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Separation of Powers in the Americas and Beyond: The Canadian Experience

by The Honourable Chief Justice John D. Richard*

I would like to thank Professor Barker for the invitation to speak at this seminar on the Separation of Powers in the Americas and Beyond.  Today, I will be describing the extent to which the Canadian model of governance reflects the separation of powers doctrine.  We tend to associate this principle with the writings of eighteenth-century French political philosopher Baron de Montesquieu.  Firmly committed to the rule of law, Montesquieu believed that the division of the state’s powers into distinct spheres of legislative, executive, and judicial authority would prevent tyranny.1   He advocated that allowing each branch to check the powers of the other two branches would ensure compliance with the rule of law.   Therefore, no individual branch of government could threaten the freedom of the people. 

While Montesquieu’s model represents one method of avoiding absolute rule, modern experience has demonstrated that a rigid application of the separation of powers doctrine is not the only manner of achieving a democratic society.  This is so not only in Canada, but in other young nations, as well.  For example, New Zealand and Belize do not employ a strict separation of powers.

Although a strict application of Montesquieu’s teachings is not representative of the Canadian experience, the rule of law is foundational in Canadian society, as noted in the preamble to the Canadian constitution.2  Furthermore, the Supreme Court of Canada has identified ‘constitutionalism and the rule of law’ to be an underlying principle of the Canadian Constitution.3  

Canada recognizes its commitments to the rule of law and individual liberty through the checks and balances found in the text and unwritten principles of the Canadian Constitution.  As the guardians of the Constitution, the courts have an essential role in ensuring that the legislature and the executive branches of government abide by it.4   In their role as arbiters of adjudicative disputes and when asked by the government to give advisory opinions, the courts may rule on the constitutional validity of legislation or executive action.5   The courts are also constitutionally empowered to review both the procedure and the substantive outcomes of administrative action in order to ensure that the various arms of the executive operate in accordance with the powers delegated to them.6

In this paper, I explore the role of the Constitution and the courts in ensuring that the legislative, executive, and judicial branches are committed to a democratic society governed by the rule of law.  To gain an understanding of the relationship between the three branches of the Canadian government, it is useful to examine the way in which the historical context surrounding Canada’s formation influenced its governmental structure.7

Canada’s Pre-Confederation History

This year marks the 400th anniversary of the founding of Quebec City by French explorer Samuel de Champlain in 1608.  While Aboriginal peoples had lived for many hundreds of years on this land, the establishment of Quebec City, one of North America’s first European settlements, ushered in a new era that ultimately led to Canada’s formation in 1867.

At the outset of the French regime, democratic institutions as we know them today did not exist in the colony.  In fact, the French inhabitants of New France were never represented in legislative assemblies.  Mirroring the system in France, affairs in the colonies were run on feudal principles and the colonized territory remained under the rule of an absolute monarch until the populist revolution of the late 1700s.8   Indeed, after 1662, a royal government ruled the colony from France by way of a Governor, whose main role was leader of the French militia.  An Intendant also assisted the Governor as his business manager on the colonized soil; such a person managed the affairs and administration, as well as the treasury of the colony.9

The absence of democratic government in the territory now known as Quebec continued after France ceded its colony to Britain in the Treaty of Paris of 1763.  At this time, King George III issued the Royal Proclamation of 1763,10 which imposed British law over New France, thus submitting the inhabitants to an unfamiliar legal system.  The territory was administered by a governor and an appointed Council from which French Canadians were effectively excluded, as Roman Catholics could not be Council members.11   Just over ten years later, however, the British government attempted to accommodate the French Canadian population with the passing of the Québec Act, 1774.12   This British statute allowed Roman Catholics to sit on the appointed Council, guaranteed free practice of the Catholic faith, and restored the use of the French civil law for private matters while maintaining the use of the English common law for public administration, including criminal prosecution.

Nevertheless, the absence of true democracy persisted since members of the Council were not elected by the citizens of the colony.  This began to change with the adoption of the Constitutional Act, 1791,13 an Act of the British Parliament that changed the nature of the Quebec government in order to accommodate the many English-speaking settlers, known as the United Empire Loyalists, who had arrived from the United States following the American Revolution.  This Act divided Quebec in two: the western half became Upper Canada (now southern Ontario) and the eastern half Lower Canada (now southern Quebec).  Representative governments were established in both colonies with the creation of elected legislative assemblies.  Along with each assembly there was also an executive branch of government, the legislative council, whose members were appointed. 

The establishment of a representative legislature led to calls for responsible government, particularly in Lower Canada.  The legislative council, dominated by English Protestants, was completely unaccountable to and frequently ignored the will of the legislative assembly, which was composed mainly of French Canadians.14   In addition, there was no separation between the judicial and executive branches of government, as judges were often appointed to the council.15   The demands for responsible government were unheeded by the British, which led to armed rebellions in the colonies in 1837 and 1838.16  

In an attempt to quash the demands of the French Canadians, Lord Durham was sent from England to investigate the unrest in the colonies.  In his Report on the Affairs of British North America, he recommended that Upper and Lower Canada be joined.17   This recommendation was implemented by the Union Act, 1840,18 which created a united province of Canada with a single legislature.  The union was very much opposed in Lower Canada (now known as ‘Canada-East’), since it merged the much higher public debts of Upper Canada (‘Canada-West’) with those of Lower Canada and gave an equal number of seats in the legislature to Canada-West and Canada-East, even though the latter had a significantly higher population.19   The Union Act, 1840 cemented its assimilatory ambitions by declaring English to be the sole language of the legislature.

Perhaps not surprisingly, the Union Act proved to be a failure due in part to ethnic and religious disputes, as well as economic rivalries between Canada-West and Canada-East.   In addition, Canada-West’s population had now surpassed that of Canada-East, such that the former now demanded representation by population in the legislature.21   It became clear that, in order to accommodate the diversity in the British colonies, a new arrangement would have to be explored.  After years of negotiation, the Dominion of Canada was established by the union of the provinces of Canada,22 Nova Scotia, and New Brunswick under the British North America Act of 1867 (renamed the Constitution Act, 1867 in 1982).23

The goal of the Constitution Act, 1867 was to establish a strong central government, while still allowing for regional diversity.  Therefore, the form of government chosen was a federal structure since political leaders believed that “[f]ederalism was the political mechanism by which diversity could be reconciled with unity.”24   In order to establish a common market, the federal Parliament was given economic powers, including power over trade and commerce, transportation and communication, banking, currency, customs and excise, and other forms of taxation.25   To acknowledge the unique status of Quebec, in which civil law, rather than common law, governed private law matters, the provinces were given authority over property and civil rights, and the administration of justice.26   The cultural and political diversity of the new Dominion was also recognized by giving the provinces power of education and municipal institutions.  Interestingly, the concern for accommodation of diversity was a harbinger of things to come: today, Canada is a multicultural country with inhabitants claiming over 200 different ethnic origins according to the 2006 census.27

Along with its cultural landscape, the nature of Canada’s constitution has changed substantially since 1867.  While this is due in part to the formal amendment of its text, it is also a result of the fact that the Constitution is viewed as a living tree,28   which adapts over time to changes in Canadian society.  In 1982, Canada’s constitution was patriated, such that it now enjoyed full and complete national sovereignty and the ability to amend its own constitution.29   In addition, Canada’s constitution was amended to add the Charter of Rights and Freedoms and aboriginal rights protection.30   While the text of Canada’s constitution is considered paramount, the Supreme Court of Canada has identified that it also includes unwritten conventions and principles.31   In fact, it is several of these unwritten rules from the Constitution Act, 1867 that established Canada’s democratic governmental structure.

