Remembering Joseph Arvay

The David Asper Centre for Constitutional Rights joins the constitutional law community in mourning the death of Joseph Arvay, O.C., O.B.C., Q.C. Joe Arvay offered his time to the Centre as our first constitutional litigator in residence. Indeed he was the inspiration for the continuing role that has been incorporated into our teaching and advocacy. He gave generously of his time to the students and was an important supporter of our advocacy. Of his time with us, Joe said, “I really enjoyed my experience as the first constitutional litigator in residence at the Asper Centre. It was a joy to work with students again.”

Marcus McCann (JD 2014) was one of the students who worked with Joe on the Asper Centre’s intervention in Bedford v Canada on the role of stare decisis in constitutional litigation: “It was a great pleasure to see Joe’s mind at work. He was very tactical, always five steps ahead in the conversation. That should be obvious from his career. But at the same time, he never lost sight of the goal, of the people who would be helped by litigation. He litigated with heart, even when he was litigating a seemingly bloodless topic like stare decisis.”

At the Centre’s 10th Anniversary Event, Joe joined Mary Eberts, another constitutional litigator in residence, on stage in a discussion with the Hon. Thomas Cromwell on significant issues in constitutional litigation in Canada. The topics were wide ranging with two formidable leaders of the constitutional bar and the former Supreme Court of Canada Justice, from the seminal cases in which they both participated in Andrews v British Columbia, to significant aboriginal rights cases, to the more recent Carter v Canada. Executive Director, Cheryl Milne, noted, “There is no other lawyer in Canada who has litigated as many significant constitutional cases at all levels of Court as Joe. His stamp on constitutional law in this country is monumental. While many lawyers have regularly taken on interventions at the Supreme Court, Joe made it a point to litigate these cases at the trial level.” As he himself noted in reference to his cases involving advanced costs, “We can all do pro bono work as interveners, but try starting a case like Little Sisters, try starting a case like Carter, try starting any of these cases, which involve thousands of hours of work. It would be so much more encouraging for lawyers if they could get costs in advance.”

Professor Kent Roach, the chair of the Asper Centre’s advisory board worked with Joe on number of cases, some focusing on aboriginal rights. He says, with sadness, “Joe was fearless and his intellectual curiosity knew no bounds. His advocacy shaped the Charter of Rights and Freedoms and always in the direction of helping the disadvantaged. He also knew how to have fun and never took himself too seriously. He will be sorely missed.”

Asper Centre Intervention Influences SCC on Suspended Declarations

by Jeffrey Wang

The Supreme Court of Canada (SCC) recently released the decision of ON (Attorney General) v G. This case challenged the constitutionality of Christopher’s Law, an Ontario law that allowed some offenders who were convicted of sexual offences to be removed from the federal and provincial sex offender registries after 10 years. Christopher’s Law did not extend to any offenders who had been found not criminally responsible due to mental disorder even if they had been absolutely discharged of the crime. The respondent fell within this latter group and challenged this law under s. 15 of the Charter for discrimination on the basis of mental disability.

At the Ontario Court of Appeal, Justice Doherty found that Christopher’s Law violated s. 15 and thus struck down the law. However, he suspended the declaration of invalidity for twelve months in order to allow the legislature to amend the impugned law. Justice Doherty also exempted the applicant G from this suspension, which meant that Christopher’s Law immediately stopped applying to him personally. This exemption was very controversial since it went against the SCC’s jurisprudence in R v Demers that individual remedies under s. 24(1) should not be combined with general remedies under s. 52.

The Asper Centre intervened in ON v G on the issue of remedies. Assisted by Professor Kent Roach, the Centre argued that courts have increasingly used suspended declarations of invalidity without proper justification. The Centre urged the SCC to adopt a more principled approach to applying this constitutional remedy. Additionally, the Centre argued that individual exemptions can be applied in conjunction with suspended declarations of invalidity in order to allow applicants to benefit from their successful Charter challenge.

