Study finds legal problems cost Canadians billions and take a toll on health

photo of Osgoode building

A national not-for-profit affiliated with York University’s Osgoode Hall Law School has found that legal problems cost Canadians billions and also affect their health and wellbeing.

Everyday legal problems such as consumer disputes, debt, employment issues and relationship breakdowns are straining Canadians’ personal finances and their mental and physical health, as well as increasing social and health care costs, according to a new study by the Canadian Forum on Civil Justice (CFCJ).

Osgoode Hall Law School photograph of the building interior
Osgoode Hall Law School

The CFCJ was established by the Canadian Bar Association and is affiliated with Osgoode Hall Law School.

The Everyday Legal Problems and the Cost of Justice in Canada Report found that within a three-year period, almost half of Canadian adults – approximately 11.4 million people – experience at least one civil or family justice problem that they consider serious and difficult to resolve. They range from employment issues and discrimination to divorce and support payments, and from disputes with neighbours to cell phone contracts.

It is estimated that Canadians spend approximately $7.7 billion annually on everyday legal problems. Furthermore, it is estimated that legal problems cost the state a combined total of $799 million annually: $248 million for social assistance; $450 million for employment insurance; and $101 million for health care. These additional costs stem directly from the physical, emotional and psychological consequences of experiencing everyday legal problems.

The study, which surveyed more than 3,000 Canadians across Canada, is the first of its kind to measure legal problems not just in dollars, but in time and opportunity costs, costs to physical and mental health, and costs to livelihood.

Trevor Farrow

“We think this is an issue of major national importance; people haven’t been thinking about or studying these costs issues, and the public needs to become much more aware of these issues, if anything is going to change in the context of our current access-to-justice crisis,” says Trevor Farrow, associate dean of Osgoode Hall Law School and Chair of the Canadian Forum on Civil Justice. “Until we can get this issue into our everyday conversations in the same way that health, nutrition and education have become part of dinner table and coffee shop conversations − which in turns sees these issues become of real interest to politicians − I fear we won’t significantly move the dial on these justice-related issues.”

The Cost of Justice research team, led by Farrow, includes: Ab Currie, a senior research fellow at CFCJ; Les Jacobs, professor of Law & Society and Political Science at York University, director of York’s Institute for Social Research, and a senior CFCJ research fellow;  Nicole Aylwin, assistant director of the Winkler Institute for Dispute Resolution and a CFCJ research fellow; David Northrup, director, Survey Research of York’s Institute for Social Research; and Lisa Moore, operations director and research coordinator at the CFCJ.

The project is funded by a $1-million grant from the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada.