Reflections at the Asper Centre’s Ten Year Anniversary Event

 

by Josh Foster

On October 17th, the University of Toronto Faculty of Law opened its doors in celebration of the David Asper Centre for Constitutional Rights’ 10th Anniversary. To borrow from the submissions of Joseph Arvay in Carter v Canada (Attorney General), the Asper Centre’s 10th Anniversary was a “momentous occasion”.  

Founded through the generous donation of UofT Law alumnus David Asper (LLM ’07), the Asper Centre has marshalled students, faculty and members of the bar toward advancing Canadian constitutional law, and access to constitutional rights since September 2008. This effort has afforded the Asper Centre the opportunity to intervene on multiple constitutional appeals, twenty of which have been before the Supreme Court. These appeals have included such noteworthy cases as: Conway v Her Majesty the Queen, et alPrime Minister of Canada et al. v Omar KhadrAttorney General of Canada v Downtown Eastside Sex Workers United Against Violence Society and Sheryl Kiselback, and Canada v Bedford. In addition to its role as an intervenor, the Asper Centre has prepared policy briefs for numerous Senate Standing Committees, hosted panel discussions on topical constitutional issues, and contributed to legal scholarship.  

In recognition of the Asper Centre’s dedication to legal advocacy, education, and research, the Faculty of Law hosted a discussion between Mary Eberts and Joseph Arvay. Eberts, a former Asper Centre Constitutional Litigator-in-Residence, has acted as counsel to parties and intervenors at all levels of court and before administrative tribunals and inquests.  Further, she advocated for the present language of section 15 of the Charter, and was one of the founders of the Women’s Legal Education and Action Fund (LEAF). Since 1991, Eberts has been litigation counsel to the Native Women’s Association of Canada (NWAC). Arvay, the first Constitutional Litigator-in-Residence for the Asper Centre, is recognized as one of Canada’s foremost constitutional litigators. In 1990, he co-founded the firm of Arvay Finlay Barristers and has been awarded honourary doctorates of law from both York University and the University of Victoria. Together, Arvay and Eberts have appeared before the Supreme Court in more than fifty constitutional appeals. Both were made Officers of the Order of Canada this year for their work. 

The discussion between Eberts and Arvay, moderated by former Supreme Court of Canada Justice Thomas Cromwell, focused on wide-ranging topics relevant to public interest litigation, five of which are highlighted here.  

First, Eberts and Arvay shared their views on early Charter jurisprudence as well as the development of the s. 15(1) equality guarantee. By now it is clear that the Supreme Court’s interpretation of s. 15(1) has been inconsistent. However, both Eberts and Arvay agreed that it has now stabilized. Importantly, Eberts would welcome greater judicial consideration for the meaning of “equal protection and equal benefit of the law” within the equality guarantee.  

Second, Eberts and Arvay were asked to express their views on the development of Aboriginal law and Indigenous rights. Notwithstanding the progress made through cases like Delgamuukw v British Columbia and Tsilhqot’in Nation v British Columbia, the Asper Centre’s distinguished speakers agreed that there is more to be done. For instance, Eberts suggested that s. 35 of the Constitution Act, 1982 has been thus far, interpreted too narrowly. Moreover, greater regard must be had for the role of “the emerging Indigenous nations in Canadian federalism”. From the perspective of counsel for Indigenous litigants, Arvay articulated the difficult task of seeking relief from Canadian courts while limiting the room for those same courts to make pronouncements on Indigenous law.  

Third, Cromwell asked Eberts and Arvay to share their opinions on the role of interveners in constitutional litigation. Of course, having acted as counsel for numerous interveners, each were well positioned to answer. For both Eberts and Arvay, interveners play an integral role to constitutional litigation, namely, ensuring that all interests/perspectives relevant to an issue are fairly represented. Unfortunately, the Supreme Court’s continued shift toward minimizing the time given for interveners to make oral submissions tempers their efficacy and utility. The Asper Centre, as a frequent intervener in the Supreme Court has equally been impacted by these temporal limitations.   