The SCC’s ON v G decision “accept[ed] the Asper Centre’s invitation to articulate a principled approach to remedies for legislation that violates the Charter.”[1] The majority decision asserted that constitutional remedies should guided by four remedial principles: Charter rights should be safeguarded; the public has an interest in the constitutional compliance of legislation; the public is entitled to the benefit of legislation; and the courts and legislatures play different institutional roles.[2] Constitutional remedies must balance the fact that the public does not want to be governed by unconstitutional legislation but also cannot function under an absence of legislation. To reach this balance, the Court once again urged the judiciary to carefully identify the unconstitutional aspects of legislation and use reading down, reading in, and severance to preserve its constitutional aspects.

In its discussion of suspended declarations, the Court recognizes that there may be times where “giving immediate and retroactive effect to the fundamental rights and freedoms guaranteed by the Charter must…yield to other imperatives.”[3] However, agreeing with the Asper Centre, the Court is clear that suspended declarations should only be granted where the government can demonstrate “that the importance of another compelling interest grounded in the Constitution outweighs the continued breach of constitutional rights.”[4] For example, the government can rely on the distinct roles of the courts and legislatures, but must show that “an immediately effective declaration would significantly impair the ability to legislate.”[5] Courts must also balance the benefits of a suspended declaration against the significance of the Charter right in question. For example, it will be difficult to balance a suspended declaration against potential criminal jeopardy.[6] Moving forward, the Court is clear that suspended declarations will be rare, and the government will also have to justify its length if it were to be granted.

This principled balancing approach expands the previous categorical Schachter framework where suspended declarations were only granted in three specific scenarios. As noted by the Asper Centre and other commentators, many cases after Schachter continued to grant suspensions beyond these categories often without explanation. This more flexible approach in ON v G addresses this concern and allows justified uses of this remedy in more unique circumstances.

The ON v G Court also departed from precedent and allowed the simultaneous application of s. 24(1) and s. 52 remedies. This means that individual claimants can be exempt from suspended declarations. While some have argued that only allowing the claimant to be exempt is unfair to all others in their position, the Court reasoned that the claimant is the one who brought a successful Charter challenge and should reap its rewards.[7] Additionally, since Charter challenges can be difficult to bring forward, individual exemptions to suspended declarations may temper the disincentives of litigation.[8] The Court also noted that the government may show that there is a compelling reason to deny an exemption, such as if the exemption would undermine the purposes of the suspension, or if judicial economy would not be served by exempting a large class of claimants.[9]

Applying these principles to the case at hand, the Court noted that a suspended declaration of invalidity for Christopher’s Law is justified for public safety reasons[10]. Immediately declaring the law to be invalid could potentially irreversibly exempt many dangerous individuals from being listed on the sex offender registry, greatly restricting the effectiveness of new legislation.[11] However, an individual exemption is warranted for the claimant, since they have long had a spotless criminal record and do not pose a threat.

The Asper Center reached out to Professor Kent Roach to get his thoughts on the ON v G ruling. He comments that:

“The case will be a landmark one for the use of suspended declarations of invalidity and the Asper Centre appears to have made a real impact. The majority embraces the Centre’s arguments for a principled approach that does not depend on the three categories outlined in Schachter. They also accept the need for allowing exemptions in appropriate cases when the government has justified the use of a suspension. Even the dissenting judges also acknowledged that the Asper Centre had been helpful in arguing for the need for exemptions from suspensions to prevent irreparable harm. The judgment cites both my own scholarship but also remedial scholarship from Grant Hoole my former LLM student and Carolyn Moulard my current doctorate student.”

Indeed, the ON v G case will undoubtedly be solidified as a significant development in constitutional law. The dissenting justices criticized the majority’s broad and vague remedial principles, but it will be up to the lower courts to further build on the majority’s foundations. There is no denying that ON v G has pushed the law on constitutional remedies to be more fair and rational, ushering in a new era of remedies from the courts.