Canada’s Governmental Structure as Established by the Constitution Act, 1867

The preamble of the Constitution Act, 1867 states that Canada was to have “a Constitution similar in principle to that of the United Kingdom.”32   This alone indicates that certain aspects of the Canadian constitution would be partly unwritten, as the British constitution is itself largely unwritten.33   Examples of such principles are the related tenets of representative government and Parliamentary supremacy.  These principles, employed to some extent by the British colonies prior to Union, hold that laws can only be made by an elected legislature and not by the Crown.34   This concept was recognized in the Bill of Rights of 168935 in England.  Furthermore, Parliamentary supremacy allows any of the prerogative powers held by the Crown36 to be abolished by an act of Parliament.  There is, however, one important limit to Parliamentary supremacy which acts as a safeguard against abuses of power by both the federal and provincial legislative branches: namely, the laws must comply with the Canadian constitution.  It is the judiciary that ensures that the legislative branch abides by this important limit, known as ‘constitutional supremacy.’

Another unwritten principle adopted from the British constitution is that of responsible government, which has been identified by Canadian constitutional scholar Peter Hogg as “the most important non-federal characteristic of the Canadian constitution.”37   This principle allows Canada’s formal head of state to be an unelected monarch, currently Queen Elizabeth II, yet still be a modern democracy.  This is accomplished by the requirement that the powers of the Crown be exercised only with the advice of those persons who control a majority of the votes in the legislature.38  

In Canada, the Crown’s powers have been transferred to her Canadian representative, the Governor General.  As head of state, the Governor General has the responsibilities of appointing the Prime Minister, members of Cabinet, senators, superior court judges, and the lieutenant governors, who are the Queen’s representatives in the provinces.  The Governor General possesses little actual authority however, since virtually all her powers must be exercised on the basis of the advice and consent of the Prime Minister and his or her Cabinet.39   Since the Prime Minister and Cabinet members are required to be members of the legislative branch, the executive has considerable control over the affairs of the legislature.  Given that both the federal and provincial legislatures are elected by means of universal adult suffrage, responsible government results in the provision of an executive that both reflects the electorate’s wishes and that is able to execute the legislature’s policies.40

The principle of responsible government entails certain constitutional conventions.  Constitutional conventions are unwritten rules, somewhere between custom and law, which prescribe the manner in which legal powers should be exercised.41   For example, by convention, the Governor General will not refuse to sign a legislative bill that has been approved by both Houses of Parliament.   While courts may recognize the existence of constitutional conventions,43 they cannot enforce them.  Though an absence of a formal enforcement mechanism may imply that conventions are not suitable vehicles for enforcing the rule of law, conventions are nearly always obeyed due to the political ramifications that would result upon their breach.44   Furthermore, both the nature and purpose of conventions are incompatible with their inclusion as legally enforceable, written constitutional provisions.45   As noted in the Patriation Reference case, constitutional conventions “ensure that the legal framework of the constitution will be operated in accordance with the prevailing constitutional values or principles of the period.”46   Thus, constitutional conventions support the ‘living tree’ principle that underlies the Canadian constitution.

The constitutional principles of representative and responsible government, as well as the conventions entailed by them, illustrate that the relationship between the three branches of the Canadian government is not governed by a strict application of the separation of powers doctrine.

The Three Branches of Government

The legislature

The federal legislative branch,47 also known as Parliament, is composed of the Queen (represented by the Governor General), the House of Commons, and the Senate.48   The House of Commons is formed of elected members (Members of Parliament) who each represent a particular electoral district, also known as a ‘constituency’ or ‘riding.’  The seats in the Senate are assigned on a regional basis and each Senator is appointed by the Governor General upon the advice of the Prime Minister.  While the composition of the House of Commons can theoretically change entirely after a federal election, Senators may retain their seat until their mandatory retirement at the age of seventy-five.49

Parliament is the only branch of government that can make laws in areas of federal jurisdiction and the only branch with the authority to supply public moneys for the government’s use.  Except for money bills, which must originate in the House of Commons, bills can be proposed in either House.  In order for a bill to become law, it must be approved by a majority of each House and signed by the Governor General.  However, as previously explained, the signature of the Governor General is only a formality, since the principle of responsible government requires that he or she must act on the advice of the persons controlling the majority of the House of Commons.

The legislative branches of the provincial governments are unicameral with only an elected legislative assembly and no Upper House.50   The provincial legislative assemblies are the only branch with the authority to enact laws related to provincial jurisdiction.  Similarly to the federal Parliament, once a bill is approved by a majority of the legislative assembly, it must be signed by the Lieutenant Governor of the province in order for the bill to become law.

While the legislative branch is the only branch of government that can make laws, Parliament and the provincial legislatures may delegate some of their law-making powers to the executive.51   This delegated legislation, which may come in the form of regulations, by-laws, rules, or orders, does not have to be voted upon by either House, nor does the Governor General have to sign them in order for them to come in effect.  There appears to be virtually no limit as to the powers which Parliament may delegate to the executive.52   Thus, as noted by Hogg, “in Canada there is no requirement that ‘legislative’ and ‘executive’ powers be exercised by separate and independent bodies.” 53

The executive

As in all Parliamentary systems, Canada has a dual executive, with a formal head of state (the Governor General or Lieutenant Governor representing the Queen) and a political head of state.  At the federal level, the Prime Minister is the leader of the party that commands the majority of the House of Commons.54   The Premier is the leader of the party that commands the majority of the seats in the provincial legislative assembly.

The Governor General also appoints ministers who are selected by the Prime Minster and who must be elected members of Parliament, as required by the principle of responsible government.  The Prime Minister also has the power to dismiss his or her ministers at pleasure and to advise the Governor General as to when Parliament should be dissolved for an election.  Together, the Prime Minister and his or her ministers form the cabinet, which is the supreme executive authority.55   The cabinet is responsible for developing and implementing all executive policies and for administering the federal government departments.56   In addition to the Prime Minister, the cabinet, and the government departments, the executive is also comprised of the civil service, the armed forces, and the police.

Generally speaking, the executive branch has the power to execute the laws enacted by the legislature and to spend the public moneys.  The executive derives its powers either from its common law prerogative powers or its statutory powers.57   The prerogative powers, which have their origins in the inherent powers of the British monarch, exist today in only a limited fashion since they can be abolished by the legislature.58   Examples of prerogative powers still in existence include the powers to: appoint the Prime Minister and the Cabinet, form treaties, issue passports, declare war, and grant appointments and honours.59

The executive’s power may also find its source in a statute enacted by the legislature.  As mentioned previously, this delegated power may include the authority to enact legislation in the form of regulations.  An important limitation on the executive’s power to act exists: namely, it cannot exceed the jurisdiction given to it by the legislature.  This flows from the notion of the rule of law, as noted by the Supreme Court of Canada in Roncarelli v. Duplessis, where Justice Rand opined:
that an administration according to law is to be superseded by action dictated by and according to the arbitrary likes, dislikes and irrelevant purposes of public officers acting beyond their duty, would signalize the beginning of disintegration of the rule of law as a fundamental postulate of our constitutional structure.60

The judiciary

As I alluded to previously, it is the third branch of government, the judiciary, which acts to ensure that the legislature and the executive respect the rule of law.  Canada has provincial, territorial, and federal courts, with the Supreme Court of Canada acting as a court of final appeal for all Canadian courts.  The Supreme Court of Canada was established by federal statute in 1875 61 under section 101 of the Constitution Act, 1867,62 which authorized Parliament “to provide for the constitution, maintenance, and organization of a general court of appeal for Canada.”  While there is a limited right of appeal in the criminal context, most cases require leave to appeal.63   The appointment and salaries of the Supreme Court justices are the provision of the federal government.64

The Canadian federal courts were established under section 101 of the Constitution Act, 1867, “for the better administration of the laws of Canada.”  Unlike the provincial superior courts, these courts have no inherent jurisdiction and only have authority over those matters assigned to it by federal statutes.65   The Federal Court of Canada has jurisdiction over such matters as patents, trade-marks, copyright, and admiralty, as well as performing judicial review decisions of federal administrative tribunals.  The Tax Court of Canada was established with the primary purpose of reviewing income tax appeals.66   Appeals from both the Federal Court and the Tax Court lie to the Federal Court of Appeal.67   A final federal court is the Court Martial Appeal Court, whose main role is to hear appeals from military courts (‘courts martial’) established under the National Defence Act.68   The judges of the federal court are appointed and paid by the federal government.