Fourth, and perhaps most surprisingly, Eberts and Arvay expressed their views on large law firm environments and whether they are conducive to pubic interest litigation. The fact that most public interest litigation is done on a pro bono basis presents an obvious challenge to any private practice, including large firms. Drawing on their respective experiences in large firms, both Eberts and Arvay suggested that they can serve as excellent environments to facilitate public interest and constitutional litigation. With that said, young lawyers in these settings must be careful not to over commit to pro bono litigation and thereby become unable to meet competing demands.  

Lastly, Eberts and Arvay explored their experiences in seeking advanced or special costs orders. For Eberts and Arvay, the law on advanced costs is in an unsatisfactory state. A failure to receive advanced costs for litigants is at the least disheartening and at the worst, prohibitive of meritorious claims. Presently, the bar for granting an advanced costs order is simply too high while revealing the financial vulnerability of the moving party.  

In summary, the Asper Centre’s 10th Anniversary celebration was an engaging and informative event. Mirroring the Asper Centre’s mandate, the questions posed to its esteemed guests were oriented around topical issues in constitutional law and access to constitutional rights. At the Direction of Cheryl Milne, and with the support of its Program Coordinator, Tal Schreier, as well as UTLaw’s faculty and students, the Asper Centre has made significant strides in advancing constitutional rights, research and public policy in Canada. Further, the Asper Centre’s involvement in constitutional advocacy initiatives and litigation has provided students with the opportunity to gain practical experience under the tutelage of experienced advocates such as Mary Eberts and Joseph Arvay.

Josh Foster is a 3L JD Candidate at the Faculty of Law and an Asper Centre Clinic alumnus

From L to R, Dean Ed Iacobucci, Cheryl Milne, Joseph Arvay (sitting), David Asper, Mary Eberts, and Thomas Cromwell (photos by D. Chang)

Above the Law? Understanding the Notwithstanding Clause

By Catherine Ma

On September 20, 2018 the David Asper Centre for Constitutional Rights convened a panel with U of T Law Professors Yasmin Dawood and Lorraine Weinrib, and Goldblatt Partners’ Steven Barrett to discuss the constitutional challenge to the Better Local Government Act. The proposed legislation would have reduced the size of Toronto’s city council in the midst of its municipal election, as well as ending mandatory election of regional councillors across all regional municipalities. Superior Court Justice Edward Belobaba struck down the legislation, finding that it was an unjustified infringement to s.2(b) of the Charter. The Court of Appeal of Ontario ultimately granted a stay of the Superior Court’s decision until a full appeal could be heard after the election. Its effect was allowing the Better Local Government Act to govern the 2018 municipal elections in Ontario.

Before the Court of Appeal rendered its decision, Ontario’s Premier Doug Ford had threatened to invoke the notwithstanding clause if a stay was not granted. The notwithstanding clause allows the federal government or a provincial government to enact legislation that overrides certain fundamental freedoms, legal rights, and equality rights guaranteed in the Charter. Premier Ford further warned that he would not hesitate to use the notwithstanding clause in the future, without providing specific details.

The Panel Discussion

The panelists all provided unique perspectives regarding the constitutional challenge to the Better Local Government Act and the notwithstanding clause itself.

Above the Law panelists: Prof Yasmin Dawood, Prof Lorraine Weinrib, Steven Barrett [click on photo for link to webcast of panel]

Professor Dawood summarized the Superior Court and Court of Appeal decisions. She noted the that it was “novel” to argue that the Better Local Government Act infringed s.2(b) by depriving voters of their right to cast a vote that would enable effective representation. She questioned whether the legislation also infringed the s.2(b) rights of political donors.  Professor Dawood ultimately concluded, “Interrupting an election midstream is inappropriate and completely inconsistent with notions of democratic and electoral fairness, even if it is the case that the provincial government has the power to do so.” Democratic legitimacy and electoral fairness requires that the provincial government consult all stakeholders before changing election laws.

