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A Changing Society

Our legal system provides a unique and valuable framework for Canadian society. It is based on the rule of law, on freedom under the law, on democratic principles and respect for others. Our tradition of law and justice is an important heritage for every Canadian. As society changes, we must make sure that this tradition will meet the challenges of the future.

We live in a world where change is taken for granted. Every day, we hear about new social issues, new medical developments, new types of technology. Twenty years ago, the moral and legal questions that concern us today could scarcely be imagined. For example, we are becoming more and more aware of the effects of modern society on our environment and of the immense threat of pollution and our wasteful habits. People are changing their attitudes towards many things and towards society itself.

Changing the Law

As people change the way they live and work, the assumptions on which our legal system is based may have to change. Old laws may become out of date, or new situations may arise that are not dealt with by any existing law. For example, information is much more important in modern society than it once was. Computer technology makes it easier for one individual to "steal" information from the computer of another person. But when legislators made our laws against theft, they could not foresee such a development. This is just one example of technological and social change making it necessary to change our laws.

We may need more than new laws in the future. We may need to change the system of law and justice itself. Many people believe that our trial system is out of date. With the advent of the Charter, many more cases are coming before the courts. In a complex society, it can take months and even years to settle disputes. All this means that our court system is being stretched to the limit. Many argue that more informal procedures are needed to encourage people to cooperate in settling disputes out of court. Some disputes are settled today by arbitrators through informal procedures.

Others argue that our legal system concentrates on punishing those who break the law, but neglects the victims of crime. Many people believe that the legal system must be reorganized so that it treats victims more fairly.

Many other issues are being discussed and debated. Does our legal system discriminate against women, visible minorities, or disabled persons? Should aboriginal Canadians have the right to design their own laws and justice systems? Do children have special rights when their parents divorce? It is clear that the future may bring many changes in our law.

The People's Law

The law must continue to grow and develop in a changing society. But how do we decide what changes are necessary?

Legal experts in the federal and provincial governments are constantly examining our laws, looking for ways to improve them.

But the responsibility for changing our laws cannot be left entirely to legislators, lawyers or government officials. In a democratic society, it is the people who must, in the end, decide what they want from the law and help to define the law and the system of justice that we have in Canada.