Meet Nader Hasan, the Asper Centre’s New Constitutional Litigator-in-Residence

By Amy Chen

Nader Hasan, a partner at Stockwoods LLP and one of Canada’s leading appellate lawyers, will be co-teaching the Asper Centre’s clinic course this fall as the constitutional litigator-in-residence. He graciously sat down with me to discuss his legal education, career history, and hopes for the upcoming term.

Mr. Hasan has a long and varied career in criminal, constitutional, and regulatory law. Surprisingly, law school was not always the plan. “Like many children of immigrants, there was the expectation and hope that I would eventually become a doctor,” Mr. Hasan said. However, “along the way, I became really passionate about various social justice and human rights issues, both in the US, Canada, and around the world. That sparked my intellectual interest in the law.” His interest in the law was cemented after completing his undergraduate degree at Harvard in international human rights, as well as his Masters of Philosophy in international studies at Cambridge. Ultimately, he decided to begin his law career at the University of Toronto.

Mr. Hasan’s interest in constitutional law began in Professor Lorraine Weinrib’s constitutional law small group: “I learned about the power of the Charter, and how, if done properly and effectively, a constitutionally entrenched bill of rights could truly be a weapon on the side of good and justice… I knew early on in law school that I was very passionate about constitutional law, public law, and criminal law.” However, when considering heavy debt load and his need to care for his aging parents, Mr. Hasan began his career in a corporate firm in New York. Although Mr. Hasan was doing a lot of pro bono work on behalf of asylum seekers and the wrongfully convicted, he was only able to work on it in “from 10 pm to 3 am” after billing his normal hours. Still, he considered this a crucial step in his career: “in many ways it was a typical “Big Law” experience, but through this process I was able to learn a lot about what it meant to be a good lawyer, as well as the types of careers open to lawyers.”

Eventually, he returned to Canada to pursue a criminal/constitutional law career. Since then, Mr. Hasan has appeared as counsel in a number of high-profile constitutional law cases, including acting as lead counsel to the landmark Indigenous rights case Clyde River v. Petroleum Geo‑Services Inc. Most of the major cases he was involved in had humble beginnings: “these cases that end up at the Supreme Court of Canada, you don’t get there without a very carefully constructed record from the ground up, by interviewing people and doing your legal research. It is not glamorous, but all meaningful, with an important end goal in sight.” Right now, Mr. Hasan is working as lead counsel in Mathur et al v. HMQ, a constitutional challenge against Ontario’s greenhouse gas emissions targets. His rationale for working on this case was simple: “as a human being living in this day and age, we all have an obligation to move hearts and minds when it comes to climate change. I happen to be trained as a constitutional lawyer, and the way I know how to make a difference is constitutional litigation.”

At the Asper Centre this fall, Mr. Hasan will bring with him not just his significant constitutional litigation experiences, but also his extensive teaching and mentorship experiences. He has served as an adjunct professor at the University of Toronto law faculty since 2010, teaching the popular Crime and Punishment course and the criminal appellate externship. He hopes to nurture the passions that Asper Centre clinic students have for constitutional law: “I’m sure students have been told that you can’t make money in constitutional law, but if this is something you want to do, there are certainly avenues to pursue a constitutional law career.” He will illustrate these avenues by sharing his own experiences alongside the experiences of Asper Centre director Cheryl Milne and other guest speakers. Although this year’s clinic course will be unique, given that some students will be attending remotely, Mr. Hasan is optimistic that the course will proceed smoothly.

To end the interview, I asked Mr. Hasan what he believes to be the qualities that make a good constitutional lawyer. He did not hesitate in giving his answer – “it’s all about hard work and passion.” A strong case is comprised of dedicated people who are “willing to work whatever hours it takes with an unyielding attitude, knowing that they are fighting on the side of justice.”

The interview has been edited for clarity.

Amy (Jun) Chen is a 1L JD Candidate at the Faculty of Law and is the Asper Centre’s current summer Research Assistant.