Professor Weinrib focused on the principles that govern use of the notwithstanding clause. She emphasized that the drafters envisioned the notwithstanding clause as a narrow exception, used only when a Charter right would “fundamentally damage society’s stability and well-being.” She added that the notwithstanding clause cannot be applied retroactively; in this case, the provincial government cannot invoke the clause since candidates already spent resources, social capital, volunteers, and energy; and interacted with their constituents. Professor Weinrib further criticized Premier Ford for threatening to invoke the notwithstanding clause whenever the courts strike down provincial legislation as unconstitutional. She recommended asking the Supreme Court of Canada to clarify the constitutional principles that govern the use of the notwithstanding clause.

Mr. Barrett discussed specific Charter arguments made in the case, as well as the Court of Appeal’s decision. He commented that for the stay application, it was “unusual” for the Court of Appeal to examine the substantive merits of the s.2(b) argument rather than the usual factors for a stay application. He criticized the Court of Appeal for ignoring how the Better Local Government Act undermines the effectiveness of candidates’ political speech. Mr. Barrett criticized Premier Ford for threatening to routinely use the notwithstanding clause in the future as well. He warned this threat has a “corrosive effect” on judicial legitimacy and potentially judicial independence. Individuals must make it clear that using the notwithstanding clause is only appropriate in exceptional circumstances.

Other Uses of the Notwithstanding Clause

Provincial governments have rarely used the notwithstanding clause, particularly for its intended legal function. From 1982 to 1985, the Parti Québécois placed a notwithstanding clause in all of its new legislation and retroactively amended all existing laws to include such a clause in order to protest the enactment of the Constitution Act, 1982, which it had not signed. Its actions were a political protest, rather than aimed at protecting a specific law from a Charter challenge.

In 1988, Quebec’s provincial government invoked the notwithstanding clause in response to the companion cases, Ford v Quebec (AG) and Devine v Quebec (AG), which struck down provincial legislation that prohibited the public use of all languages other than French. The legislation already had a notwithstanding clause to override s.2(b) of the Charter; however, the Supreme Court of Canada held that the legislation unjustifiably infringed a similar guarantee in Quebec’s Charter of Rights and Freedoms. The provincial government then introduced a virtually identical bill, except with clauses to override the Charter and the Quebec Charter for a five-year period. Following the expiration of this period, the provincial government amended the law. The amended law did not include a notwithstanding clause.

In 2017, Saskatchewan’s provincial government used the notwithstanding clause in the School Choice Protection Act. Its use responded to Good Spirit School Division No. 204 v Christ the Teacher Roman Catholic Separate School Division No. 212, which held that funding non-Catholic students who attended Catholic schools was an unjustified infringement of s.2(a) and s.15(1) of the Charter. Saskatchewan Premier Brad Wall justified its use on the basis that the legislation would protect school choice for parents and students, including faith-based options. There was no political opposition to its use.

Most recently, Québec Premier François Legault threatened to use the notwithstanding clause in order to pass a controversial “secularism law.” This proposed legislation would prevent public servants – including teachers, police officers, and judges – from wearing religious garments while performing public functions. The law is widely interpreted as targeting Muslim women who wear a niqab.

It is hoped that Ford and Legault’s recent threats will not embolden others to invoke the notwithstanding clause inappropriately. In light of these threats, the appropriate use of the Constitution’s notwithstanding clause must continue to be scrutinized, perhaps as Professor Weinrib suggested by the Supreme Court of Canada itself.

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. 

The Achampong court challenge: read the legal arguments here

 

On September 10, 2018 Superior Court Justice Edward Belobaba ruled that Premier Doug Ford’s Bill 5 – the so-called Better Local Government Act – to reduce Toronto’s city council from 47 wards to 25, breached s. 2(b) of the Charter and was therefore unconstitutional. Shortly thereafter Premier Ford announced that not only was his government going to appeal the court’s decision, but he was going to invoke the Constitution’s “notwithstanding clause” for the first time in Ontario’s history to override the judge’s decision. The revised Bill has been introduced in the legislature with debates lasting into the late night; while a stay application, pending the appeal of the court decision, has been scheduled for Tuesday, September 18th. 

The David Asper Centre for Constitutional Rights is carefully observing the events as they unfold and is pleased to be convening a moderated panel discussion on Thursday Sept 20th at 4:30-6:00pm at the University of Toronto Faculty of Law (J250 Jackman Law Building, 78 Queens Park) in order to unpack the various legal issues involved in this unprecedented case.

