Reflecting on the Sex-Ed Charter Challenge

By: Leslie Anne St. Amour

Now that the Constitutional challenge to the Ford government’s repeal of the 2015 sex-ed curriculum has been heard by the court, I am reflecting on why I wanted to work on this project as an Asper Centre Clinic student last term. The repeal of the 2015 sex-ed curriculum was terrifying and personal to me. I grew up in rural Ontario and received all of my public-school sexual education based on the 1998 curriculum. In my hometown there is no access to abortion services, mental health services are few and far between and everyone knows each other and their business, making seeking additional information or services difficult, if not impossible.

We learned to be abstinent. And if not, then to use a condom. But not how to use a condom. We learned sexually transmitted infections exist and that they are something to be ashamed of and feared. Not where to go to get tested, how to navigate disclosure or that the stigma is unnecessary. We simply did not learn about consent or gender identity.

Because of this inadequate curriculum, many young people in Ontario have turned to each other and the internet for their sex education in the years since we have left public-school. We turn to the internet, but there is so much information and misinformation that we often struggle to know what is accurate and so we crowdsource it amongst ourselves. We hope one of our friends had a sex-ed teacher who went above and beyond the 1998 curriculum, or that one of us learned something at our universities’ health fairs or maybe that one of us with a parent in healthcare knows the accurate answer.

This Charter challenge focused on: section 2(b) guaranteeing freedom of expression, section 7 guaranteeing life, liberty and security of the person and section 15 guaranteeing equality. While working with the Asper Centre to support this litigation I conducted research on several topics including Constitutional conventions and Charter jurisprudence. The Charter section I primarily focused on was section 7. Under the guidance of Susan Ursel, the Asper Centre’s Constitutional Litigator in Residence last term, I conducted research into potential Charter challenges that could be made. In this case, section 7 was used to address the removal of consent from the curriculum and the impact this has on the security of the person of students, women and LGBTQ+ people in particular.

Society is facing a reckoning in respect to consent and sexual activity. The #MeToo movement has provided an opportunity for discussion about sexual assault, harassment and consent. We are seeing a societal conversation about consent, what it means and how to ensure consent has been given. This makes it so clear to me that so many people do not understand consent and therefore how important it was that it was included in the 2015 sexual education curriculum. The removal of consent from the curriculum puts every child who will not be taught about their right to bodily integrity at risk and puts those children at risk of one day perpetuating sexual violence because they do not understand the required consent and how to gain it.

I hope that regardless of the results of the case, students across Ontario have heard us. There are people here supporting their rights to bodily autonomy and to have all gender identities and sexual orientations included in their curriculum. And I hope that governments across Canada, not just Ontario, have heard us ask for this.

Leslie Anne St. Amour is 2L JD Candidate at the Faculty of Law and a former Asper Centre clinic student.

 

Supreme Court Moves Voting Rights into Globalization Era in Frank Decision

by Jasmit de Saffel

In its first decision of the year, the Supreme Court of Canada sided with Canadian ex-pats in a case about their voting rights. Chief Justice Wagner held that “citizenship, not residence, defines our political community and underpins the right to vote” (para 35).

Frank v Canada had been initiated by two Canadians living in the United States after they were denied the right to vote in the 2011 federal election. Dr. Gill Frank and Mr. Jamie Duong live in the United States for work and educational purposes but maintain close ties to Canada. The impugned provisions of the Canada Elections Act held that citizens who had resided outside of Canada for more than five consecutive years were not able to vote in federal elections until they resumed residence in Canada. This provision was recently repealed by the government, and the Supreme Court decision has made the residence limitation on voting rights unconstitutional.

The application judge sided with the applicants in 2014, finding that the residence requirement infringes section 3 of the Charter and was not saved under section 1. On appeal to the Court of Appeal, the Attorney General of Canada conceded that the provision breached section 3 but argued that it was a justified infringement for the sake of the Canadian “social contract.” The appeal was allowed.

In his reasons Wagner CJ, writing for a 5-2 majority, emphasized that any intrusions on the core democratic right to vote must be reviewed on the basis of a stringent justification standard (para 25). He found that residence is not mentioned in the section 3 guarantee or established as essential to the right to vote in the jurisprudence. “The Charter tethers voting rights to citizenship, and citizenship alone” (para 29).

Under the section 1 analysis, Wagner CJ dismissed the Attorney General’s social contract argument as a vague and ill-suited objective to withstand the rigours of a section 1 justification. He quotes the Asper Centre’s factum in laying out the argument’s analytical failings, holding that using the social contract as an objective collapses any distinction between legislative means and ends (para 53).