COVID-19 Contact Tracing and Uncharted Constitutional Waters

by Amy Chen

On July 29, 2020, Lisa Austin, Andrea Slane, Vincent Chiao, and David Lie joined Director Cheryl Milne of the Asper Centre to discuss their collaborative research paper: Test, Trace, and Isolate: COVID-19 and the Canadian Constitution. The paper (also co-authored with Beth Coleman, Martha Shaffer, and François Tanguay-Renaud) reviews the benefits, limitations, and constitutional implications of contact tracing apps. The webinar can be viewed online here.

What are Contact Tracing Apps?

Dr. Lie began the panel by giving an overview of the different types of contact tracing apps. Contact tracing is a method for controlling infectious disease outbreaks by identifying, notifying, and monitoring individuals who have been exposed to the disease. In response to the COVID-19 pandemic, countries have been utilizing smartphone apps to conduct digital contact tracing in conjunction with manual human contact tracing. These apps fall into two categories – apps that are centralized and integrated with manual human contact tracing, and apps that are decentralized and work parallel to manual tracing. Dr. Slane noted that different liberal democracies have tried different frameworks. Australia and Singapore have adopted the centralized approach; Germany, Austria, and Switzerland have adopted the decentralized approach; some countries (i.e. Bahrain, Kuwait) have tried more privacy-intrusive apps that collect GPS data.

Ontario will be using the decentralized model through an API developed and supported by Apple and Google. The app, which is currently in its beta testing phase, uses Bluetooth to communicate with other phones that have the app installed. This allows the app to track and record the names of those who have come into close contact. If an individual tests positive for COVID-19, they can voluntarily upload the list of recorded names onto the app’s server. If other users have been in contact with the same individuals, they will be notified through the app. The app may also show a “risk score” and recommend high-risk individuals to get tested.

Pros and Cons of the Decentralized Framework

There are two upsides to this decentralized framework: 1) it is technologically supported by Apple/Google and 2) it is more privacy-protective. However, the panelists stressed that this also means that there are many downsides. First, Professor Austin noted that Apple and Google’s role has not been sufficiently scrutinized. The app will be governed by the technical decisions of these large technological companies rather than the decisions of our democratically elected governments. While Australia has experienced some technical difficulties with their centralized app, their government has been able to pass legislation regarding data control and usage.

Second, a privacy-protective app means that the data is limited in its accuracy and effectiveness. Dr. Lie pointed out all the ways in which the data could be distorted. The app relies entirely on individuals to voluntarily report their positive diagnoses, which means that many positive cases could be missed. Users could put fake names on their phones or repeatedly change their names, which makes it harder to track infected individuals. Proximity data, which is calculated based on the strength of the phones’ Bluetooth signals, could be inaccurate if the signals are disrupted. It is uncertain what percentage of the population needs to get the app for it to be effective. It is even uncertain whether digital contact tracing would supplement manual contact tracing efforts.

The most concerning aspect about the decentralized approach is that health authorities will only have limited access to the data collected by the app. Health authorities would not be able to contact infected individuals and provide them with education and health support. They would not be able to assess the effectiveness of the app, particularly its effectiveness for vulnerable communities. Dr. Slane indicated that the app will not be accessible for individuals who do not have access to smartphones, who have language barriers, who distrust technology, and who distrust state action or surveillance. Publicly accessible data is needed to develop effective targeted approaches for communities that are disproportionately affected by the pandemic.

Digital Contact Tracing and the Charter

Digital contact tracing requires a balancing between our personal privacy rights and public health outcomes. As explained by Professor Austin and Professor Chiao, the Charter is an important framework in assessing how to balance these rights in a way that is justifiable in a free and democratic society.

The Federal Privacy Commissioner has stated that data collected by the apps must be used in a way that is consistent with the principles of necessity and proportionality. What that means is hard to assess ex ante since we are in “uncharted waters”, but there are several contextual factors to keep in mind. First, we would need to know exactly what Ontario’s public health goal is in pushing out contact tracing apps. If the goal is to make manual tracing more effective, it may be harder for the government to justify why a decentralized privacy-protective app is necessary or proportional.  Second, privacy rights dictated by the Charter are traditionally assessed a criminal “state vs. individual” context. While courts may be concerned with protecting individuals from the overreach of state power in the criminal context, individual privacy rights may be given less weight in the context of a public health emergency. Finally, how the rights will be balanced will likely be determined through political decisions rather than through legal decisions.  If the app is widely perceived to be effective, courts are unlikely to disturb the government’s decision. If the app is perceived to be ineffective, the government will likely take actions without prompting from the courts.