Panel members will include two of our faculty’s Constitutional Law Professors Lorraine Weinrib and Yasmin Dawood, and litigator Steven Barrett of Goldblatt Partners LLP.

View the EVENT POSTER here.

The Asper Centre has collected the relevant court papers in the case and is pleased to share them here:

Achampong – Factum

ACHAMPONG decision Superior Court Sept 10 2018

City of Toronto – Factum (Stay Motion) (Motion File No M49615)

City of Toronto Factum CTF Factum

Factum – Stay pending appeal FINAL (for service and filing) v 2

Factum of the Intervenors, Hollett et al.

Factum of the Proposed Intervener returnable September 18, 2018

Factum of the Responding Parties, Chris Moise et al. (01193002)

Factum_Achampong_Stay C65861 M49615

Hollett – Factum (stay)

Moise – Factum

Moise – Reply Factum of the Applicants (01187040)

Supplementary Factum FINAL

 

 

External audit of immigration detention review shows pattern of serious Charter violations

By Cheryl Milne

On July 20, 2018, the Immigration and Refugee Board of Canada released an external audit performed by independent auditor, Katherine Laird, on Canada’s immigration detention review system. She examined randomly selected cases where immigration detention exceeded 100 days. The report documents serious concerns about procedural fairness leading to lengthy incarceration. A review of the document headings shows a litany of unfair practices and barriers to justice that have left many detainees languishing in detention with little hope of release. They include:

  • Failure to allow the detained person to hear and present evidence;
  • Failure to decide afresh as required by the legislation;
  • Uncritical reliance on Canadian Border Security Agency Hearing Officers;
  • Barriers to participation of detained person in the hearing; among others.

The overall finding, articulated as “notable discrepancies between the expectations articulated by the courts and the practice of the Immigration Division,” is based upon many specific instances of practices that show an administrative system that has become one-sided, unfair and callous to the impact of long-term incarceration on individuals.

Calling many of the practices a fundamental breach of natural justice, the report references the Federal Court in Brown v Canada (Citizenship and Immigration):

“Citing Charkaoui, the Court stated:

Before the state can detain people for significant periods of time, it must accord them a fair process. This basic principle has a number of facets. It comprises the right to a hearing. It requires that the hearing be before an independent and impartial decision-maker. It demands a decision based on the facts and the law. It entails the right to know the case put against one, and the right to answer that case.

The liberty interests as stake are significant – cases reviewed involved detention of more than four months – thus invoking the principles of fundamental justice that provide the necessary limit on government action. While the majority of persons in the immigration detention system (88%) are released within 90 days, this is still a significant amount of time. Of those held longer, 64% were released within 180 days (based on 2017 statistics). However, also in 2017, 80 individuals remained in detention for over a year. For those people the detention review hearings seemed to be most problematic and the breaches of fairness most pronounced.

The most problematic jurisdiction examined is the Central Region encompassing most of Ontario. Not surprising, this is the district in which virtually no legal aid was provided to detainees and where fewer detainees therefore had the benefit of legal representation. The auditor also found that the practices of Canadian Border Services Agency were often more adversarial in this jurisdiction.

Overall it is a strong indictment of an administrative system that seems inured to the impact of detention on individuals and oblivious to the obligations of the government under the Charter. The audit finds that too often the onus of proof seemed to have slipped over to the detained person to demonstrate why they should be released, when the original grounds for detention were on shaky factual grounds.

The report makes a number of recommendations, but what is clear is that a cultural change is needed. The auditor notes that the Immigration Division should “encourage a tribunal culture that values compassionate adjudication”. But more than an attitudinal shift is needed. Only substantive reform will fix a system that has skewed so far from the rule of law and the Charter of Rights and Freedoms.

Image by Diego Torres Silvestre

Selected responses to R v Comeau

By Sara Tatelman

Beer remains imprisoned by provincial borders. In 2012, Gerard Comeau of Tracadie, N.B. was fined nearly $300 for bringing 15 cases of beer and three bottles of spirits from Quebec to New Brunswick. His battle against the law behind that fine has finally wound its way up through the courts.