Jeffrey Wang is a 3L JD Candidate at the Faculty of Law, and a former Asper Centre Clinic student. 

[1] Para 81.

[2] Para 94.

[3] Para 121.

[4] Para 133.

[5] Para 129.

[6] Para 131

[7] Para 148.

[8] Ibid.

[9] Paras 150-151.

[10] Para 175.

[11] Para 176.

Examining the Constitutional Concerns of Urbanization and Megacities

By Julia Nowicki

“Urban agglomeration is amongst the most burning policy challenges of the twenty-first century”, says Ran Hirschl, professor of political science and law and fellow of the Royal Society of Canada. “The continued silence of constitutional thought and constitutional scholarship on the issue of cities, urbanization, is just striking.”

On Thursday, November 12th, 2020 Hirschl addressed the constitutional concerns of urbanization and cities’ relative lack of legislative authority during a Constitutional Roundtable discussion about his new book, “City, State: Constitutionalism and the Megacity”, hosted virtually by the Asper Centre. Hirschl says that the impetus for the book came from the 2019 Ontario Court of Appeal decision of Toronto (City) v Ontario Attorney General, which upheld the constitutionality of the Better Local Government Act. Passed in 2018 by the Ontario government, the Act had the effect of cutting the number of municipal wards in Toronto from 47 to 25, ahead of the municipal election that year.

Hirschl began his address by outlining the rapid acceleration of urban growth the world has faced in the last century. In Canada, Hirschl says, 55 per cent of the population lives in six metropolitan areas, and the Toronto metropolitan area itself is home to 20 per cent of Canada’s population. However, these statistics are not uniquely Canadian in nature, and urban population as compared to rural population globally is on the rise. “UN projections suggest that by the end of the 21st century, we will have cities such as Lagos, Kinshasa, Dar es Salaam, Mumbai and Karachi with populations between 70 and 85 […] million people,” Hirschl says. Rapid urban growth raises the issue of extreme density, which in turn may present a major challenge to the realization of social and economic rights of individuals.

In Canada, provinces are viewed as creatures of the province, and recent jurisprudence such as Toronto (City) affirms that provinces have the power to govern municipalities regardless of their relative size or population. This is affirmed in the Constitution Act of 1982, where the division of powers, s.92.8, places “ Municipal Institutions in the Province” within the purview of provincial legislation. In the U.S, cities lack any constitutional personality and are likewise governed by the state, according to a paper written by Hirschl, titled Cities in National Constitutions: Northern Stagnation, Southern Innovation. Issues such as gerrymandering, the power of the state to pre-empt city legislation, and the systemic sell-out of urban assets by states are representative of the relative constitutional weakness of cities in the U.S. Similar controls can be found in Australia, where states govern policy areas from education to infrastructure in cities, Hirschl says.

However, a number of countries in the global south have attempted to strengthen the constitutional protection of cities, Hirschl says. India, as an example outlined in Hirschl’s paper, adopted two constitutional amendments in 1993. The 73rd Amendment addresses the governance of rural settlement and townships, while the 74th Amendment addresses that of cities. Although the latter amendment allows for 18 policy areas of which the state government may devolve power to the municipality, Hirschl writes that in practice impacts of these changes are varied and the successful implementation of city power is often impacted by political factors. In Brazil, a new federal constitution was adopted in 1988. Included within was Article 182, which provides that “urban development policy, carried out by the municipal public authority, according to the general guidelines fixed by law, is intended to order the full development of the social functions of cities and to guarantee the well-being of their inhabitants”; Article 183 granted protections to long-term dwellers from forced evacuations by land developers. This constitutional right to the city, according to Hirschl, was “complemented by the adoption of the City Statute in 2001 as well as the establishment of the Ministry of Cities and the National Cities Council in 2003.” The Ministry was, nevertheless, absolved in 2019 and the City Statue likewise was repealed, Hirschl says. Likely, the most successful attempt to protect city rights, Hirschl says, is the result of efforts in South Africa, the government of which has included an entire chapter within their constitution (1996) pertaining to city rights. Granting city control over land use, planning, and social housing, etc, “framers wanted to explicitly reverse apartheid related urban policy,” Hirschl says.

