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.

The Constitutional validity of separate school funding

by Jeffrey Wang

On April 20th, 2017, Justice Layh of the Saskatchewan Queen’s Bench released the decision of Good Spirit School Division No. 204 v. Christ the Teacher Roman Catholic Separate School Division No. 212, ruling that public funding for non-Catholic students to attend Catholic schools is unconstitutional. In other words, this decision means that non-Catholic students can no longer attend Catholic schools in Saskatchewan. As can be expected, this ruling has been controversial, leading the Saskatchewan premier to invoke the notwithstanding clause. It has the potential to affect all Catholic students in Saskatchewan, Alberta, and Ontario, three provinces subject to denominational school rights. On March 13th, the case was heard at the Court of Appeal but no decision has been yet released.  

Background  

In 2003, the public school in Theodore Saskatchewan was shut down due to an insufficient student population. The school board planned to bus all 42 students to a nearby school instead. However, since Saskatchewan is subject to denominational school rights under the Constitution, the parents of Theodore voted to open a Catholic school (St. Theodore Roman Catholic School) even though the majority of students were not Catholic. Nonetheless, the majority of the 42 students chose not to be bussed to the public school, meaning that the public school board received less funding. In response, the school board (Good Spirit School Division) launched a suit claiming that the Catholic school cannot receive funding for non-Catholic students based on s.93 of the BNA Act, and s.2(a) and s.15 of the Charter. 

Case Summary   

This case is over 200 pages long, addressing numerous constitutional and procedural issues. This article will focus on two of them. Firstly, is the government’s funding of non-Catholic students in Catholic schools a constitutionally protected right under s.93 of the BNA Act? Secondly, if not, does it infringe s.2(a) and/or s.15 of the Charter? 

s.93 of the BNA Act  

S.29 of the Charter is clear that Charter rights do not apply to the denominational schoolprotected under s.93 of the BNA ActBut what parts of denominational schools are barred from Charter review? In Greater Montreal Protestant School Board v Quebec, the SCC ruled that s.93(1) only covers the denominational aspects of Catholic/Protestant education and the non-denominational aspects necessary to deliver these denominational aspects.1 This has been termed the denominational aspects test. The Good Spirit School Division (GSSD) argues that the admission of non-Catholic students is not a denominational aspect since the purpose of denominational schools is to be separate from the majority.2 They assert that Catholic schools were historically seen as entirely separate from regular education, and that Catholic organizers did not historically want non-Catholics to attend.3 On the other hand, the Catholic school argues that no specific admission requirements were historically outlined for Catholic schools,4 and that spreading the word of God to non-Catholics has always been a part of Catholic education.5  

Justice Layh rules that the funding of non-Catholic students does not pass the denominational aspects test and thus is not immune to Charter review. He leans heavily on the historical fact that those who fought for separate school rights wanted those schools to be separate from the majority  they were a way for the minority faith to remove their children from majority influences and sustain their religion.6 In addition, he asserts that even if it is accepted that spreading Catholicism is a part of Catholic education, the protected denominational aspect of Catholic education is the transmission of Catholic values to Catholic children rather than non-Catholic children.7 With this view, he finds that the admission of non-Catholics into Catholic schools cannot be protected under the denominational school rights negotiated in the BNA Act 

s.2(a) and s.15 of the Charter 

Proceeding to the Charter analysis, Justice Layh finds that funding non-Catholics to attend Catholic schools violates s.2(a) and s.15. He undertakes a religious neutrality analysis, ruling that funding students at the public expense to subscribe to one religion violates the government’s duty of neutrality under s.2(a).8 Similarly, Justice Layh finds that funding non-Catholic students to attend Catholic schools also violates s.15 – the funding allows members of the Catholic faith to promote Catholicism over other religions, and allows Catholic parents to fund education in their faith over parents of other faiths.9  

Conclusion  

It is unclear as of now where the law stands, since the appeal decision has not been released and the notwithstanding clause has been invoked. However, this case has already inspired litigation focusing on the admission of English students into constitutionally protected French schools.10 If Justice Layh’s decision is upheld, many Catholic school students may be forced to transfer schools and Catholic school boards around the country could lose large amounts of funding.  

Jeffrey Wang is a 2L JD Candidate at the Faculty of Law.

R v Bird: Do Not “Breach First, Challenge Later”

by Sahil Kesar

Spencer Bird (“Bird”), a long-term offender, was charged with breaching the conditions of a community supervision order prescribed by the Parole Board. At the criminal proceeding, he sought to use the defence that the order which imposed his parole conditions was unconstitutional as they violated Section 7 of the Charter. He argued that the condition that he reside in a facility that was designated a penitentiary for the community portion of his sentence breached his right to liberty. At trial, Bird was successful only to have the decision overturned and to be convicted on appeal on the basis that he could not collaterally attack the parole condition in this manner. The Supreme Court of Canada (“SCC”) drew upon the doctrine of collateral attack based on the approach developed in R v Consolidated Maybrun Mines Ltd and R v Al Klippert Ltd to determine its applicability when the constitutionality of an administrative order is challenged collaterally, rather than appealed or judicially reviewed directly.