Last month, in the final word on the matter, the Supreme Court of Canada reversed the trial judge’s decision and found constitutional s. 134(b) of the New Brunswick Liquor Control Act, which limits the amount of extra-provincial Canadian alcohol individuals can bring into the province. The Court determined laws that aim to curtail the inter-provincial passage of goods, whether directly through tariffs or indirectly through fines, violate s. 121 of the Constitution Act, 1867, which states that all items manufactured in any province must be “admitted free” into the other provinces. But laws with different aims that incidentally curtail such passage do not violate s. 121. In this case, the Court noted the legislation aims “not to restrict trade across a provincial boundary, but to enable public supervision of the production, movement, sale and use of alcohol within New Brunswick” (para 124). Furthermore, the impugned provision targets black market bourbon and Fredericton-brewed rotgut, as well as cheap Quebec beer and crisp Okanagan Pinot Gris. So the liquor limits are byproducts of another regulatory scheme, and therefore permissible.

Before addressing the constitutionality of s. 134(b), the Court “deliver[ed] a benchslap to the trial judge” for disregarding its 1921 decision in Gold Seal Ltd. V Attorney-General for the Province of Alberta, as Professor Leonid Sirota of the Auckland University of Technology Law School wrote on his blog, Double Aspect. Based on the Bedford and Carter exceptions to vertical stare decisis, the trial judge ignored precedent because of a new historical assessment of the intent behind s. 121. The Court determined this wasn’t sufficient, since “the underlying social context that framed the original legal debate [must be] profoundly altered” (para 31) and such a re-assessment doesn’t do so.

Ironically, Sirota argues, the Court doesn’t uphold Gold Seal either. In that decision, outright tariffs on inter-provincial trade are banned. But post-Comeau, provinces could impose tariffs as long as they’re rationally connected to a regulatory scheme with a non-trade objective. “So much for stare decisis,” he writes.

In a commentary in the National Post, Professor David Schneiderman of the University of Toronto Faculty of Law notes it’s unsurprising the Court gives little weight to the historical context, “to some imagined framing moment derived almost exclusively from the pen of a single British draftsperson.” That is, under the “living tree” interpretation of the Constitution, purported intentions don’t matter all that much.

Professor Malcolm Lavoie of the University of Alberta Faculty of Law argues in a CBC column that the Court could have reached a fairer balance between federal and provincial powers by simply mandating a test more robust than rational connection, such as a test of necessity. “Under this approach, the government of New Brunswick would have had to establish that its prohibition on outside liquor was truly necessary to achieve objectives relating to public health and safety, a much higher bar than the one the Court applied,” he writes.

Furthermore, Lavoie points out that the Court’s interpretation of s. 121 renders it obsolete: under s. 91 of the Constitution Act, 1867, interprovincial trade is a federal head of power. That is, it was already impossible for provincial governments to directly impose tariffs on goods coming in from other provinces.

In the Toronto Star, Dr. Maria Banda, a visiting fellow at the University of Toronto Faculty of Law, has a more positive view of the decision. Comeau ensures that provinces with higher environmental or health standards, for example, don’t risk “being dragged down to the lowest common denominator by those with lax or inexistent regulations,” she writes.

This decision will likely reverberate throughout the country, including in Alberta and British Columbia’s pipeline dispute. Those provinces should see Comeau as a warning “that they’re not going to be able to rely on their own jurisdiction under the Constitution to do things that will either interfere in federal jurisdiction or will interrupt the free flow of natural resources that is normally supposed to occur without discrimination between provinces,” Professor Carissima Mathen of the University of Ottawa Faculty of Law, said in an interview in Maclean’s.

For his part, Schneiderman argues it’s now less likely Alberta’s Bill 12 will be held to be constitutional. The principle aim of the bill, which requires government permission to export petroleum resources, is “to economically harm a recalcitrant province for interfering with Alberta’s ability to get its oil to port,” he writes. And under Comeau, that cannot be countenanced.

So is it time to #FreeTheBeer, #FreeTheGrapes and #FreeTheOil?

Sara Tatelman is the Asper Centre’s 2018 summer research assistant.