Digital contact tracing could engage both s. 7 and s. 8 Charter interests. The apps could engage an individual’s interests in life, liberty, and security if the data was used to enforce quarantine or lift isolation measures in an unsafe manner. Whether the principles of fundamental justice would be violated would depend on a multitude of variables that cannot be determined at this time. In addition, the apps could engage our privacy interests associated with our anonymity or our biological cores. The nature and scope of the section 8 right would be context-specific. For instance, individuals may inadvertently waive or diminish their reasonable expectation of privacy by volunteering data and accepting the terms and conditions of the app. On the other hand, section 8 may protect individual privacy if data was used for purposes that were not consented to (i.e. law enforcement, immigration). Individual privacy rights may also be engaged in circumstances that are not governed by the Charter. Businesses may conduct informal voluntary screening questionnaires as a condition for accessing services, or employers may ask employees to use the digital tracing apps in the workplace. These issues would have to be dealt with through quasi-constitutional private sector data protection laws.

Ultimately, the panelists argue that digital contact tracing must be integrated alongside traditional human contact tracing for there to be effective health outcomes. Given the shifting public health landscape, the scope of the legal ramifications of contact tracing apps is still unknown. The panelists stressed that public trust in the app, our governments, and our public health authorities will be crucial in determining the effectiveness of digital contact tracing.

Amy (Jun) Chen is a 1L JD Candidate at the Faculty of Law and is the Asper Centre’s current summer Research Assistant.

LEAF and the Asper Centre welcome the Ontario Court of Appeal’s Decision in R. v. Sharma

 

A majority of the Ontario Court of Appeal has struck down Criminal Code provisions which made conditional sentences unavailable for certain offences. The ruling comes in response to Cheyenne Sharma’s constitutional challenge to these provisions, and explicitly acknowledges and draws on the arguments and information provided by LEAF and the Asper Centre in their joint intervention.

Ms. Sharma – a young Indigenous woman, an intergenerational residential school survivor, and a single mother – faced financial hardship and potential eviction for her and her young daughter. She acted as a drug courier, importing 2 kg of cocaine into Canada, and then pleaded guilty to importing drugs.

As an Indigenous person, Ms. Sharma is entitled to the use of the Gladue framework. The Gladue framework is an individualized approach to sentencing that requires judges to consider the impact of systemic factors such as intergenerational trauma of residential schools and the harms of colonial oppression, and to consider alternatives to incarceration when sentencing Indigenous offenders. These options include conditional sentences, a community-based alternative to a custodial sentence.

However, 2012 amendments to the Criminal Code made conditional sentences unavailable for offences with a maximum penalty of 14 years or life in prison, and for offences involving the import, export, trafficking, or production of drugs, with a maximum penalty of 10 years in prison. As a result, Ms. Sharma was not eligible for a conditional sentence. Ms. Sharma argued that the provisions violated her rights under section 15 of the Charter, but the trial judge did not accept these arguments and imposed a custodial sentence.

LEAF and the Asper Centre intervened before the Ontario Court of Appeal to argue that the constitutionality of the provisions needed to be assessed in the context of systemic discrimination against Indigenous people, especially Indigenous women, in the administration of criminal justice.

This discrimination is clearly evident in the overwhelming overincarceration of Indigenous people, particularly Indigenous women, in Canada. In 2017/2018, Indigenous persons represented approximately four percent of the adult population in Canada, but accounted for 30 percent of admissions to provincial or territorial custody, and 28 percent of admissions to federal custody. The crisis of overincarceration has worsened over time. Between 2007/2008 and 2017/2018, for example, the number of admissions of Indigenous women to provincial/territorial custody increased by 66 percent.

The majority’s decision means that conditional sentences will now be an available option for trial judges to consider in sentencing Indigenous offenders for a wide variety of offences, provided other requirements are also met (including that the sentence is less than two years, and serving the sentence in the community will not endanger the community).