All provinces have superior courts which have both trial divisions and courts of appeal.  The provincial superior courts have inherent jurisdiction over civil and criminal matters within the province.69   As required by the Constitution, these judges are appointed and their salaries are paid by the federal government.70   There are also provincial inferior courts, whose judges are appointed and paid by the provincial governments.  These courts are staffed by magistrates or justices of the peace and have jurisdiction over small civil claims and minor criminal offences.71   There are also territorial courts, established by the federal government, for each of the three Canadian territories: Yukon, Northwest Territories, and Nunavut.72

As noted by the Supreme Court of Canada, the constitutional guarantee of a federally staffed and remunerated provincial superior court system, as well as the other judicature sections in the Constitution,73 serve to guarantee judicial independence and “may be seen as one of ultimate safeguards of the rule of law.”74   As noted by Hogg:

[t]he independence of the judge from the other branches of government is especially significant, because it provides an assurance that the state will be subjected to the rule of law.  If the state could count on the courts to ratify all legislative and executive actions, even if unauthorized by law, the individual would have no protection against tyranny.75

Judicial independence, which requires both actual and perceived independence of the judiciary from the other branches of government, is constitutionally guaranteed not only by the judicature provisions of the Constitution Act, 1867, but also by its status as an unwritten principle of the Constitution and by section 11(d) of the Charter.76   While the judicature sections only apply to protect the independence of the superior courts and the Charter only applies to courts that exercise jurisdiction over offences,77 the unwritten principle extends judicial independence to all Canadian courts.78   This principle has its source in the preamble to the Constitution Act, 1867.79   As previously mentioned, the preamble states that Canada’s constitution was to be similar in principle to that of the United Kingdom, which has constitutionally guaranteed judicial independence since the Act of Settlement of 1701.80  The Supreme Court of Canada has held that judicial independence, which may refer to the individual independence of judges or the institutional independence of the court or tribunal,81 requires security of tenure, financial independence, and administrative independence.82

While judicial independence is a foundational principle of the Canadian constitution, it does not prohibit an overlap between the judiciary and the other branches of government.  The legislative branch can confer some non-judicial functions on the courts and can also confer some adjudicative functions on the executive.83   There is one important limitation on the latter: the legislature cannot transfer the core powers of a superior court to an inferior court or administrative tribunal.  This restriction exists to ensure that the legislature cannot evade the constitutional requirements of sections 96 and 100 of the Constitution Act, 1867.84  

The non-judicial powers granted to the judiciary include the government’s ability to refer a question of law to the courts for an advisory opinion.  Several courts in Canada have the power to decide reference questions, including the Supreme Court of Canada, which has held that its authority to do so is constitutionally valid.85   In the Quebec Secession Reference case, in which the Supreme Court was asked to give an advisory opinion on the ability of Quebec to unilaterally secede from Canada, the Court noted that its authority to answer reference questions is in contrast to jurisdictions such as the United States, where the Constitution insists on a strict separation of powers.86   As stated by the Court:

[…] the Canadian Constitution does not insist on a strict separation of powers.  Parliament and the provincial legislatures may properly confer other legal functions on the courts, and may confer certain judicial functions on bodies that are not courts.  The exception to this rule relates only to s. 96 courts.  Thus, even though the rendering of advisory opinions is quite clearly done outside the framework of adversarial litigation, and such opinions are traditionally obtained by the executive from the law officers of the Crown, there is no constitutional bar to this Court's receipt of jurisdiction to undertake such an advisory role.87   

In both its adjudicative and advisory roles, the Canadian judicial branch will often fulfill its responsibility of ensuring that the government complies with the Constitution and the rule of law.

Role of the courts in ensuring that the executive and legislature comply with constitutionalism and the rule of law

The Constitution of a country is a statement of the will of the people to be governed in accordance with certain principles held as fundamental and certain prescriptions restrictive of the powers of the legislature and government. It is, as s. 52 of the Constitution Act, 1982 declares, the “supreme law” of the nation, unalterable by the normal legislative process, and unsuffering of laws inconsistent with it. The duty of the judiciary is to interpret and apply the laws of Canada and each of the provinces, and it is thus our duty to ensure that the constitutional law prevails.88

As expressed above by the Supreme Court of Canada in the Manitoba Language Rights Reference case, the duty of the judiciary to ensure that all government action complies with the Canadian constitution is found in section 52(1) of the Constitution Act, 1982 which states: “[t]he Constitution of Canada is the supreme law of Canada, and any law that is inconsistent with the provisions of the Constitution is, to the extent of the inconsistency, of no force or effect.”89   The areas over which the judiciary has been particularly vigilant include federalism and the division of powers, the Charter of Rights and Freedoms, and aboriginal rights.

Federalism and the Division of Powers90

Canada’s federal structure protects against tyranny since powers are divided between central and regional governments.91   As noted by the Supreme Court of Canada, “[t]he federal-provincial division of powers was a legal recognition of the diversity that existed among the initial members of Confederation, and manifested a concern to accommodate that diversity within a single nation by granting significant powers to provincial governments.” 92   The division of powers between the federal government and the provinces allowed minorities to become majorities in subnational units, while still benefiting from being a part of a greater nation.93  

Although the intention of the Fathers of Confederation was to create a strong central government, the provincial governments were not subordinate to the federal government, nor were they delegates of the British Parliament.94  While the federal government was given the constitutional authority to veto provincial legislation,95 this ‘power of disallowance’ fell into disuse by the mid-twentieth century and is considered to have been abandoned.96   The powers assigned to the federal government are delineated in section 91 of the Constitution Act, 1867.  As mentioned previously, the federal government was given powers that were seen as necessary for national unity such as currency, navigation and shipping, the postal service, and taxation.  The provincial government’s powers were generally limited to local matters.

The Constitution Act, 1867 was drafted with the objective of clearly delineating the powers between the provincial and federal governments, such that conflicts of jurisdiction would not be an issue.97   However, a combination of the ambiguous language used in sections 91 and 92 and the unanticipated increasing role of government in Canadian society would invite significant constitutional litigation.98  This required the courts to interpret the various heads of power and “to control the limits of the respective sovereignties of the two plenary governments […].”99

Based simply on a textual interpretation of the Constitution, the federal government’s powers could easily have broadened over time since several of the provisions appeared to trump provincial authority.  However, by interpreting the Constitution against the backdrop of the federalism principle, the courts ensured that the balance of power between the federal and provincial governments was respected.100   This can be seen in early decisions of the Judicial Committee of the Privy Council in London, which at that time exercised appellate jurisdiction over the Supreme Court of Canada.  For example, in Citizens Insurance Company of Canada v. Parsons,101 the Privy Council gave a broad interpretation to the provincial jurisdiction over property and civil rights within the province, found in section 92(13).  This was justified in part by the need for Quebec to be able to regulate its private affairs using its civil code.