Although attempts to constitutionalize city power have been met with varied success, Hirschl maintains the importance of large municipalities in addressing various issues, including climate change, housing, or economic inequality.  “It is impossible to address either rising economic inequality […] or climate change, without direct involvement of city government, and so the constitutional empowerment of cities may be thought of as an effective means of addressing the problem in a more bottom up fashion,” Hirschl argues. “Likewise the more constitutional power cities hold, the more they are likely to invest in social housing.”

Urbanization is one of the most important issues facing us today, Hirschl says, and “new thinking […] about constitutionalism and urbanization is the call of the hour.”

A recording of Professor Hirschl’s Constitutional Roundtable can be viewed here.

Julia Nowicki is a 2L JD student at the Faculty of Law and the Asper Centre’s current work-study student.

Fraser v. Canada: What’s the Point of S. 15?

by Jeffrey Wang

On October 16th, 2020, the Supreme Court of Canada released the landmark decision of Fraser v Canada, clarifying how adverse effect discrimination fits into the s. 15 framework. Adverse effect discrimination can be defined as when a facially neutral law has a disproportionate impact on members of a group. This is distinct from direct discrimination where a law makes a facial distinction among groups based on an enumerated or analogous characteristic.

Fraser is a significant development in Charter jurisprudence since the Court has rarely allowed adverse effect discrimination claims. Although the Court has repeatedly proclaimed that s. 15 does cover both types of discrimination and has recognized numerous adverse effect discrimination cases under human rights codes, the SCC has only affirmed one case of adverse effect discrimination under s. 15 prior to Fraser. In Eldridge v British Columbia, the Court found that a hospital that did not provide sign-language interpreters discriminated against people with hearing loss, even though the lack of sign-language interpreters applied neutrally to both hearing and non-hearing individuals.[1] Other adverse effect discrimination cases have come across the Court but have all been rejected for a variety of reasons.

Fraser

The Eldridge case is a stark contrast from Fraser’s complex fact-scenario. In Fraser, three female RCMP officers challenged a policy that reduced pension benefits for officers who took part in a job-sharing program. This job-sharing program was created so that RCMP employees did not have to take unpaid leaves of absence in order to balance childcare responsibilities. However, officers taking such a leave would not see reduced pension benefits unlike those participating in job-sharing. The evidence showed that a vast majority of the participants in the job-sharing program were women that balanced childcare with work. The appellants thus argued that the policy reducing pension benefits for job-sharers discriminated against women.

Writing for the majority of the Court, Abella J agreed with the appellants and clarified the law on adverse effect discrimination. She asserted that adverse effect discrimination claims can fall within the existing s. 15 test. Under step one, claimants must show that a law creates a distinction based on an enumerated or analogous ground. To satisfy this step in adverse effect discrimination claims, Abella J posited that claimants must prove that the impugned law has a disproportionate impact on members of a protected group.[2] She suggested that this can be established “if members of protected groups are denied benefits or forced to take on burdens more frequently than others” and Courts should specifically assess the result of the law and the social situation of the claimant group.[3] Abella J further notes that there is no need to prove that all members of the claimant group are identically affected, that the law is responsible for the social situation of the claimant group, the law’s discriminatory intention, or any element of causation.[4] There is also no “universal measure for what level of statistical disparity is necessary to demonstrate that there is a disproportionate impact.”[5]

In the second step of the s. 15 test, the claimants must prove that the law perpetuates or reinforces disadvantage. Abella J cautioned that under adverse impact discrimination cases, the Court should not assess the objectives of the law at this stage but should rather leave this analysis to s. 1.

