Administrative tribunals affect people in all aspects of their lives: decisions in disputes with landlords, neighbours, tenants, and co-workers, workers’ compensation cases; tax assessment appeals; Employment Insurance benefits appeals, to name but a few. Tribunals were set up to be more accessible and less costly than courts. In addition, the subject expertise of the tribunal members should allow fair, impartial, and timely decision-making.
Hundreds of thousands of Canadians come to administrative tribunals each year. Clients who appear before administrative tribunals are less likely to be represented by counsel than if they were in court. These people are faced with an unfamiliar environment, probably unknown administrative processes, and difficult legal language. Add low literacy skills and we have to question how well justice is served.
Almost 50 per cent of Canadians aged 16 and over have difficulty understanding and using information in documents such as job applications, bus and train schedules, instructions for taking medicine or for operating machinery.1
The Right Honourable Beverley McLachlin summed up the situation very well: “If we cannot understand our rights, we have no rights.”2
Our main purpose is to improve access to justice for people with low literacy skills by
1. Statistics Canada, Human Resources and Skills Development Canada, and the National Literacy Secretariat, Reading the Future: A Portrait of Literacy In Canada (Ottawa: Statistics Canada, 1996). See generally. Return
2. Right Honourable Beverley McLachlin, P.C. “Preserving Public Confidence in the Courts and the Legal Profession” (distinguished Visitor’s Lecture, University of Manitoba, Winnipeg, Manitoba, February 2, 2002). Return