by Lorne Gunter
Special to

OTTAWA, September 28, 2006 ( – Monday, the Conservative government announced it was cancelling the Court Challenges Program (CCP).

Expect it to die loudly, if it dies at all.

The Mulroney government cancelled it once before, in 1992. The hue and cry then was so deafening that no matter who had won the 1993 general election—Liberal, Conservative or NDP—the program would have been reinstated. All three parties had promised to resurrect it.

The CCP is the darling of powerful liberal-left special interest groups who are used to getting their way if they make enough noise—notably feminists, gay-rights activists and aboriginals.

The CCP may be funded by Canadian taxpayers, but it has been taken over by the very special interest groups that are its major beneficiaries. Aided by their ideological supporters in the academic and legal communities, these “rights-seeking” advocacy organizations use the program to fund court cases whose goal is a radical interpretation of the Charter of Rights and Freedoms.

Most of the time, when such cases get to court, these left-leaning government-funded organizations are opposed by traditionalist or right-of-centre groups who receive no tax dollars to cover their legal

In a recent court challenge on same-sex marriage, the program funded interventions in the case by the gay rights lobby EGALE and the Canadian Coalition of Liberal Rabbis for Same-Sex Marriage. Yet despite the fact that the program is funded by taxpayers, it paid none of the fees of the lawyers representing citizens’ groups opposed to changing the traditional definition of marriage.

Indeed, the CCP has never funded any cases other than those brought by leftist special interests in its 21 years of underwriting challenges to the Charter’s equality provisions.

Admittedly, it’s not entirely easy to tell who the CCP funds or how much it gives them because after the Liberals restored the program more than a decade ago, they turned it into an arms-length corporation.

In a letter responding to a column I’d written three weeks ago urging the government to kill the Court Challenges Program, CCP chairman Guy Matte wrote: “The program is completely accountable to the Canadian people and to government.”

Not quite. When the Liberals remade it, they also put it beyond the reach of Access to Information legislation.

Now all the CCP’s annual reports are required to show are which cases the program has helped pay for—not which organizations’ lawyers received money, nor what amounts. The program hides behind claims of solicitor-client privilege to keep from having to tell Canadians those details.

Mr. Matte also trotted out the favourite canard of CCP defenders—that the program is needed to help the disadvantaged and vulnerable bring cases that protect their rights.

“The program funds claims that otherwise would never be heard,” he asserted, “while the other side is defended by the government, which has unlimited resources to defend the law, policy and/or practice in question.”

That’s not entirely accurate, either.

When the Liberal government’s lawyers offered any opposition to arguments favoured by CCP-funded organizations, that opposition was usually half-hearted. And typically in cases involving women’s or gays’ rights, Ottawa lawyers have been on the same side as the CCP’s, meaning those opposed to the activist stances taken by CCP groups have been up against the millions in tax dollars the CCP doles out annually and the government’s “unlimited resources.”

The activist organizations that run CCP like that imbalance just the way it is, too, thank you very much. They don’t want to have to go to court with only the same resources as the citizen groups that oppose them—that is, with only those resources they can raise from their members.

They have come to see themselves as entitled to the taxpayers’ money because they have told themselves over and over that they are standing up for the weak and powerless. Even though the CCP’s two biggest beneficiaries—the Women’s Legal Education and Action Fund and the gay-rights group EGALE—are among the most powerful rights lobbies in the country, the CCP’s defenders have convinced themselves their program is the little guy’s only champion.

So now that the Conservatives have ordered the CCP closed, expect Canada’s legal, academic and special-interest establishments to scream to keep it open.

Let’s hope Stephen Harper ignores the screaming and does the right thing.

This article originally appeared in the National Post Sept. 27.
It has been re-published, with a subsequentÂitem correction,Âon with permission of the author.