The courts also ensured that the jurisdiction given to the federal and provincial jurisdictions could evolve with time, while still respecting the balance of power between the two levels of government.  This was necessary in part because there were certain areas to which the framers of the Constitution clearly did not turn their minds because they simply did not exist in 1867.  However, contrary to some assertions that such ‘new’ subjects should automatically fall to the federal government, the Supreme Court of Canada insisted that this would be the case only where the new matter has “a singleness, distinctiveness and indivisibility that clearly distinguishes it from matters of provincial concern and a scale of impact on provincial jurisdiction that is reconcilable with the fundamental distribution of legislative power under the Constitution.”102

It is important to understand that federalism does not merely concern itself with the division of powers between the federal and provincial governments; it also “recognizes the diversity of the component parts of Confederation.”103   One way in which the principle of federalism is acknowledged outside the context of the division of powers is in statutory interpretation.  The equal authenticity rule provides that “both language versions of a bilingual statute or regulation are official, original, and authoritative expressions of the law”104 and that “[n]either version has the status of a copy or translation; neither enjoys priority or paramountcy over the other.”105   As a consequence of this rule, where there is a discrepancy between the English and French versions of legislation, the courts must first search for a meaning shared by both versions.106   In recognition of Parliamentary supremacy, “[t]he shared meaning must be compatible with the intention of the legislature, as determined by the ordinary rules of interpretation.”107

Canada’s commitment to diversity did not stop with its adherence to the constitutional principle of federalism, however.   As the nation developed, Canada’s constitution, initially designed to protect the interests of two cultures, English and French, has been expanded and strengthened in order to better reflect the cultural diversity of its citizens.108

Charter of Rights and Freedoms

The Charter of Rights and Freedoms (the ‘Charter’) was constitutionally entrenched in 1982 in order to protect individual and collective rights and freedoms.109    The federal Parliament’s first effort to recognize and protect certain fundamental rights was in the form of an ordinary statute rather than a constitutional amendment.  The 1960 Canadian Bill of Rights,110 which is still in force today, protected a wide range of civil liberties, including freedom of speech, religion, and a guarantee of equality.111  However, as the Bill of Rights was simply a federal statute, it did not protect against infringement of rights by provincial legislation.  Furthermore, the Bill was interpreted extremely narrowly by the courts, which was likely due to the courts’ discomfort with invalidating legislation based simply on a statutory (rather than a constitutional) grant of power to do so.112  In order for rights protection to have any teeth, it was clear that these rights would have to be constitutionally entrenched.

With the advent of the Charter, certain individual and collective rights and freedoms were now protected against incursion by both federal and provincial legislation and action.  The rights are categorized into fundamental freedoms (such as freedom of association); democratic rights (such as the right to vote); mobility rights (including the right to gain a livelihood in any province); legal rights (such as the rights to life, liberty, and security of the person); equality rights; language rights; and minority language educational rights.  Both the provincial and federal executive and legislative branches are required to abide by these rights,113 or they risk having their enactments or actions declared “of no force or effect” by the judicial branch.  Even the use of the Crown’s prerogative powers may be at risk of Charter review.  As held by the Ontario Court of Appeal in Black v. Chrétien,114 the exercise of a Crown prerogative will be reviewable if it affects the rights or legitimate expectations of individuals (such as issuing a passport).  However, a matter of high policy, such as the declaration of war, for which public considerations outweigh individual rights, will not be subject to review by the courts.

While allowing the judicial branch to enforce the constitutionally-guaranteed rights and freedoms may appear to be consistent with Montesquieu’s promotion of individual liberty, there were some who alleged that the Charter created a tyranny of its own: namely, that of the judiciary over the democratically-elected legislatures.115   It is uncontroversial that the Charter changed the nature of constitutional judicial review.  Previously, the main focus of constitutional jurisprudence was which level of government, federal or provincial, had the authority to act.   Under the Charter, the courts were asked “whether certain kinds of laws should be ruled off-limits to governments in general.”116   However, it is important to keep in mind that this mandate was given to the courts by the provincial and federal legislatures and that the courts have the constitutional duty to ensure that the laws comply with the Charter.117   With the advent of the Charter, Canada has thus moved from a regime of Parliamentary supremacy to one of constitutional supremacy.118   As stated in the Supreme Court of Canada’s decision in Vriend v. Alberta:

Quite simply, it is not the courts which limit the legislatures.  Rather, it is the Constitution, which must be interpreted by the courts, that limits the legislatures.  This is necessarily true of all constitutional democracies.  Citizens must have the right to challenge laws which they consider to be beyond the powers of the legislatures.  When such a challenge is properly made, the courts must, pursuant to their constitutional duty, rule on the challenge.119

Furthermore, the structure of the Charter and the remedies available under it can be seen as encouraging a ‘democratic dialogue’ between the courts and legislatures.120   The dialogue theory has been explained in the following way by the Supreme Court of Canada:

In reviewing legislative enactments and executive decisions to ensure constitutional validity, the courts speak to the legislative and executive branches.  As has been pointed out, most of the legislation held not to pass constitutional muster has been followed by new legislation designed to accomplish similar objectives.  By doing this, the legislature responds to the courts; hence the dialogue among the branches.121

Certain provisions of the Charter encourage judicial respect for the legislative and executive branches.122   Section 1 stipulates that the rights and freedoms laid out by the Charter are subject “to such reasonable limits prescribed by law as can be demonstrably justified in a free and democratic society.”123   This allows the government to justify encroachment upon rights if its objective is pressing and substantial, the infringement is rationally connected to the goal of the legislation, the impugned provision minimally impairs the right in question, and the attainment of the legislative objective is not outweighed by the violation of the right.124   Section 7 provides that a person’s rights to life, liberty, and security of the person may be limited if such limitation is “in accordance with the principles of fundamental justice.”125   Finally, the legislative override clause, section 33, allows the legislature to supersede a judicial determination that a law violates the fundamental freedoms (section 2), legal rights (section 7-14), or equality rights (section 15) guaranteed in the Charter.  As perceived by Justice Iacobucci, “[t]his dialogue between the accountability of each of the branches [has] the effect of enhancing the democratic process, not denying it.”126

The dialogue between the courts and the legislature can also be seen by the way in which the courts fashion remedies in the event of a Charter violation.  While section 52(1) of the Constitution Act, 1982 is a clear pronouncement of the effect of the declaration of a law’s unconstitutionality,127 the courts will take into account such concerns as “the proper institutional division of labour between courts and legislatures”128 in devising remedies involving legislation.  Section 24(1) allows the courts to devise remedies that “the court considers appropriate and just in the circumstances.”129

For example, courts may “read down” an unconstitutional law by giving it a narrow interpretation that complies with the Charter.130   In R. v. Grant,131 the Supreme Court of Canada read down a provision in the Narcotics Control Act132 to render it compliant with the right to be secure against unreasonable search or seizure.  In his reasons for judgment, Justice Sopinka explained one objective of this remedy: “[t]he remedy of ‘reading down’ far from usurping the legislative role of Parliament preserves the objectives of Parliament in so far as it is possible within constitutional parameters.”133  

If a statute is under-inclusive such that it does not protect those who have a constitutional right to its protection, the court may interpret the statute broadly so as to include those it should cover.134   This remedy was used in Vriend135 to include homosexuality as a prohibited ground of discrimination in Alberta’s human rights legislation since its exclusion from the Alberta statute violated Charter equality rights.  While reading in appears to allow courts to exercise a legislative role,136 “the purpose of reading in is to be as faithful as possible within the requirements of the Constitution to the scheme enacted by the Legislature.”137   This objective is also pursued by the remedies of partially invalidating a statute or severing the unconstitutional portion of a statute.138

If an entire statute, or a portion of a statute, is struck down because it is unconstitutional, the courts will occasionally suspend its invalidity temporarily in order to give time for the legislative branch to respond appropriately.139   This may occur in cases where “the immediate nullification of that law could lead to chaos or a serious threat to public safety.”140   In the Manitoba Language Rights Reference,141 the Supreme Court held that Manitoba’s unilingual legislation violated the language rights protected in the Charter.  However, the Court recognized that the immediate invalidation of Manitoba’s unilingual legislation would result in an absence of the rule of law and, thus, allowed a suspension of invalidity until bilingual legislation was enacted.142

Aboriginal Title/Rights:

In addition to the protection of rights and freedoms in the Charter, the Constitution Act, 1982 also entrenched “[t]he existing aboriginal and treaty rights of the aboriginal peoples of Canada […].”143   Since the nature of these rights was unclear,144 the courts have been required to define their content.

