assault to come forward by protecting them from the trauma of publication resulting in embarrassment.
R. v. Butler,  1 S.C.R. 452
The Supreme Court of Canada articulated a harms-based test for determining when material should be considered obscene: the “community standard of tolerance” test, i.e. what Canadians would not tolerate other Canadians being exposed to. Material which may be said to exploit sex in a “degrading or dehumanizing” manner will fail the community standards test because it is perceived to be harmful to society, particularly women.
R. v. Prosper,  3 S.C.R. 236
In this case, the Supreme Court of Canada held that where an impoverished arrested person requests counsel, the police must desist from attempting to obtain a statement until counsel has been provided. “The poor are not constitutional castaways.”
Egan v. Canada,  2 S.C.R. 513
A gay couple from British Columbia challenged the definition of spouse in the Old Age Security Act, which denied a spousal benefit available to opposite sex partners. The majority of the Supreme Court of Canada ruled that discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation is prohibited by the Charter – a breakthrough for lesbians and gays seeking protection from discrimination.
Corbiere et al v. The Queen and Batchewana Indian Band,  2 S.C.R. 203
The Supreme Court of Canada agreed that the Indian Act residency requirement violated the equality rights of Aboriginal band members living off reserve. Particularly affected by the voting bar are women and their adult children who regained their Indian status under Bill C-31 and who never had the opportunity to live on the reserve.
R. v. Mills,  3 S.C.R. 668
Mills, accused of sexually assaulting a 13-year-old girl, wanted to obtain records of visits she made to a counseling agency and a psychiatrist. He did not want to follow the procedures for accessing these records which are imposed by the Criminal Code. The Supreme Court of Canada found that the provisions do not interfere with an accused person’s right to a fair criminal process under sections 7 and 11(d) of the Charter.
R. v. Wu,  3 S.C.R. 530
Mr. Wu was disabled and on social assistance, with a dependent daughter. He was convicted of possession of contraband cigarettes, an offence which is subject to a mandatory minimum fine. The trial judge provided no time to pay and ordered a conditional sentence of 75 days in default of payment to be served in the community. The Supreme Court accepted submissions of an intervener representing poor people and found that those living in poverty should not face any form of incarceration solely because of their inability to pay a fine.