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MacKay says faith in justice system lacking

MacKay says faith in justice system lackingFederal Justice Minister Peter MacKay speaks to law students at the University of Calgary in Calgary on Friday, Feb. 28, 2014. MacKay says he's worried about public confidence in Canada's justice system. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Bill Graveland

CALGARY - Federal Justice Minister Peter MacKay says he's worried about public confidence in Canada's justice system.

In a speech to law students at the University of Calgary on Friday, MacKay highlighted several of the law-and-order plans being championed by the Harper government, including efforts to battle online bullying as well as tougher sentencing initiatives.

But he expressed concern about how the average Canadian views the legal system.

"We must ask ourselves some fundamental questions about our profession. Do Canadians have faith in the justice system, and what changes must we make to increase public faith and confidence in our system?" MacKay asked.

"The system too often loses track of its central mandate and that is to enable Canadians, to assist them in the betterment of their life, their cause, their business. The very people that the Canadian system is supposed to serve when they seek justice."

MacKay said the legal profession needs to ensure that those Canadians navigating the legal system have access to lawyers. He said the system can be incredibly complex and overwhelming for those in it who lack legal training.

"We are seeing a sharp rise in unrepresented accused in courtrooms and in conflict with the law," said MacKay.

The justice minister said the lack of legal representation is a more serious problem in rural areas and on reserves.

"We have a rising aboriginal population in Canada. They are perhaps among the most excluded when it comes to our justice system and the recognition is not enough. We have to do more to address these very real challenges on the reserve," MacKay said.

He pointed to the death of 26-year-old Loretta Saunders, a St. Mary's University student whose body was found off the Trans-Canada Highway west of Salisbury, N.B. Police are treating her death as a homicide.

"She was doing her thesis on murdered and missing aboriginal women ... the fate that befell her. There is no more stark call for action than to think that a young aboriginal woman in this country, who was so dedicated to that cause, has become the face of violence and the exclusion that many aboriginal people still feel in this country," MacKay said.

He said there's a lesson there for all future lawyers.

"Each of us has a responsibility to contribute to our shared vision of equal access to justice in Canada from sea to sea."

Follow @BillGraveland on Twitter

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