Applying this test to the case, Abella J found that the RCMP pension scheme in relation to job-sharers disproportionately impacted women due to their childcare responsibilities and that this perpetuated the economic disadvantage of women. In addition, she found that this law was not justified under s.1 since there was no pressing objective in denying the pension benefits for job-sharers. Therefore, the majority of the Court struck down the law.

Implications for Future Cases

The majority’s decision in Fraser is a welcome development in the fight for substantive equality. Adverse effect discrimination claims have long been recognized in human rights code cases, and the Fraser decision finally brings this uncontroversial understanding of equality into s. 15 jurisprudence with a paradigmatic adverse impact fact-scenario.

However, while the overall conclusion in Fraser undoubtedly moves the law in a positive direction, there are issues with Abella J’s reasoning. In our current heterogenous society, it is likely that most laws have a disproportionate effect on one group of people. For example, many human rights code cases have explored whether the lack of funding for prostate cancer testing is discriminatory against men[6]; whether a municipal policy limiting the number of garbage bags per family picked up by waste disposal discriminates against larger families[7]; and whether the lack of coroner’s inquests for migrant workers’ deaths discriminates on the basis of race[8]. Under the Fraser majority, many of these difficult cases would pass the s. 15 test for adverse effect discrimination. All that is required under step one of the test is a law’s disproportionate impact without proof of intention, causation, or statistical significance and step two merely requires historical disadvantage.

This is the problem with the Fraser decision – it does not precisely define the boundaries of adverse effect discrimination. Under direct discrimination, the requirement that a law creates a distinction based on a protected ground is meaningful, since there are many laws that do not facially distinguish between groups. However, the Fraser majority decision could render this first step of the s. 15 test meaningless by simply allowing evidence of a law’s disproportionate effect which is rife in society. Additionally, with Abella J’s comment that the objectives of the law should not be analyzed under the second step of the s. 15 test, historical advantage would similarly be easy to establish by looking to social science evidence. In effect, the Fraser majority has watered down the s. 15 analysis and pushed the bulk of the legal reasoning to s. 1. But if everything violates s. 15, nothing violates s. 15. This cannot be the state of our equality jurisprudence. S. 15 must include meaningful internal limits that filter out laws that incidentally or reasonably have disproportionate impacts on one group without being discriminatory. Otherwise, what’s the point of s. 15 at all?

Jeffrey Wang is a 3L JD Candidate at the Faculty of Law, and a former Asper Centre Clinic student. 

[1] Eldridge v British Columbia (Attorney General), [1997] 3 SCR 624.

[2] Fraser v Canada (Attorney General), 2020 SCC 28 at para 52 [Fraser].

[3] Fraser at para 55.

[4] Fraser at paras 69-72.

[5] Fraser at para 59.

[6] Armstrong v British Columbia (Ministry of Health), 2010 BCCA 56.

[7] Harrington v Hamilton (City), 2010 HRTO 2395.

[8] Peart v Ontario (Community Safety and Correctional Services), 2014 HRO 611.

 

Overcoming Challenges to Implementing UNDRIP in Canada

By Julia Nowicki

Implementing the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (UNDRIP) in Canadian law will not be without challenges, and will require both hard-work and great care, said Kerry Wilkins at the Asper Centre’s first Constitutional Roundtable for the 2020/2021 academic year. Held virtually on Wednesday, October 28th, 2020, Wilkins, who is an adjunct professor at the University of Toronto Faculty of Law, presented his upcoming journal article–“So You Want to Implement UNDRIP…”–set to be published in the University of British Columbia Law Review in the near future.

