A Clear and Decisive Supreme Court Ruling on Public Interest Standing: Attorney General of British Columbia v. Council of Canadians with Disabilities

by Caitlin Salvino

On June 23rd, 2022 the Supreme Court of Canada (SCC) released its decision in Attorney General of British Columbia v. Council of Canadians with Disabilities.[1] This ruling reaffirms the important role of public interest standing in systemic litigation and will have long lasting impacts on future Charter litigation.

Public Interest Standing

All cases heard by the courts require parties to have standing.[2] In most cases parties have private interest standing through a direct legal interest in the case.[3] In some cases, there are no parties with private interest standing and a party may apply for public interest standing to pursue the litigation. The courts have long recognised that there must be limitations on public interest standing to avoid over-burdening the courts, deter “busybody” litigants, and maintain the appropriate role of the courts within Canada’s constitutional democracy.[4] The courts have thus developed a test to determine whether public interest standing should be granted.[5]

The leading case on public interest standing is Canada v Downtown Eastside Sex Workers United Against Violence Society.[6] In Downtown Eastside Sex Workers, the SCC established that the court will consider three factors in assessing public interest standing: (1) if there is a serious and justiciable issue;[7] (2) if the claimant has a genuine interest in the proceedings ;[8] and (3) if the litigation is a reasonable and effective means to bring forward the challenge.[9] Furthermore, the SCC stipulated that these three public interest standing factors should not be assessed as a checklist. Instead, the factors should be assessed cumulatively through a purposeful and flexible interpretive approach.[10]

Council of Canadians with Disabilities and the Jurisprudence on Public Interest Standing

Despite the criteria laid out in Downtown Eastside Sex Workers, less than ten years later the SCC granted leave  in Council of Canadians with Disabilities.[11]  The Council of Canadians with Disabilities (CCD) had sought public interest standing to challenge the constitutionality of the British Columbia’s Health Care (Consent) Act, Mental Health Act and Representation Agreement Act. This combined legislative scheme permits the administration of psychiatric medical treatment to patients living with disabilities related to mental health and mental illness without their consent. Unlike all other forms of medical treatment, when a patient is being involuntarily held in a mental health facility, psychiatric treatment can be administered without the consent of the patient or the patient’s identified substitute decision-maker.[12] The CCD argued that this legislative scheme violated sections 7 and 15 of the Charter in a way that could not be justified under section 1.[13]

Initially, the constitutional challenge was brought by individuals with private interest standing who had undergone non-consensual psychiatric treatment. The CCD was supporting this litigation as a co-plaintiff. However, the individual plaintiffs subsequently withdrew from the proceedings after the Attorney General of British Columbia requested their medical records.[14] The CCD then pursued the Charter claims independently by seeking public interest standing, which the Attorney General of British Columbia challenged. At the court of first instance, the Attorney General’s summary trial motion was granted and the CCD was denied public interest standing.[15] On appeal, the British Columbia Court of Appeal granted the CCD public interest standing.[16] The case was then granted leave to appeal to the SCC.[17]

In Council of Canadians with Disabilities, the SCC unanimously reaffirmed the public interest standing analysis established in Downtown Eastside Sex Workers. This decision is significant because it addresses interpretive gaps that remained from Downtown Eastside Sex Workers and sends a strong message affirming the important role of public interest standing parties within Canada’s constitutional democracy.

First, the SCC in Council of Canadians with Disabilities provided additional guidance on the public interest standing analysis. The court rejected the CCD’s argument, and the Court of Appeal’s finding, that the principles of legality and access to justice should merit particular weight in the public interest standing analysis.[18] Instead, the SCC held that the principles of legality and access to justice permeate all three factors that a court must consider when deciding whether to grant public interest standing.[19] The principle of legality is linked to the rule of law by requiring that there are reasonable ways for individuals to challenge the legality of State action.[20] The principle of access to justice is symbiotically linked to public interest standing by providing an avenue to challenge the legality of State action and uphold the rule of law.[21]  The SCC noted that the dual principles of legality and access to justice are most relevant to the consideration of the third factor in the public interest standing  analysis[22] but cautioned against courts interpreting these principles as “hard and fast requirements or free-standing, independently operating tests”.[23]