Ms. Sharma will not get to see the direct benefit of her victory, having already served her jail sentence before the appeal. The decision, however, will help to ensure that, moving forward, Indigenous offenders receive the benefit of the different approach to sentencing enshrined in the Gladue framework. It will also serve as a small step towards reducing the overincarceration of Indigenous people and in particular Indigenous women.

The majority’s decision represents an important articulation of substantive equality under section 15 of the Charter. Section 15, despite its potential for advancing equality, remains complex and under-applied. The majority’s analysis provides a clear example of how to apply section 15 where an applicant argues that a law appearing neutral on its face is discriminatory in its effect – and illustrates the potential of section 15 to be used as tool for addressing the overincarceration of Indigenous people, and Indigenous women in particular.

“We are extremely pleased with the decision in R. v. Sharma,” said Cheryl Milne, Executive Director of the David Asper Centre for Constitutional Rights.The Court’s decision affirms our position that substantive equality requires a different approach to criminal justice for Indigenous people. Allowing judges to consider conditional sentences in these cases should help contribute, incrementally, to reducing the overincarceration of Indigenous people.”

“This decision is a breakthrough in how courts think about section 15 of the Charter and criminal law, and affirms the substantive equality rights of Indigenous women in the criminal justice context.” said Megan Stephens, Executive Director and General Counsel of LEAF. “The majority decision is remarkable for both its analytical rigor and its compassion concerning the devastating consequences of the overincarceration of Indigenous women, and the ongoing intergenerational harms to Indigenous women caused by colonialism, sexism, and racism.”

Case Committee and Counsel

LEAF and the Asper Centre’s arguments were informed and supported by a case committee composed of academics and practitioners with expertise in the relevant issues. The committee members for this intervention are (in alphabetical order): Emma Cunliffe (Allard School of Law, University of British Columbia), Gillian Balfour (Department of Sociology, Trent University), Martha Shaffer (University of Toronto Faculty of Law), Mary Eberts OC, Naiomi Metallic (Schulich School of Law, Dalhousie University), Rakhi Ruparelia (Faculty of Law – Common Law Section, University of Ottawa), and Renée Pelletier (Olthius Kleer Townshend LLP).

We are grateful to pro bono counsel Adriel Weaver and Jessica Orkin of Goldblatt Partners LLP, who acted for LEAF and the Asper Centre in this important case.

About Women’s Legal Education and Action Fund (LEAF)

The Women’s Legal Education and Action Fund (LEAF) works to advance the substantive equality rights of women and girls through litigation, law reform, and public education. Since 1985, we have intervened in landmark cases that have advanced equality in Canada—helping to prevent violence, eliminate discrimination in the workplace, provide better maternity benefits, ensure a right to pay equity, and allow access to reproductive freedoms.

To support our work to protect the equality rights of women and girls, please consider donating today.

About David Asper Centre

The David Asper Centre for Constitutional Rights is devoted to realizing constitutional rights through advocacy, research and education. The Centre aims to play a vital role in articulating Canada’s constitutional vision to the broader world. The cornerstone of the Centre is a legal clinic that brings together students, faculty and members of the bar to work on significant constitutional cases and advocacy initiatives. The Centre was established through a generous gift from U of T law alumnus David Asper (LLM ’07). For more information please visit www.aspercentre.ca.

For media inquiries, contact:

Megan Stephens, Executive Director & General Counsel
Women’s Legal Education and Action Fund (LEAF)
T: 416-317-4440
E: m.stephens@leaf.ca

Cheryl Milne, Director
The David Asper Centre for Constitutional Rights
T: 416-540-7619
E: cheryl.milne@utoronto.ca

Young Climate Activists Attempt to Hold Province Accountable for Inadequate Emissions Target

By Amy Chen

In late 2019, Ecojustice and Stockwoods LLP initiated a constitutional challenge (“the Application”) against Ontario’s greenhouse gas reduction target on behalf of seven young climate activists (the “Applicants”). Ontario responded with a motion to strike. Mathur et al v Her Majesty the Queen in Right of Ontario was heard via teleconference on July 13, 2020, with judgment reserved.  The Applicants were represented by Nader Hasan, the Asper Centre’s upcoming constitutional litigator-in-residence, and Justin Safayeni.

