Justice For All
January 1, 1975
By 1975, Canada is a nation firmly committed to human rights - and the Department of Justice has played an important role in this. It has advised on, and drafted, some key pieces of human rights law in Canada, including:
All the while, it has undergone some rather important structural changes.
Originally - with Confederation - the department was supposed to be like a large law firm, providing legal advice for the entire government. However, over the years, other departments established their own legal offices, and a lot of legal work was being done without the involvement of the Department. In fact, the Department was not what it was supposed to be: the government's only law firm.
This was one of the matters considered by the Royal Commission on Government Organization, popularly known as The Glassco Commission. The Commission issued its report in 1962, and its recommendations were set out in the Government Organization Act of 1966.
This Act reflected concerns dating back to Confederation, when departments first began to hire lawyers to conduct their legal affairs. In a handwritten note that is still on file, Sir John A. Macdonald found it necessary to call upon his ministers to keep the Attorney General up to date on all their legal affairs.
Nevertheless, the decentralization of legal services continued. As far back as 1935, Minister of Justice Ernest Lapointe complained about this problem in a speech to the House of Commons.
It was not until 1966 that all government lawyers were transferred to the Department of Justice, as intended in the founding legislation. As such, the number of lawyers quickly jumped to approximately 250.
At the same time, responsibility for the RCMP, the Parole Service and the Penitentiary Services was transferred to the new Department of the Solicitor General. This streamlined the Department and allowed it to become what it was originally intended to be: the government's legal arm and Canada's largest law firm!
One of the more important results of the Glassco Commission was a broadening of the approach taken in developing and amending laws. It became evident that lawmakers had to ensure that, in the words of a former Deputy Minister and now a Supreme Court Justice, Frank Iacobucci, "laws with a broad impact were appropriately drafted to harmonize with their social context."
A new branch, the legal Research and Planning Branch, was created in 1970. Today, a great deal of analysis and research goes into the social context of legal changes before every change in the law developed by departmental lawyers.
Consolidation of Canadian Statutes - 1985
It was also during the Sixties that the Department began to create regional offices. The first was established in Montreal in 1965. Today, regional offices are located across Canada.
The Sixties was an important decade for the Department of Justice. Existing sections were increased in size and became branches headed by Assistant Deputy Attorneys General or by Assistant Deputy Ministers.
During the early Sixties, Deputy Minister Wilbur Jackett felt moved to issue a memo that he did not expect lawyers to work Friday nights, Saturday afternoons, Sunday and Monday nights. The implication was, of course, that you were expected to work Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday nights as well as Saturday mornings