The majority dismissed the appeal on the basis that Bird was precluded from collaterally attacking the long-term supervision order (“LTSO”) prescribed by the Parole Board. Analyzing the factors of the Maybrun framework, Moldaver J determined that Parliament could not have intended to let offenders “breach first” and “challenge later” the LTSO conditions imposed on them by the Parole Board. Further, the availability of other options for Bird to pursue his constitutional rights favoured not allowing the collateral attack especially since Parliament intended to defer to the judgment of the Parole Board, given the wording of the legislative scheme. Moldaver J did find, however, that the final factor of the Maybrun framework favoured allowing the collateral attack; however, after weighing all the factors of the Maybrun framework, Moldaver J concluded that Parliament did not intend to have LTSO conditions collaterally attacked in the case at hand and dismissed the appeal.

Martin J, in a concurring opinion, also dismissed the appeal but on the basis that the LTSO conditions did not violate the Charter, concluding that Bird could collaterally attack the LTSO conditions imposed by the Parole Board in his defence. Martin J differed in her approach to the factors enumerated in the Maybrun framework. She was of the view that allowing a collateral attack does not amount to a “breach first, challenge later” approach since breaching LTSO conditions is not a strategic plan, especially since it could potentially lead to an additional 10-year sentence. Martin J also found that none of the options listed by the majority, which Bird could have sought instead of breaching his LTSO conditions, were adequate and intended by Parliament to use in this specific legislative scheme, particularly habeas corpus. She also found that the fifth factor weighed in favour of allowing the collateral attack.

Looking at the Charter arguments, Martin J dismissed the Section 9 and 11 arguments on the basis that this was not an exceptional case where she should hear Charter arguments not previously raised. On the Section 7 argument, Martin J disagreed with Bird’s arguments that the residency condition imposed on him was arbitrary. She found that the broad definition of penitentiary does not amount to him being forced to serve an arbitrary extension of his carceral sentence. She also found that the distinctions between other parolees and long-term offenders do not indicate that long-term offenders were not to be housed where Bird was being forced to reside. Ultimately, Bird’s residency condition was within the ability of the Parole Board to impose and was based on his particular circumstances.

The Asper Centre intervened in this appeal. The Centre made four submissions:

  1. First, the Asper Centre’s sought to have constitutional considerations made explicit in the Maybrun This was based on two assertions. First, Maybrun was not a constitutional case but the jurisprudence it drew on provided for the balancing of legislative intent against constitutional considerations. Particularly, the US jurisprudence points towards the idea that courts should not ignore a defendant’s constitutional rights or the practical availability of prescribed remedies when deciding whether to permit a collateral attack on an administrative order. Second, the Maybrun framework implicitly permits constitutional considerations. Since the framework is intended to protect the rule of law by determining the legislature’s intended forum for relief, it must do so in a way that encourages compliance with the constitution because the principle of constitutionalism requires state action to comply with the constitution. Divorcing Charter rights from the Maybrun framework creates a perverse situation where an administrative decision is neither rooted in law nor constitutionally compliant.
  2. Second, the Asper Centre sought to have the repute of the administration of justice included as an enumerated factor under the Maybrun Denying a collateral attack when Charter rights are at stake would bring the administration of justice into disrepute, as shown in certain other examples.
  3. Third, with emphasis on seeking judicial review in Federal Court, the Asper Centre sought to have access to justice considered in the Maybrun Judicial review in Federal Court is not timely or accessible for three reasons: 1) the requirement to exhaust complex and ineffective internal reviews; 2) the difficulty in obtaining deadline extensions in Federal Court; and 3) the protracted time period required to obtain judicial review.
  4. Fourth, allowing collateral attacks does not prejudice the Crown. There is no impact on the standard of review. The Crown asserted that allowing the collateral attack would distort the standard of review since constitutional questions would be considered under correctness instead of reasonableness. However, reasonableness would be applied under Dore, not correctness as they assert.

Moldaver J for the majority, asserted that the two principles that underlie the approach to collateral attacks on court orders are accounted for in the Maybrun framework for administrative orders. The framework adequately balances legislative intent with ensuring effective means for recourse to individuals challenging administrative orders. As such, this rejects the notion that constitutional considerations or the repute of the administration of justice (submissions one and two of the Asper Centre) need to be explicitly included since the framework already accounts for the rule of law and the repute of the administration of justice.

Moldaver J made reference to the Asper Centre’s third submission at paragraph 57. He accepted that there are realistic concerns over timeliness and accessibility of relief in Federal Court and that efficiency and timeliness are of greater importance when liberty is concerned. However, he held that Bird received notice of the Parole Board’s decision to impose residency conditions five months before his long-term supervision commenced, therefore giving him ample time to seek judicial review. Moldaver J stated that concerns about timeliness of judicial review was speculation and that Parliament might want to consider whether the procedures in place governing judicial review could be modified to provide more timely and accessible relief. However, he did not make access to justice a consideration in the Maybrun framework. Martin J, in her concurring opinion also accepted that Bird would have been unlikely to have the resources to secure counsel or self-represent himself for the purpose of navigating judicial review proceedings. She did consider the access to justice issues that this raises as the absence of an internal appeal process cannot mean Parliament intends individuals to navigate Federal Court.

Neither the majority nor the concurrence directly addressed the Asper Centre’s fourth submission.

Read the Asper Centre’s Factum in the Bird Appeal here.

Sahil Kesar is a 3L JD Candidate at the University of Toronto Faculty of Law and is currently the Asper Centre half-time 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