One of the legal rights confirmed under the Constitution Act, 1982 is aboriginal title; however it is not derived from the Constitution or from British law, but from aboriginal peoples’ historic occupation of the land.145   Aboriginal title is recognized where the connection between the aboriginal peoples and the land was of “central significance to their distinctive culture.”146   It has been defined as a sui generis right due to its unique features, including the fact that it is inalienable except to the Crown.  As a consequence of the inalienability of title, if an aboriginal group wishes to sell a parcel of land to a third party, it must first surrender the land to the Crown.147   This imposes a fiduciary obligation on the Crown to deal with the surrendered land in the best interests of the aboriginal people.148   Since aboriginal title is constitutionally protected, aboriginal peoples may seek redress via the courts if the fiduciary obligation is not satisfied.149

Section 35(1) of the Constitution Act, 1982 also recognizes other aboriginal rights, which are not connected to land.  These rights include activities that are “element[s] of a practice, custom or tradition integral to the distinctive culture of the aboriginal group claiming the right.”150   Prior to the enactment of section 35, Parliament could extinguish these aboriginal rights (and aboriginal title) simply by enacting legislation, due to the principle of Parliamentary supremacy.151   While section 35 prevents the legislative branch from simply extinguishing these rights by statute, the Supreme Court of Canada has recognized that infringement of these rights may be justified.  Allowing infringement in certain circumstances is done to balance the interests of “Aboriginal rights on the one hand and the legitimate continuing role of Parliament and the provincial legislatures to advance the collective interests of the community as a whole, including the interests of the Aboriginal peoples of Canada, on the other.”152   If an aboriginal right has been affected negatively by the government, the burden is on the government to justify the infringement and to show that the legislation’s objective is attained in a manner which upholds the honour of the Crown.153   The government must first demonstrate that the impugned legislation was enacted for a compelling and substantial objective.154   Furthermore, the court must ensure that the right is not unduly restricted and investigate whether the restriction can be reconciled with the Crown’s fiduciary relationship with aboriginal peoples.155  

Judicial Review of Administrative Action

The courts also exercise supervisory authority over decision-makers within the executive branch of government to ensure that they comply with the rule of law.156   This role necessarily engages the concept of the separation of powers and the interplay between legislative intent, administrative autonomy, and judicial oversight.  These issues were addressed in the recent Supreme Court case Dunsmuir v. New Brunswick,157 in which Justices Bastarache and LeBel write:

As a matter of constitutional law, judicial review is intimately connected with the preservation of the rule of law.  It is essentially that constitutional foundation which explains the purpose of judicial review and guides its function and operation.  Judicial review seeks to address an underlying tension between the rule of law and the foundational democratic principle, which finds an expression in the initiatives of Parliament and legislatures to create various administrative bodies and endow them with broad powers. Courts, while exercising their constitutional functions of judicial review, must be sensitive not only to the need to uphold the rule of law, but also to the necessity of avoiding undue interference with the discharge of administrative functions in respect of the matters delegated to administrative bodies by Parliament and legislatures.158

One consequence of the principle of Parliamentary supremacy is that administrative bodies may only exercise the power afforded to them by the legislature.  Judicial review ensures that these statutory bodies do not exceed the authority given to them by statute.159   Constitutional supremacy is also maintained since the courts ensure that the administrative bodies comply with the Constitution, including the Charter, in exercising their functions.160

The Constitution also provides the source of the courts’ duty to exercise a supervisory function over administrative action.  Sections 96 to 101 of the Constitution Act, 1867 give the provincial superior courts the inherent power of judicial review.161   The Federal Court and the Federal Court of Appeal have jurisdiction to hear judicial review applications based on section 18 of the Federal Courts Act.162   The federal and provincial courts’ power of judicial review extends to both procedural matters and substantive outcomes of administrative decision-making.

Procedural fairness may be owed by an administrative body to an individual in some circumstances.  Procedural fairness, at common law, may entail the right to receive notice of an impending decision, the right to be heard, the right to be given reasons for a decision, and the right to receive a decision free from actual and perceived bias.  In determining both the content of procedural fairness and whether it is even owed in the first place, the courts will look at legislative intent and the nature of the administrative body.  For example, if the decision is of a legislative nature, such as the enactment of regulations involving general policy matters,163 no procedural fairness will be owed to affected individuals.164   The Supreme Court has also warned, especially with regards to preliminary decision-making, that the courts must “remain alert to the danger of unduly burdening and complicating the law enforcement investigative process.”165   However, even where the decision is not final in nature, the greater the impact of the decision on an individual’s rights, the greater the likelihood that procedural fairness will be owed.166   While the right to common law procedural fairness can be overruled by statute, other sources may offer a guarantee of procedural fairness, such as the Charter, the Canadian Bill of Rights, or provincial procedural codes.167

Just as procedural review of administrative action incorporates respect for the legislative and executive branches, substantive review of these decisions is also deferential where required.  As held in the recent Supreme Court of Canada decision, Dunsmuir v. New Brunswick,168 there are two standards of review which may be employed to the decisions of administrative bodies: correctness and reasonableness.  While the correctness standard invites the court to substitute its own view if it does not agree with the decision-maker,169 the reasonableness standard is more deferential.  When evaluating whether a decision is reasonable, the court will look at whether there is “justification, transparency and intelligibility within the decision-making process”170 and “whether the decision falls within a range of possible, acceptable outcomes which are defensible in respect of the facts and law.”171

To determine the applicable degree of deference, the court will consider factors including whether there is a privative clause that precludes judicial review, the purpose of the administrative body as determined by its enabling legislation, the nature of the question at issue, and the body’s expertise.172   The presence of a privative clause is likely to result in the standard of reasonableness applying; however it cannot preclude judicial review, as the review of administrative action is constitutionally protected.173   If the purpose of the administrative body or the nature of the question at hand is more policy-oriented, or requires the balancing of different interests, this suggests that deference should be given to the administrative decision-maker.174   With respect to questions of law, if the decision-maker is interpreting its enabling legislation, the reasonableness standard is likely to be more appropriate; however, questions of general law that are “both of central importance to the legal system as a whole and outside the adjudicator’s specialized area of expertise”175 or constitutional questions will tend to favour the application of the correctness standard.176   By taking into account these factors, the courts are able to limit their intrusion into the executive’s role and to respect the intent of the legislature in giving power to these administrative bodies, while still ensuring compliance with the constitutional principle of the rule of law.

Looking to the Future: The Role of the Different Branches of Government in the Face of Modern Global Challenges

With the continuous trend towards globalization, the judicial branch faces certain challenges that are inexorably linked to foreign and domestic policy, principles of international law, constitutional questions, and judicial review of administrative action.  In the past decade, the Supreme Court of Canada, the Federal Court of Appeal, and other Canadian courts have been asked to decide questions related to national security and terrorism,177 extradition,178 and immigration and refugee law.179   These issues necessarily involve the relationship between the three branches of Canadian government and their appropriate roles.   

