In a move certain to drag the province back into the legal nightmare of the Nineteenth Century, the Liberal Ontario government of Premier Dalton McGuinty has abolished the final remnants of Legal Aid funding for civil matters.
It is a move reminiscent of the federal Conservative government of Prime Minister Stephen Harper – aided and abetted by Michael Ignatieff’s Liberal opposition – which not to long ago abolished a fund for Constitutional legal challenges by poorly funded grassroots organizations.
The goal of both moves was to make it harder for the poor and the working classes to access justice.
And the fact of the matter is that the entire judicial systems of Canada, Ontario and the other provinces and territories are already massively rigged to favour corporations and the rich over workers, consumers and the poor.
Consider the very manner in which Canadian law has been split between the Criminal Code and various civil codes.
Virtually every offence a worker, a consumer or a poor person is likely to commit against a corporation or a rich person is covered by the Criminal Code. If accused, the alleged offender will be investigated, prosecuted and – if convicted – jailed at public expense.
But virtually every offence a corporation or a rich person is likely to commit against a worker, a consumer or a poor person is covered by civil law, meaning that you are only entitled to as much justice as you can afford to buy. You are totally on your own in your quest for justice. And if you don’t have extreme patience and extremely deep pockets, you’re shit outta luck!
Like their counterparts in the U.S., NeoConservative and even many NeoLiberal politicians in Canada decry what they see as an epidemic of litigation.
But let’s be real, folks.
For the past 30 years, public regulation of banks and other corporations has grown increasingly lax as self-regulation has become a consonant mantra of the corporate agenda.
NeoLiberal and NeoConservative politicians have been extremely reluctant to seriously investigate, prosecute and punish white-collar crime, in either Canada or the U.S.
The class-based division of offences into Criminal and Civil categories has nurtured a well-entrenched double standard of justice, where financial might is almost always right.
And the cost of accessing civil justice has been positively prohibitive for the poor and the working classes.
As a consequence, it was a broadly and long-accepted accepted norm of the Canadian and American social contracts that government should provide assistance to those who cannot afford the exorbitant cost of “justice.”
But just as Canadian and American regimes have routinely reneged on most of the treaties they signed with the New World natives, they are now also reneging on the social compact that has kept corporate capitalism from descending into the abyss of social chaos.
The government of Ontario is only the latest North American regime to declare a new judicial war on the poor and the working class.
That in itself is a horrid reality. But even worse is that by abolishing Legal Aid for civil matters they are also abolishing the last thread of corporate and institutional accountability in Ontario. No doubt, other provinces and territories will soon follow suit.