UNDRIP was adopted by the United Nations General Assembly in 2007. The resolution outlines within it “the rights of indigenous peoples” and “establishes a universal framework of minimum standards for the survival, dignity and well-being of the indigenous peoples of the world”, according to the UN website. Although initially voting against its adoption, the Canadian government eventually issued a Statement of Support endorsing the principles in UNDRIP and in 2015, announced its full, unqualified support. However, the international resolution is not legally binding in Canada, and requires domestic implementation for the rights and obligations of the State to be realized. In the prior two throne speeches, the Governor General of Canada promised full implementation of UNDRIP, stating in 2020 that “[t]he Government will move forward to introduce legislation to implement the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples before the end of this year.”

Implementation, as alluded to previously, does not come without its challenges, says Wilkins. “[F]irst, Canadian law isn’t especially well designed to welcome enforceable UNDRIP rights and obligations into it. And second, the colonial experience, mainstream law and governance, has done a great deal already to fragment and to disaggregate ancestral Indigenous communities, destabilize their relationships with traditional territories, and suppress and marginalize key features of their cultures.”

However, Wilkins says that the very “impediments to implementation are among the reasons why implementing the United Nations Declaration in Canadian law is so important”, and putting off implementation will in no way help the process. Sections 27, 38, and 40 of UNDRIP assign the process of implementation to the States, according to Wilkins’ paper. Article 38, for example, provides that “States in consultation and cooperation with indigenous peoples, shall take the appropriate measures, including legislative measures, to achieve the ends of this Declaration.”

In considering how meaningfully to implement UNDRIP, attention must be drawn to two overarching issues, including what Wilkins refers to as the “what” and the “how” of implementation. These questions refer, respectively, to the substantive and procedural issues that may underlie the process.

The instrument leaves undefined certain key features, including who qualifies as Indigenous peoples, how to distinguish traditional lands or territories, and which practices and features can be subject to cultural protection rights. Wilkins suggests that, if left to their own devices, courts and Parliament may revert to applying the metrics with which they are already familiar. Unfortunately, in doing so, or if left to define key concepts within UNDRIP unilaterally, governments and courts run the risk of trivializing the rights that would otherwise be protected. Non-Indigenous governments, for instance, do not have particular experience in thinking about indigeneity. Bands or First Nations as defined by the Indian Act outline criteria that would be “neither necessary nor sufficient to qualify as an Indigenous peoples for the purposes of UNDRIP”, Wilkins says. In reference to rights related to traditional lands or territories, Courts may be tempted to apply the law of Aboriginal Title, reverting to a process that is not only time consuming but likewise reduces the rights contained in UNDRIP to those already protected under the Canadian Constitution. Similar considerations run true for Aboriginal rights.

Various procedural issues must likewise be taken into consideration, namely, by which vehicle implementation should occur. Wilkins provides in his paper two such avenues, including by way of treaty and by legislation. Both have certain benefits and disadvantages, however the Canadian government as mentioned previously, has promised legislation as a means of implementation. Although legislation may provide for uniformity across the country, it can likewise be tailored to apply to specific groups. However, rights contained within legislation implementing UNDRIP, unlike treaties, would not receive constitutional protection. Further, legislation is subject to being overridden, not only by subsequent or more specific legislation, but likewise is subject to potential repeal by subsequent governments which may differ in their constituency and platform. Such potential conflict must be taken into careful consideration when drafting UNDRIP legislation, to ensure that subsequent laws are subject to UNDRIP unless explicitly stated within said legislation, UNDRIP legislation cannot be replaced by subsequent governments unless by certain manner and form requirements such as a supermajority vote, or by including explicit provisions that bind both federal and provincial Crowns.

“It’s important as we embark on the project of implementation to acknowledge at the outset the difficulties that it’s going to involve,” Wilkins said. “But it’s equally important not to let the existence of those difficulties count as a reason not to make the effort at implementation.”

Julia Nowicki is a 2L JD student at the Faculty of Law and is currently an Asper Centre work-study student.

Access recording of the Constitutional Roundtablewith Kerry Wilkins HERE.