The Supreme Court of Canada has indicated the importance of international human rights law in both statutory interpretation and the application of the Charter.  In Baker, Canada’s ratification of the Convention on the Rights of the Child180 supported the majority’s finding that the best interests of any children affected should be considered by immigration officers when deciding whether a foreign national should be able to stay in Canada on humanitarian and compassionate grounds.181   In Suresh, the Court looked to international law to determine whether it would be contrary to the principles of fundamental justice (as referred to in section 7 of the Charter) to deport a person to torture.182   The Court stated:

International treaty norms are not, strictly speaking, binding in Canada unless they have been incorporated into Canadian law by enactment.  However, in seeking the meaning of the Canadian Constitution, the courts may be informed by international law.  Our concern is not with Canada’s international obligations qua obligations; rather, our concern is with the principles of fundamental justice.  We look to international law as evidence of these principles and not as controlling in itself.183

International law was also examined by the Court in deciding whether the extradition of an alleged murderer would infringe the accused’s section 7 rights where there were no assurances that the death penalty would not be sought in the receiving country.184

The Supreme Court of Canada has also acknowledged the need to respect the role of the executive in deciding matters of foreign and domestic policy.  In reference to national security matters, the Court cited the following passage by Lord Hoffmann in Secretary of State for the Home Department v. Rehman:185

This seems to me to underline the need for the judicial arm of government to respect the decisions of ministers of the Crown on the question of whether support for terrorist activities in a foreign country constitutes a threat to national security.  It is not only that the executive has access to special information and expertise in these matters.  It is also that such decisions, with serious potential results for the community, require a legitimacy which can be conferred only by entrusting them to persons responsible to the community through the democratic process.  If the people are to accept the consequences of such decisions, they must be made by persons whom the people have elected and whom they can remove.186  

A similar caution was enunciated in Burns, in which the Court noted that the executive was better placed to assess the various interests involved in extradition and that, consequently, deference is owed to the decision-maker.187

Nevertheless, deference given to the executive must be tempered with the constitutional duty of the courts to enforce the Charter.  While recognizing the challenges faced by the government in maintaining national security, the Supreme Court has held that section 7 of the Charter requires procedural fairness for individuals who are detained on suspicion of being involved in terrorist activity.188   In Suresh, the Court discussed the balance that is at play:

The issues engage concerns and values fundamental to Canada and indeed the world. On the one hand stands the manifest evil of terrorism and the random and arbitrary taking of innocent lives, rippling out in an ever-widening spiral of loss and fear.  Governments, expressing the will of the governed, need the legal tools to effectively meet this challenge.

On the other hand stands the need to ensure that those legal tools do not undermine values that are fundamental to our democratic society — liberty, the rule of law, and the principles of fundamental justice — values that lie at the heart of the Canadian constitutional order and the international instruments that Canada has signed.189  

In Burns, the Court held that, in the circumstances at bar, the principles of fundamental justice did not justify the Minister’s decision to extradite the appellants without assurances that the death penalty would not be sought.190  


While the Canadian government cannot be seen as an example of a strict application of the separation of powers doctrine, Montesquieu’s laudable goal of securing individual liberty is nonetheless sought in Canada.  The relationship of the three branches of government  – the legislature, the executive, and the judiciary – is characterized by checks and balances which promote the rule of law.  Furthermore, as Canada’s system of government is one of constitutional supremacy, individual and collective rights and freedoms are protected against unjustified governmental infringement.  Through its role as guardians of the Constitution, the judicial branch of government can continue to ensure that Canada continues to be a society committed to the rule of law and individual liberty.

* Chief Justice, Federal Court of Appeal, Canada.  I wish to acknowledge the thorough research assistance of my current and former law clerks, Livia Aumand and Manon Lavoie, in the preparation of this paper.

1 Baron de Montesquieu, The Spirit of the Laws (1748), trans. Thomas Nugent (New York: MacMillan Press, 1949) at 11.4.

2 “Whereas Canada is founded upon principles that recognize the supremacy of God and the rule of law”: Constitution Act, 1982, being Schedule B to the Canada Act 1982 (U.K.), 1982, c. 11.

3 Reference re Secession of Quebec, [1998] 2 S.C.R. 217 at para. 70 [Quebec Secession Reference]; see also Roncarelli v. Duplessis, [1959] S.C.R. 121 at 142 and  Re Manitoba Language Rights, [1985] 1 S.C.R. 721 at para. 63-64 [Manitoba Language Rights Reference].

4 Manitoba Language Rights Reference, supra note 3, at para. 47.

5 See Constitution Act, 1982, supra note 2, s. 24 & 52(1).

6 Dunsmuir v. New Brunswick, 2008 SCC 9 at para. 31 [Dunsmuir].

7 For a more detailed description of Canadian history pre-Confederation see the Fall 2005 issue of the Duquesne Law Review: Hon. John D. Richard, “Federalism in Canada” (2005) 44 Duquesne L. Rev. 5.

8 In New France, as in France, absolutism and centralization were the principles on which government was conducted. This may be compared to what Sir J.G. Bourinot described as “the great governing principle of the English system, which has developed itself slowly since the revolution of 1688 - that great principle which makes the ministry of government of the day responsible both to the sovereign and the legislature for all matters of administration and legislation, and allows it to continue in office only while it retains the approval of the people's house.” Sir J.G. Bourinot, A Manual of the Constitutional History of Canada From the Earliest Period to 1901 (Toronto: Copp, Clark, 1901) at 154.

9 Although both positions were powerful within the colony, their functions were quite different. In the final analysis, however, the Governor was the superior of the two.

10 R.S.C. 1985, App. II, No. 1.

11 Patrick J. Monahan, Constitutional Law, 3rd ed. (Toronto: Irwin Law, 2006) at 35.

12 Québec Act of 1774, 14 Geo. III c. 83.

13 Constitutional Act of 1791, (31 Geo. 3) C A P. XXXI.

14 The Constitutional Law Group, Canadian Constitutional Law, 3rd ed. (Toronto: Emond Montgomery, 2003) at 75.

15 Id.

16 Id.

17 Peter W. Hogg, Constitutional Law of Canada, 5th ed., looseleaf (Scarborough, Ont.: Thomson Carswell, 2007) at 2-9.

18 Act of Union, 1840, 3 & 4 Vict. c. 35.

19 The Constitutional Law Group, supra note 14, at 76.

20 Id.

21 Hogg, supra note 17, at 2-10.

22 Which was concurrently divided into the provinces of Ontario (formerly Canada-West) and Quebec (formerly Canada-East).

23 Constitution Act, 1867, (U.K.), 30 & 31 Vict., c. 3, reprinted in R.S.C. 1985, App. II, No. 5 [Constitution Act, 1867].

24 Quebec Secession Reference, supra note 3, at para. 43.

25 Constitution Act, 1867, supra note 23, s. 91.

26 Id. at s. 92.

27 Statistics Canada, 2006 Census Release No. 7, “Ethnic Origins and Visible Minorities” (2 April 2008), online: Statistics Canada <http://www12.statcan.ca/english/census06/release/ethnicorigin.cfm>.

28 Edwards v. Canada (Attorney General), [1930] A.C. 124 at 136 (J.C.P.C.); Reference re Same-Sex Marriage, [2004] 3 S.C.R. 698, 2004 SCC 79 at para. 22.

29 Canada Act, 1982 (U.K.), c. 11 (granting Canada full and complete sovereignty).

30 Constitution Act, 1982, supra note 2.

31 Quebec Secession Reference, supra note 3, at para. 32; Reference re Remuneration of Judges of the Provincial Court (P.E.I.), [1998] 2 S.C.R. 443 at para. 92 [PEI Judges Reference]; Reference re Resolution to Amend the Constitution, [1981] 1 S.C.R. 753 at 874 [Patriation Reference].

32 See preamble of the Constitution Act, 1867, supra note 23.

33 Monahan, supra note 11, at 55.

34 Monahan, supra note 11, at 32.

35 1 Will. & Mar. sess. 2, c. 2.

