Responses to Brett and Sara

Brett Campeau:

Your post about Akewesasne and the environment at the Canada-US border raised questions for me. I can think of many ways in which the imposition of the international and provincial borders that divide Akewesasne would cause problems for the people that live in this territory. For one, the act of crossing the border can be time-consuming and is highly guarded by the state. Individuals with criminal records maybe denied permission to cross the border and this may affect many Akewesasne residents given the over representations of indigenous people in the criminal justice system. I am also curious about whether duties are imposed on those crossing the border within Akwesasne territory with goods bought cross-border. I know your post is about the environment but I’m wondering whether you have come across these issues during your internship and whether you have crossed the border within Akwesasne and if you notice any differences between crossing there and at other border crossings.

I would also be very interested to know more about the Akwesasne court. In what ways do the procedures differ from Canadian courts? Are proceedings conducted in an indigenous language? It would be great if you have a chance to observe in the Akwesasne court so that you can share with us a sense of Akewesasne legal proceedings.

Sara Gold:

I appreciated that your post identifies some of the issues with access to justice in the international law setting. Usually when we speak of access to justice we think of local concerns, like self represented parties in family law courts. Your descriptions of how Gladys Justina Escobar Candiotti was treated by state lawyers was very illustrative of the problem of the legal profession’s monopoly on legal proceedings. One way that Escobar Candiotti could have been better prepared is if she would have had her own lawyer. However, as a witness she would not be entitled to a free lawyer nor, from what you described in your post, would she be able to afford one.

One of the observations I have made (in my master’s thesis) is that rather than look at the cost of legal services, the Canadian legal profession has focused on legal aid and self help strategies as a solution to the problem of access to justice. While legal aid is certainly helpful, one must qualify by showing significant need. But, as we know, there is a large gap between those who qualify and those who can afford a lawyer. Plus, in the case you describe with Escobar Candiotti, she would not qualify because she was a witness, not a party, and because she was testifying in an international forum. The self-help strategies, like legal information hotlines or simplified court forms, are also inadequate. Lawyers have created a legal system that presumes lawyers rather than laypeople are the primary participants. To then provide people with more information and expect them to participate equally is quite disingenuous. If lawyers make it too easy for parties to act alone then what would be the point of hiring a lawyer. It is in lawyers’ self-interest to maintain the complexity of legal proceedings and their monopoly. Just as you described in your post, legal jargon and the technicalities of legal procedure are tools to preserve this monopoly.

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