The real downfall of the government’s case was at the minimal impairment stage. The Court held that the limit was over-inclusive and that no correlation had been shown between time lived abroad and subjective commitment to Canada. The Court held that we live in a globalized society and that the ability of citizens living abroad to remain connected to Canada is “unprecedented.” Non-residents, like the applicants, are able to maintain deep “political, familial, financial or cultural” roots in Canada (para 69). The limit was held to undermine, rather than promote, the underlying objective of electoral fairness in Canada. The Court found that our democracy is “manifestly strengthened” by the demonstration of civic commitment of Canadian citizens abroad voting via special ballot (para 75). Denying non-residing citizens the right to vote was understood as coming at the expense of their dignity and self-worth.

In a concurring judgement, Rowe J held that the residency requirement is not trivial and is firmly rooted in Canada’s representative democracy model (para 90). While finding that the limit on section 3 was not justified in this case, Rowe J held that the possibility of voting limits based on residence should not be entirely ruled out.

In their dissent, Cote and Brown JJ held that the decision is regressive and undoes a long-standing Westminster tradition of privileging local connections in electing local representatives.

Jasmit de Saffel  is a 1L JD Candidate at the Faculty of Law and is the current Asper Centre work-study student

Dunsmuir Revisited: Questioning the Standard of Review

by Catherine Ma

Earlier this month, the Supreme Court of Canada heard the appeals in Minister of Citizenship and Immigration v Alexander Vavilov, Bell Canada et al v Attorney General of Canada, and National Football League et al v Attorney General of Canada. The Supreme Court explicitly declared that these cases offered “an opportunity to consider the nature and scope of judicial review of administrative action” as set out in Dunsmuir v New Brunswick. The Supreme Court allowed 27 intervenors to make submissions on the issues, as well as appointed amici curiae to provide further insights.

It is impossible to overstate my initial excitement for this trilogy of cases. As a summer law student this past year, I assisted with the intervention by the Attorney General for Ontario, and I personally believe that the standard of review analysis needs reform. The current approach appears to be nothing more than an intellectual exercise. It fosters endless debate about the proper standard of review, diverting attention from the real impacts of administrative decisions. Yet, the law is about the experiences of individuals who must navigate the legal system, and the function of judicial review is ensuring that all individuals are treated fairly under the law.

My initial excitement increasingly faded as more factums were submitted; after the hearings, I lost all expectations of genuine reform. These cases narrowly focused on the standard of review applicable to an administrative decision-maker’s interpretation of a statute. The oral submissions for Bell Canada and NFL and Vavilov discussed piecemeal adjustments to the current approach to the standard of review, such as establishing a new category where a standard of correctness would apply and eliminating the category of “true questions of jurisdiction.” The parties obsessed over whether the standard of review should change in light of statutory rights to appeal and/or a decision-maker’s level of independence from the legislature.

I found it interesting that the parties only made fleeting references to the Charter of Rights and Freedoms in their factums, as the impact of many administrative decisions on individuals’ Charter and human rights is often profound. Counsel for Mr. Vavilov mentioned that the impugned decision had “enormous importance,” as having citizenship would mean that Mr. Vavilov had a Charter right to enter and remain in Canada. During oral submissions, his counsel Barbara Jackman asserted that a standard of correctness must apply to administrative decisions that involve human rights. She explained that such issues engage the Charter, and “deference is not part of the constitutional scheme.” The courts must be the ultimate decision-maker due to the significance of those decisions.

The amici curiae remarked that a standard of correctness should apply when decisions implicate the Charter since the courts must have the “last word” on interpretations of the Charter and purported infringements of Charter rights [79-82].

The intervenor Community & Legal Aid Services Programme (CLASP) provided the most comprehensive submission regarding the Charter. It advocated for a “nuanced approach” that would consider the nature of a decision, the nature of the decision-maker, the nature of the decision-making process, and the Charter right at issue in order to determine the proper standard of review.

In light of the relative silence around the Charter, it seems unlikely that the Supreme Court of Canada will adjust the standard of review as it pertains to administrative decisions that implicate the Charter. I suspect that the Supreme Court of Canada will only make minor tweaks to the current approach to the standard of review, leaving the Doré / Loyola framework untouched.

[Click on picture for link to archived webcast of SCC hearing on Dec 4, 2018]

 

Catherine Ma is a 3L JD Candidate at the Faculty of Law and was a student leader of the Asper Centre’s Indigenous Rights student working group in 2017-2018.  She was a summer law student at the Ministry for the Attorney General in 2018. 

Tax rule capping charities’ political activity infringes on free expression: ONSC

By Sara Tatelman

Courts often breeze by the first step of the Oakes analysis, I remember my first year constitutional law professor telling the class. That is, when determining whether a law infringing on Charter rights is justified, judges tend to give governments the benefit of the doubt that their laws have a legitimate purpose.