36 ‘The Crown’ is used in Canada to refer to the executive branch of government.

37 Hogg, supra note 17, at 9-5.

38 Monahan, supra note 11, at 32.

39 Monahan, supra note 11, at 12.

40 Peter W. Hogg, Constitutional Law of Canada, Student ed. (Scarborough, Ont.: Thomson Carswell, 2004) at 281.

41 Hogg, supra note 17, at 1-21; Re Objection by Quebec to a Resolution to Amend the Constitution, [1982] 2 S.C.R. 793 at 802 [Quebec Veto Reference].

42 Hogg, supra note 17, at 1-22.

43 See e.g. Re Resolution to Amend the Constitution, [1981] 1 S.C.R. 753 [Patriation Reference] where the Court found that while no convention required unanimity for certain constitutional amendments, a substantial degree of provincial consent was required; Quebec Veto Reference, supra note 41, where it was held that there was no convention allowing Quebec to veto constitutional amendments affecting its legislative competence; Ontario (Attorney General) v. OPSEU, [1987] 2 S.C.R. 2 at para. 99 per Beetz J finding that there is a constitutional convention of political neutrality in the provincial public service.

44 Hogg, supra note 17, at 1-22; Quebec Veto Reference, supra note 41, at 802.

45 Patriation Reference, supra note 43, at 774-775.

46 Patriation Reference, supra note 43, at 880.

47 For the powers of the federal legislative branch, see Constitution Act, 1867, supra note 23, ss. 17-57.

48 Constitution Act, 1867, supra note 23, s. 17.

49 Id. at s. 29(2).

50 For the powers of the provincial legislative branch, see Constitution Act, 1867, supra note 23, ss. 69-90.

51 This is true also for the provincial legislative assemblies.

52 It remains unclear in the jurisprudence whether Parliament can delegate the taxing power to the executive: see the discussion in Hogg, supra note 17, at 14-6 to 14-8.

53 Hogg, supra note 17, at 14-4 to 14-5.

54 Id. at 9-9.

55 Hogg, supra note 17, at 9-10.

56 Hogg, supra note 17, at 9-10 to 9-11.

57 Monahan, supra note 11, at 59.

58 Monahan, supra note 11, at 59.

59 Monahan, supra note 11, at 59-60.

60 Supra note 3, at 140.

61 Supreme and Exchequer Courts Act, 1875, S.C. 1875, c. 11; now the Supreme Court Act, R.S.C. 1985, c. S-26.

62 Supra note 23.

63 Hogg, supra note 17, at 8-13.

64 Supreme Court Act, supra note 61, s. 4(2).

65 Hogg, supra note 17, at 7-27.

66 Tax Court of Canada Act, R.S.C. 1985, c. T-2, s. 12.

67 Federal Courts Act, R.S.C. 1985, c. F-7, s. 27; Tax Court of Canada Act, supra note 66, s. 17.6.

68 R.S.C 1985, c. N-5.

69 Hogg, supra note 17, at 7-3.

70 Constitution Act, 1867, supra note 23, ss. 96 & 100.

71 Hogg, supra note 17, at 7-2.

72 Northwest Territories Act, R.S.C. 1985, c. N-27, Part II; Yukon Act, S.C. 2002, c. 7, ss. 38-44; Nunavut Act, S.C. 1993, c. 28, ss. 31-36.

73 Constitution Act, 1867, supra note 23, ss. 96-101.

74 Reference re Amendments to the Residential Tenancies Act (N.S.), [1996] 1 S.C.R. 186 at para. 72 [Re Residential Tenancies]; see also McEvoy v. New Brunswick (A-G), [1983] 1 S.C.R. 704 at 720 [McEvoy].

75 Hogg, supra note 17, at 7-8.

76 Section 11: Any person charged with an offence has the right … (d) to be presumed innocent until proven guilty according to law in a fair and public hearing by an independent and impartial tribunal: Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms, Part I of the Constitution Act, 1982, supra note 2 [the Charter].

77 PEI Judges Reference, supra note 31, at paras. 83-84.

78 Id. at para. 106.

79 Beauregard v. Canada, [1986] 2 S.C.R. 56 at 72; PEI Judges Reference, supra note 31, at para. 83.

80 PEI Judges Reference, supra note 31, at para. 106.

81 PEI Judges Reference, supra note 31, at para. 118; Valente v. The Queen, [1985] 2 S.C.R. 673 at 687.

82 PEI Judges Reference, supra note 31, at para. 115

83 Quebec Secession Reference, supra note 3, at para. 15; Hogg, supra note 17, at 7-37.

84 McEvoy, supra note 74, at 720; Re Residential Tenancies, supra note 74, at para. 72; MacMillan Bloedel Ltd. v. Simpson, [1995] 4 S.C.R. 725 at para. 15.

85 Quebec Secession Reference, supra note 3, at para. 9-15.

86 Id. at para. 13.

87 Quebec Secession Reference, supra note 3, at para. 15.

88 Manitoba Language Rights Reference, supra note 3, at para. 48.

89 Constitution Act, 1982, supra note 2.

90 I previously gave a more detailed description of Canadian federalism in Hon. John D. Richard, “Federalism in Canada,” supra note 7.

91 Hogg, supra note 17, at 5-15.

92 Quebec Secession Reference, supra note 3, at para. 43.

93 Hon. John D. Richard, “Federalism in Canada,” supra note 7, at 26.

94 Reference re: Liquor License Act of 1877 (Ont.) (1883), 9 A.C. 117 (J.C.P.C.).

95 Constitution Act, 1867, supra note 23, ss. 56 & 90.

96 Hogg, supra note 17, at 5-19.

97 W.P.M. Kennedy, “The Interpretation of the British North America Act” (1943) 8 Cambridge L.J. 146 at 151.

98 Monahan, supra note 11, at 231-232;

99 Northern Telecom Canada Ltd. v. Communication Workers of Canada, [1983] 1 S.C.R. 733 at 741, per Estey J.

100 Quebec Secession Reference, supra note 3, at para. 55.

101 [1881-1885] All E.R. Rep. 1179 (JCPC).

102 R. v. Crown Zellerbach Canada Ltd., [1988] 1 S.C.R. 401 at para. 33,  per Le Dain J.

103 Quebec Secession Reference, supra note 3, at para. 58.

104 Medovarski v. Canada (Minister of Citizenship and Immigration), [2004] 4 F.C. 48, 2004 FCA 85 at para. 76 [Medovarski (FCA)]; aff’d [2005] 2 S.C.R. 539, 2005 SCC 51 [Medovarski (SCC)].

105 Medovarski (FCA), supra note 104, at para. 76.

106 Medovarski (SCC), supra note 104, at para. 24; R. Sullivan, Sullivan on the Construction of Statutes, 5th ed. (Markham, ON: LexisNexis, 2008) at 100.

107 Medovarski (F.C.A.), supra note 104, at para. 78, citing Pierre-André Côté, The Interpretation of Legislation in Canada, 3rd ed. (Toronto: Carswell, 2000) at 328; see also R. v. Daoust, [2004] 1 S.C.R. 217, 2004 SCC 6 at para. 30.

108 Hon. John D. Richard, “Federalism in Canada”, supra note 7, at 27, citing Government of Canada, Minister of State (Multiculturalism), Canadian Heritage, The Canadian Multiculturalism Act – 15 years later, online: <http://www.canadianheritage.gc.ca/progs/multi/reports/ann2002-2003/01_e.cfm>.

109 Constitution Act, 1982, supra note 2.

110 S.C. 1960, c. 44.

111 Id. at s. 1.

112 R.J. Sharpe & K. Roach, The Charter of Rights and Freedoms, 3rd ed. (Toronto: Irwin Law, 2005) at 17.

113 Constitution Act, 1982, supra note 2, s. 32(1).

114 (2001), 54 O.R. (3d) 215.