Background

In 2018, the Ford provincial government passed the Cap and Trade Cancellation Act (“CTCA”), repealing the Climate Change Mitigation and Low-Carbon Economy Act (“old Climate Change Act”). Under s. 3(1) of the CTCA, the provincial government “shall establish targets for the reduction of greenhouse gas emissions in Ontario and may revise the targets from time to time”. The new target is set out in the province’s new Environmental Plan: “Ontario will reduce its emissions by 30% below 2005 levels by 2030”.  In comparison, the old target (when calibrated) was to reduce the emissions by about 45%.

The public interest Applicants (Sophia Mathur, Zoe Keary-Matzner, Shaelyn Wabegijig, Shelby Gagnon, Alex Neufeldt, Madison Dyck, Beze Gray) in the present case are climate activists between the ages of 13 and 24. The Applicants argue that the new target, as well as the repeal of the old Climate Change Act, violates the rights of Ontario youth and future generations under ss. 7 and 15 of the Charter. Ontario is exacerbating the current climate emergency and threatening the lives of all Ontarians by weakening the province’s target. Canada has an international obligation, under the Paris Agreement, to limit global warming to 1.5 oC above pre-industrial levels and prevent the effects of climate change from becoming irreversible. Ontario’s greenhouse gas emission levels will be too high to meet this obligation even if the target is fulfilled, making the target arbitrary and irrational. The Applicants seek mandatory orders requiring Ontario to set a “science-based” greenhouse gas reduction target for 2030 and to revise its climate action plan accordingly.

Summary of Motion Hearing

The issue of the motion was whether the Application should be struck for disclosing no reasonable cause of action.  The hearing primarily revolved around three issues: (1) whether the Application is justiciable, (2) whether the claims within the Application are “inherently speculative in nature”, and (3) whether the Application requires the recognition of positive rights, and if so, whether the Application can be struck on that basis.

(1) Whether the Application is Justiciable

Ontario’s first argument was that the Application is non-justiciable, or that the courts do not have the institutional capacity or legitimacy to adjudicate on this case. Ontario relied on Tanudjaja v Attorney General of Canada, a Charter challenge against the “social conditions” created by the federal and provincial governments that perpetuate homelessness and inadequate housing. The Ontario Court of Appeal found the case to be non-justiciable because there was “no judicially discoverable and manageable standard for assessing… whether [the governments’] housing policy is adequate”. Ontario argued that this Application, like Tanudjaja, asks the Court to assess the soundness of public policy, which is beyond its institutional capacity. The target is a piece of public policy that outlines Ontario’s “aspirations” regarding climate action, not a legally binding commitment.  The Applicants are asking Ontario to establish a “science-based” target that would allow for a “stable climate system”; these are not concrete, legal parameters that could be judicially reviewed.

The Applicants argue that the target is a policy made in pursuant to a statutory mandate (the CTCA), which falls under the definition of “law” for the purposes of a Charter challenge (Greater Vancouver Transportation Authority v. Canadian Federation of Students). The Applicants are challenging actual laws, not merely “social conditions”, and seeking relief defined by scientifically knowable standards. These standards can be judicially determined and have been judicially determined by courts in international jurisdictions. Neither complexity nor novelty can justify striking the claim.

(2) Whether the Application is “Inherently Speculative In Nature”

Section 7 Charter claims cannot be premised on speculations about the effects of government action (Operation Dismantle v. The Queen).  Ontario’s second argument was that the Applicants’ section 7 claims are speculative and incapable of being proven – the claims assume that the target determines actual emissions, that the target will not change, and that federal policy will not have an effect on Ontario’s emissions.

The Applicants argue that they fully intend to prove their claims based on expert evidence, and whether they would be successful in doing so should be determined at a hearing on its merits. As per Bedford v Canada and Canada v PHS Community Services Society, Charter applicants only have to establish a “real and substantial connection” between the impugned government conduct and the alleged harm. The Applicants are allowed to seek relief for potential future harms even if the government is not the dominant cause of these future harms.

