Legal Problems in Canada
In 2021, just over one-third (34%) of Canadians reported having had one or more problems in the past three years, and 18% said these problems were serious or difficult to resolve. The most common serious problems reported by Canadians were: social assistance, housing or other government assistance (21%), poor or incorrect medical treatment (16%), harassment (16%), discrimination (16%), and problems with an important purchase or service (15%). Everyone, regardless of income level, should be able to take advantage of the remedies available under Canadian law and the Canadian legal system. Otherwise, there is no justice. Almost nine in ten (86%) who had three or more serious problems in the three years preceding the survey reported having had at least one financial impact because of their most serious problem (Table 8). People with three or more problems were twice as likely to borrow money from the bank (10% versus 4%) and were significantly more likely to spend on a credit card (48% versus 29%). In addition, more than six in ten Canadians (62%) who had three or more problems reported having to spend their savings, and one-third (33%) missed or paid late payments on bills (Table 8). Table 1 Serious problems or disputes in the past 3 years, by type of problem and gender, provinces, 2021 In particular, First Nations people, Métis and Inuit living in the provinces were much more likely than non-Aboriginal people to report having one or more serious problems in the three years preceding the survey (27% versus 18%) (Table 2). Specifically, 28% of First Nations people, 27% of Métis and 24% of Inuit had one or more serious problems. The likelihood of having a serious problem is not the same for everyone. Research to date has shown that certain socio-demographic groups are particularly disadvantaged with regard to serious issues as well as access to justice (Hague Institute for Innovation in Law 2021). In particular, research shows that individuals who experience various forms of systemic disadvantage – such as persons with disabilities or people with low family incomes – are most at risk of experiencing multiple problems in their lives (Smith et al., 2013; Currie, 2009). Canadians with three or more serious conditions were more than twice as likely as those who reported a serious problem to report physical health problems because of their most serious condition (54% versus 24%) and much more likely to report mental health problems (67% versus 35%) (Table 8, Figure 3).
In 2021, Statistics Canada conducted the first cycle of the Survey of Legal Issues in Canada (CSPS). The purpose of the Canadian Legal Problems Survey (CSPS) is to determine the types of serious problems people face, how they try to solve them, and how these experiences can affect their lives. The target audience for the CSPS is the Canadian population aged 18 years and older living in one of Canada`s 10 provinces, excluding those living in institutions. The CSPS is the most recent legal needs survey conducted in Canada. Previously, the survey was conducted in 2004, 2006, 2008 and 2014. These studies are important because they qualitatively document the experiences of people with serious legal problems – what those problems are; how they tried to solve them and the results; and the financial, emotional and physical impact of these issues. Almost all studies began at the onset of COVID-19 and data collection continued throughout 2020. As the months have passed, it has also become clearer that the COVID-19 crisis has had the greatest impact on Canada`s poorest and most marginalized populations. Pleasence, P., Balmer, N. J., Buck, A., O`Grady, A. and H. Genn.
2004. “Several justiciable problems: common clusters and their social and demographic indicators”. Zeitschrift für empirische Rechtsstudien. Vol. 1, No. 2, pp. 301-329. Administrative data that analyzes the number of court cases and processing times is an important source of information to show the time and resources required to resolve a case in federal and district courts. However, survey results on legal issues in Canada and around the world show that the majority of people do not turn to the formal justice system to resolve their serious problems (Farrow et al., 2016).
There are many reasons to address serious problems outside the justice system, including the cost of legal representation, the time it takes to navigate the justice system, the lack of services available in some regions, and other barriers to access to justice (Trebilcock et al., 2012; Sandefur 2014). As a result, administrative data sources alone cannot provide a complete picture of access to justice in Canada. Law and legal problems are part of everyday life. If you`ve ever been harassed, unfairly fired or deported to work, divorced, not receiving child support, challenging a will or cell phone contract, or having your credit score questioned, you may have already experienced one of these everyday legal issues.