Olivia Goertzen & Kia Neilsen

There is a strong link between poverty, disempowerment, and poor access to justice in Canada. Poverty both fosters and is itself a consequence of injustice. The resulting cycle of victimization and discrimination impedes the resolution of everyday legal problems. ICCLR has released a short report on Poverty and Access to Justice, by Ireland Bellsmith, Olivia Goertzen, Kia Neilsen, and Olivia Stinson.[1]

The report, which was presented to the Canadian Advisory Council on Poverty, presents a review of existing research on the impact of poverty on access to justice. The review highlights that poverty is intricately intertwined with barriers to accessing all areas of justice, and invokes complex challenges for individuals who are in contact with the criminal justice system. The review reveals the barriers ingrained in Canada’s justice system, institutions and communities, which contribute to a persistent revolving cycle of poverty and unequal opportunity to access justice for impoverished Canadians.

Existing access to justice issues include the inability to solve everyday legal problems, a lack of access to legal information, and the accumulation of social and economic costs of unresolved legal problems. All of those disproportionately impact marginalized and vulnerable groups in society.

The report suggests that poverty and criminality are mutually reinforcing, as poverty itself is indirectly criminalized in a variety of ways by the justice system, and the effects of being in contact with the justice system can exacerbate poverty. Encountering the criminal justice system as either a victim or perpetrator of crime can be detrimental, especially for members of marginalized or vulnerable groups. This is of particular concern for Indigenous communities already faced with unique systemic challenges in dealing with the criminal justice system.

The report argues that there is an immediate need to address barriers you access to justice for poor and indigent people. It suggests that to effectively mitigate the effects of poverty on access to justice, investments and resources must be commensurate with the extent of the access to justice gap for poor people.

[1] Bellsmith, I., Goertzen, O., Neilsen, K., & Stinson, O. (2022). Poverty and Access to Justice; A Review of the Literature. Vancouver: International Centre for Criminal Law Reform and Criminal Justice Policy. https://icclr.org/wp-content/uploads/2022/02/Access-to-Justice-and-Poverty_ICCLR_RR-2022-2_Bellsmith-Goertzen-Neilsen-Stinson.pdf?x28096

Photo by Steve Knutson on Unsplash.

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