(3)The Issue of Positive Rights

Ontario’s final arguments concerned the government’s positive obligations. First, Ontario does not have any constitutional obligations to keep the old Climate Change Act. Unless there was a constitutional obligation to enact the old legislation, the Ontario legislature is free to repeal and replace it (Barbra Schlifer Commemorative Clinic v. Canada). Second, the Applicant is asking Ontario to take positive steps to combat the adverse effects of climate change, even though neither ss. 15 or 7 of the Charter gives individuals positive rights. Although Gosselin v. Québec left open the possibility that there may be “special circumstances” where positive rights could be recognized, many appellate cases have declined to recognize these positive rights. The lower courts are therefore bound by precedent until the Supreme Court of Canada changes the law (Tanudjaja, trial decision).

The Applicants argue that this case does not require the recognition of positive rights. This case is not merely challenging the repeal of legislation or government inaction, but directly challenging government action. The Ontario government regulates, authorizes, and incentivizes dangerous levels of greenhouse gas emissions through the CTCA and the target. The law is clear that this authorization and regulation is enough to constitute a reasonable cause of action (Dixon v. Director, Ministry of the Environment). The Applicants do not seek a declaration regarding HOW the target is to be achieved, and hence are not demanding any positive obligations from the government. They are merely demanding that the target and the climate action plan be constitutionally compliant.  Even if this Application requires the recognition of positive rights, many courts have relied on Gosselin to deny motions to strike. To strike the claim at this stage would freeze section 7 rights in a manner that is contrary to the “living tree” constitutional interpretive principle.

What Next?

The outcome of this motion will serve as a critical turning point in the fight for climate justice by answering one key question:  Can the provincial government be held legally accountable for its inadequate climate action plan? In an interview with the Asper Centre, Mr. Hasan posited that there could be positive outcomes for climate justice whether the claim is struck or not. If the claim is struck, the Applicants would likely appeal the decision; such an outcome would give the appellate courts an opportunity to consider the complex legal issues involved and set a precedent for climate change litigation in Canada. If the claim proceeds, the Applicants would be permitted to present their evidentiary record. A judge would hear “striking and chilling” testimonies regarding the catastrophic effects of climate change and the fact that these effects will become irreversible if drastic action is not taken. As stated by Mr. Hasan: “I feel quite confident that, if we ever get the evidentiary record in front of a judge, the judges are going to want to do the right thing.”

Additional arguments were raised in the parties’ written submissions. Ontario’s arguments are stated in their notice of motion to strike. The Applicant’s arguments can be found in their factum and on their website.

For more information regarding our governments’ ss. 7 and 15 constitutional obligations to address  climate change, see the Asper Centre’s UTEA working group publication- “Give our Children A Future: The Moral and Legal Obligations of the Government of Canada to Act on Climate Change”.

Amy (Jun) Chen is a 1L JD Candidate at the Faculty of Law and is the Asper Centre’s current summer Research Assistant.

Supreme Court of Canada Affirms Asper Centre’s Position on Charter Damages 

The Supreme Court of Canada heard this appeal in Treaty One Territory (Winnipeg, Manitoba). This was the Court’s first time sitting outside of Ottawa. 

by Amy Chen

On June 12, 2020, the Supreme Court of Canada released its judgment on Conseil scolaire francophone de la Colombie-Britannique v. British Columbia. The primary issue was whether the Province of British Columbia  failed to adequately fund its French-language school board, therefore violating the board’s  s. 23 minority-language Charter rights. The secondary issue was whether the Province owed the school board damages for said violations under s. 24(1) of the Charter. The Asper Centre’s intervention focused on the scope of the government’s qualified immunity from Charter damages. The SCC affirmed the Asper Centre’s position – the government may only have qualified immunity from Charter damages if its actions are authorized by statute, not policy.

Background

The Conseil scolaire francophone de la Colombie‑Britannique (“CSF”) is the only French‑language school board in British Columbia. It submitted multiple s. 23 Charter claims against the Province, including, among other things, the Province freezing its funding for school transportation. The CSF sought a significant amount of damages under s. 24(1) of the Charter.