In Canada Without Poverty v. Attorney General (Canada), released on July 16, the Ontario Superior Court of Justice decision departs from that trend. In that case, Canada Revenue Agency determined nearly all of the applicant’s activities were political and therefore violated s. 149.1(6.2) of the Income Tax Act. Read alongside s. 9 of CRA’s Policy Statement 022, the provision requires registered charities to spend no more than 10% of their resources on “political activities.” While direct submissions to government don’t count towards the 10% max, communicating similar non-partisan policy messages to the public does.

Canada Without Poverty argued the ITA provision violated its s. 2(b) right to free expression, and that such public advocacy is essential for its fight towards poverty relief. Indeed, its executive director deposed that limiting such communications to 10% of its resources “is fundamentally at odds with achieving its charitable purpose” (para 39).

In his decision, Morgan J. noted that several national and international policies, such as the government’s 2017 Report of the Consultation Panel on the Political Activities of Charities and the Copenhagen Declaration, state that poverty relief is best attained through people’s full participation in decisions around societal well-being.

The government argued the ITA doesn’t violate the applicant’s freedom of expression because it can still engage in such communications, just without the designation of a registered charity. That is, it has a right to free speech but not subsidized speech (para 31).

But Morgan J. disagreed, noting that “any burden, including a cost burden, imposed by government on the exercise of a fundamental freedom such as religion or expression can qualify as an infringement of that right or freedom if it is not trivial or insubstantial” (para 44).

He also pointed to McLachlin C.J. and Major J.’s partial dissent in Harper, which highlights the importance of public communication in free speech: “The ability to engage in effective speech in the public square means nothing if it does not include the ability to attempt to persuade one’s fellow citizen through debate and discussion” (para 45).

Morgan J. added that Canada Without Poverty has a right to effective freedom of expression, which includes “the ability to engage in unimpaired public policy advocacy toward its charitable purpose” (para 47).

Having determined the applicant’s right to free expression was infringed, Morgan J. analyzed whether such infringement was justified. After examining statements of the Minister of National Revenue when the ITA provision was introduced in 1985, the wording of the statute and CRA’s policy statement, he found it was not.

“Government cannot justify limiting the right of free expression for charities for the very purpose of ensuring that charities use no more than 10% of their resources on the exercise of free expression,” he wrote (para 62).

Since this a rare case where step one of the Oakes test was not met – the government didn’t establish a pressing and substantial objective for the law in question – there was no need to go further. “Once the objective is determined to be unjustified, the means chosen to accomplish the objective are equally unjustifiable and the impairment cannot be minimal,” Morgan J. wrote (para 64).

He therefore struck down the parts of the ITA provision that required charities to limit their political activities to 10% of their resources, effective immediately. He also ordered a reading in of the phrase “charitable activities” in the provision to include all non-partisan political activities that further the organization’s charitable purposes.

So, charities, go forth and agitate (in a non-partisan way)!

Asper Centre was granted leave to intervene in the SCC case on voting rights for long-term expats

The case, Gillian Frank, et al. v Attorney General of Canada concerns two applicants who are Canadian citizens residing in the United States for employment reasons, who intend to return to Canada if circumstances permit. Both applicants were refused voting ballots for the 2011 Canadian General Election since they had been resident outside Canada for five years or more. The applicants sought a declaration that certain provisions of the Canada Elections Act violated their Charter-protected right to vote. A judge of the Ontario Superior Court of Justice declared the impugned provisions of the Act unconstitutional by reason of violating the applicants’ right to vote under s. 3 of the Charter, and the violation was not justifiable under s. 1.

A majority of the Court of Appeal allowed the Attorney General’s appeal, finding that the denial of the vote to non-resident citizens who have been outside Canada for five years or more is saved by s. 1. The limitation is rationally connected to the government’s pressing and substantial objective of preserving Canada’s “social contract” (whereby resident citizens submit to the laws passed by elected representatives because they had a voice in making such laws); it minimally impairs the voting rights of non-resident citizens by ensuring they may still vote if they resume residence in Canada; and the limitation’s deleterious effects do not outweigh the law’s benefits. In dissent, Laskin J.A. would have dismissed the appeal, finding that the “social contract” was not an appropriate nor a pressing and substantial legislative objective, and should not have been considered by the court. Justice Laskin also found that the denial of the right to vote was not rationally connected to the stated objective and did not minimally impair the rights of non-resident citizens, and that its harmful effects outweighed the stated benefits of the limitation.

The Asper Centre will intervene in March of 2018.