115 F.L. Morton & R. Knopff, The Charter Revolution and the Court Party (Peterborough, Ont.: Broadview Press, 2000).

116 Monahan, supra note 11, at 16.

117 Vriend v. Alberta, [1998] 1 S.C.R. 493 at para. 132 & 134 [Vriend].

118 Id. at para. 131.

119 Id. at para. 56.

120 The dialogue theory was first suggested in the article by P.W. Hogg & A.A. Bushell, “The Charter Dialogue Between Courts and Legislatures (Or Perhaps the Charter of Rights Isn’t Such a Bad Thing After All)” (1997) 35 Osgoode Hall L.J. 75.  For further commentary on the dialogue theory of Charter review see e.g. Charter Dialogue: Ten Years Later (2007) 45 Osgoode Hall L.J.; K. Roach, The Supreme Court on Trial: Judicial Activism or Democratic Dialogue (Toronto: Irwin Law, 2001).

121 Vriend, supra note 117, at para. 138, per Iacobucci J (citations omitted).

122 Vriend, supra note 117, at para. 137, per Iacobucci J.

123 Constitution Act, 1982, supra note 2.

124 Vriend, supra note 117, at para. 108; see also R. v. Oakes, [1986] 1 S.C.R. 103.

125 Constitution Act, 1982, supra note 2.

126 Vriend, supra note 117, at para. 139.

127 Section 52(1) states: “The Constitution of Canada is the supreme law of Canada, and any law that is inconsistent with the provisions of the Constitution is, to the extent of the inconsistency, of no force or effect.” – Constitution Act, 1982, supra note 2.

128 Sharpe & Roach, supra note 112, at 348.

129 Constitution Act, 1982, supra note 2.

130 See e.g. R. v. Butler, [1992] 1 S.C.R. 452; R. v. Sharpe, [2001] 1 S.C.R. 45; Slaight Communications Inc. v. Davidson, [1989] 1 S.C.R. 1038.

131 [1993] 3 S.C.R. 223 [Grant].

132 R.S.C. 1985, c. N-1, s. 10; repealed 1996, c. 19, s. 94.

133 Grant, supra note 131, at 245.

134 Sharpe & Roach, supra note 112, at 351.

135 Supra note 117.

136 Sharpe & Roach, supra note 112, at 351; K. Roach, Constitutional Remedies in Canada, looseleaf (Aurora, ON: Cartwright Group, 2006) at para. 14.1250.

137 Schachter v. Canada, [1992] 2 S.C.R. 679 at 700.

138 Id.; see e.g. R. v. Lucas, [1998] 1 S.C.R. 439;

139 See e.g. Manitoba Language Rights Reference, supra note 3; R. v. Demers, [2004] 2 S.C.R. 489, 2004 SCC 46.

140 Sharpe & Roach, supra note 112, at 355.

141 Manitoba Language Rights Reference, supra note 3.

142 Id. at paras. 59-60.

143 Constitution Act, 1982, supra note 2, at s. 35(1).  In addition, note that section 25 of the Charter states that the Charter is not to be interpreted as to “abrogate or derogate” from any aboriginal or treaty rights.

144 Monahan, supra note 11, at 440.

145 Calder v. British Columbia (A.G.), [1973] S.C.R. 313 at 328.

146 Delgamuukw v. British Columbia, [1997] 3 S.C.R. 1010 at para. 137, per Lamer CJ, citing R. v. Adams, [1996] 3 S.C.R. 101 at para. 26.

147 Guerin v. The Queen, [1984] 2 S.C.R. 335 at 376, per Dickson J (as he then was).

148 Id.

149 Id.

150 R. v. Van der Peet, [1996] 2 S.C.R. 507 at para. 46, per Lamer CJ.

151 Monahan, supra note 11, at 461.

152 Id.

153 R. v. Sparrow, [1990] 1 S.C.R. 1075.

154 Id.

155 Id.

156 I previously discussed judicial review in Canada in “Judicial Review in Canada” (2007) 45 Duquesne L. Rev. 483.  Some significant changes in the law have occurred since the publication of this article, which I will highlight in this portion of the paper.

157 Dunsmuir, supra note 6.

158 Id.at para. 27.

159 Dunsmuir, supra note 6, at para. 30.

160 D.J. Mullan, Administrative Law (Toronto: Irwin Law, 2001) at 9-10; Dunsmuir, supra note 6, at para. 28.

161 Dunsmuir, supra note 6, at para. 31.

162 Supra note 67.

163 National Anti-Poverty Organization v. Canada (A-G), [1989] 3 F.C. 684 (F.C.A.).

164 Cardinal v. Director of Kent Institution, [1985] 2 S.C.R. 643 at para. 14; Martineau v. Matsqui Institution, [1980] 1 S.C.R. 602 at 628 per Dickson J (as he then was).

165 Irvine v. Canada (Restrictive Trade Practices Commission), [1987] 1 S.C.R. 181 at para. 87.

166 Knight v. Indian Head School Division No. 19, [1990] 1 S.C.R. 653, per L’Heureux-Dubé J.

167 See e.g. Ontario’s Statutory Powers Procedure Act, R.S.O. 1990, c. S. 22; Alberta’s Administrative Procedures and Jurisdiction Act, R.S.A. 2000, c. A-3.

168 Supra note 6.

169 Dunsmuir, supra note 6, at para. 50.

170 Id. at para. 47.

171 Id. at para. 47.

172 Id. at para. 64.

173 Id. at para. 31; Association des courtiers et agents immobiliers du Québec v. Proprio Direct inc., 2008 SCC 32 at para. 20 per Abella J.

174 Id. at para. 51; Pushpanathan v. Canada (Minister of Citizenship and Immigration), [1998] 1 S.C.R. 982 at para. 36, per Bastarache J; Pezim v. British Columbia (Superintendent of Brokers), [1994] 2 S.C.R. 557 at, per Iacobucci J.

175 Dunsmuir, supra note 6, at para. 60, citing Toronto (City) v. C.U.P.E., Local 79, [2003] 3 S.C.R. 77, 2003 SCC 63 at para. 62, per LeBel J.

176 Dunsmuir, supra note 6, at para. 58.

177 See e.g. Canada (Justice) v. Khadr, 2008 SCC 28; Suresh v. Canada (Minister of Citizenship and Immigration), [2002] 1 S.C.R. 3, 2002 SCC 1 [Suresh]; Charkaoui v. Canada (Citizenship and Immigration), [2007] 1 S.C.R. 350, 2007 SCC 9 [Charkaoui (2007)] ; Charkaoui v. Canada (Citizenship and Immigration), 2008 SCC 38.

178 See e.g. United States v. Burns, [2001] 1 S.C.R. 283, 2001 SCC 7 [Burns].

179 See e.g. Baker v. Canada (Minister of Citizenship and Immigration), [1999] 2 S.C.R. 817 [Baker]; Canada (Minister of Citizenship and Immigration) v. Okoloubu, 2008 FCA 326.

180 Can. T.S. 1992 No. 3.

181 Baker, supra note 179, at paras. 69-71.

182 Suresh, supra note 177, at paras. 59-75.

183 Id. at para. 60.

184 Burns, supra note 178, at paras. 79-93.

185 [2001] 3 W.L.R. 877 (U.K.H.L.) at para. 62.

186 Suresh, supra note 177, at para. 33.

187 Burns, supra note 178, at para. 36.

188 Charkaoui (2007), supra note 177, at paras. 28 & 65.

189 Suresh, supra note 177, at paras. 3-4.

190 Burns, supra note 178, at para. 132.


Date Modified: 2015-09-09