Damages may be awarded under s. 24(1) for a Charter breach where it is “appropriate and just” from the perspective of the claimant and the state (Vancouver (City) v. Ward [Ward]). The government may use its qualified immunity to oppose a damages award if it can prove that there are concerns of “good governance” or that alternate remedies are available. This qualified immunity was first established in Mackin v. New Brunswick [Mackin]: “absent conduct that is clearly wrong, in bad faith or an abuse of power, the courts will not award damages for the harm suffered as a result of the mere enactment or application of a law that is subsequently declared to be unconstitutional”. The immunity allows public officials to carry out their duties without fear of liability, in the event that the statute is later struck down (Ward).

The trial judge found that the Province’s freeze on transportation funding constituted an infringement of s. 23, and awarded CSF $6 million in damages. She concluded that the Province was not immune to damages in this case, as she did not foresee any chilling effects to good governance or government decision-making.

On appeal, the British Columbia Court of Appeal (BCCA) set aside the $6 million remedy, endorsing a broader reading of Mackin. A government can utilize its qualified immunity when fulfilling its legislative or policy-making function, excepting any conduct found to be “clearly wrong, in bad faith or an abuse of power”. The BCCA found precedent for this interpretation in the 2006 Ontario Court of Appeal case Wynberg v Ontario [Wynberg], which rejected a distinction between legislative and policy-making functions regarding the Mackin immunity. The trial judge was found to be in error for considering chilling effects and “overriding” the Province’s qualified immunity in the present case. The Province acted in good faith pursuant to policy, and therefore the CSF was not entitled to any damages.

The Asper Centre’s Position

The Asper Centre, as represented by Professor Kent Roach and Anisha Visvanatha (Norton Rose Fulbright Canada), opposed the BCCA’s extension of the scope of qualified immunity. In its factum, the Asper Centre stated that the BCCA erred in considering Wynberg, an outdated case that ignored the distinctions between s. 24(1) of the Charter and s. 52(1) of the Constitutional Act, 1982. Ward clearly limited the scope of the government’s qualified immunity to government actions taken under statutes, an approach which is principled, democratic, and based on the rule of law.

The Asper Centre further argued that an extension of the qualified immunity would place an unfair burden on Charter claimants. After establishing the existence of a Charter violation and a functional need for damages, claimants would still have to prove that the government acted in bad faith. Meanwhile, the government would have an incentive to argue that its impugned actions were authorized by policy. Since the definition of “policy” is so vague, excessive amounts of preliminary litigation would likely be required to determine the nature of the government action. Overall, an extension of the qualified immunity would restrict access to justice and access to remedies. It would place a significant evidentiary and financial burden on Charter claimants.

The Supreme Court Judgment

The Supreme Court held that the Province unjustifiably breached CSF’s s. 23 Charter rights in two instances: first, when they  denied CSF adequate funding for school transportation; second, when they denied  CSF an Annual Facilities Grant. The lower courts interpreted s. 23 too narrowly, without fully considering the section’s remedial purpose.

While a significant portion of the judgment concerned the interpretation of s. 23, the Majority adopted all of the Asper Centre’s arguments concerning remedies. They recognized that Ward was the appropriate authority and that the qualified immunity should only apply to state actions authorized by legislation. They agreed that it was appropriate for government immunity to apply “in respect of a well-defined instrument such as a law”, but not in respect of “undefined instruments with unclear limits, such as government policies”. It was also recognized that the extension would allow the government to avoid liability by claiming that their unlawful actions were authorized by policy, which would in turn restrict access to justice. The Majority restored the $6 million remedy and added a further $1.1 million remedy for the second s. 23 breach.

The Dissent stated that there was no principled basis to limit the application of Mackin to legislation. The question to be asked is not what the vehicle of state action was, but under what circumstances should the state be liable for damages. As Professor Roach comments, the dissent’s approach would still allow the government to insulate themselves from damages by claiming that their actions were authorized by policy.

Overall, Professor Roach is very satisfied with the outcome of this case. The Asper Centre has once again helped set a new precedent on Charter remedies and has provided significant input  at the Supreme Court level.

Amy (Jun) Chen is a 1L JD Candidate at the Faculty of Law and is the Asper Centre’s 2020 summer research assistant.