Second, the SCC clarified the requirement of a sufficient factual setting for cases where parties are granted public interest standing. The SCC established that there is no strict requirement that public interest litigation always be in partnership with a directly affected co-plaintiff.[24] Such an interpretation would undermine the principles of legality and access to justice by creating barriers to litigation for marginalised populations. Instead, the SCC held that parties seeking public interest standing must “show that a sufficiently concrete and well-developed factual setting will be forthcoming at trial”.[25] The SCC reasoned that at the pre-liminary stages it is unnecessary for the party seeking public interest to provide trial-level evidence. However, the courts retain the ability to reconsider standing at any point of the proceeding if there is not a sufficient evidentiary record to conduct the trial.[26]

Finally, the SCC decision in Council of Canadians with Disabilities is significant because it represents a vindication of the public interest work of  CCD, and uplifts the importance of public interest standing in systemic litigation. The CCD first filed the original notice of civil claim in 2016 and had been litigating the preliminary issue of standing for six years.[27] Rather than referring the case back to the British Columbia Supreme Court for re-consideration, the SCC granted the CCD public interest standing because “it is in the interests of justice”.[28]

This decision also sends a message to governments who seek to shut down public interest litigation on behalf of vulnerable populations at preliminary stages. The SCC makes clear that the threshold to establish public interest standing should not be onerous and should only be denied in limited circumstances. This message is in part demonstrated through the SCC’s decision to grant special costs in favour of the CCD.[29] Special costs requires the losing party to cover the full costs of the litigation and is much higher than the standard “party costs” that usually only cover 30% to 40% of the actual litigation costs incurred.[30] The SCC, through this decision and the awarding of special costs, sends a cautionary message to government’s considering challenging public interest litigation based on standing.

The David Asper Centre Intervention in Council of Canadians with Disabilities

The David Asper Centre for Constitutional Rights participated as an intervener in Council of Canadians with Disabilities. Through their intervention factum, the Asper Centre focused on the role of public interest standing as a mechanism in litigation pursuing a remedy under section 52(1) Constitution Act, 1982. Section 52(1), also known as the Constitution’s “supremacy clause”,[31] establishes that “any law that is inconsistent with the provisions of the Constitution is, to the extent of the inconsistency, of no force and effect”.[32]  The Asper Centre argued that section 52(1) is a systemic remedy that does not require an individual plaintiff.[33]  In their factum, the Asper Centre also highlighted challenges associated with class actions, which could become one of the only viable ways for parties to pursue litigation for Charter rights violations if public interest standing were to be restricted.[34]

In Council of Canadians with Disabilities, without referencing the Asper Centre, the SCC adopted its stance on the challenges associated with class actions as an alternative means to pursue litigation.[35] Following the release of the decision in Council of Canadians with Disabilities, the Asper Centre Executive Director Cheryl Milne shared that the SCC “listened to the submissions of the CCD and the Asper Centre, that relying upon class action litigation as a more effective means of bringing this claim forward is questionable. [The SCC] note[s] that class actions are ‘rife with unknowns,’ including the fact that their primary focus is on damages and not always the systemic issue raised by a public interest litigant”.[36]

Looking Ahead

The unanimous SCC decision in Council of Canadians with Disabilities reaffirms and fills the gaps in the existing jurisprudence on public interest standing. The SCC released a clear and decisive ruling on the importance of the parties with public interest standing pursuing systemic litigation on behalf of vulnerable populations. Moving forward, the decision Council of Canadians with Disabilities is likely to increase access to justice for vulnerable populations and ensure that potential State Charter infringements are accountable under the rule of law.

The Asper Centre intervention factum in Council of Canadians with Disabilities can be read here

Caitlin Salvino is a JD Candidate at the Faculty of Law and is the Asper Centre’s 2022 summer Research Assistant.


[1] British Columbia (Attorney General) v Council of Canadians with Disabilities, 2022 SCC 27 [Council of Canadians with Disabilities].

[2] Canada (Attorney General) v Downtown Eastside Sex Workers United Against Violence Society, 2012 SCC 45, at para 1 [Downtown Eastside Sex Workers].

[3] Mia Reimers, “Constitutional Challenges: Public Interest Standing”, (26 September 2014), online: Centre for Constitutional Studies <https://www.constitutionalstudies.ca/2014/09/constitutional-challenges-public-interest-standing/>.

[4] Downtown Eastside Sex Workers, supra note 2 at para 1.

[5] Ibid at para 2.

[6] Downtown Eastside Sex Workers, supra note 2.

[7] Ibid at paras 39–42.

[8] Ibid at para 43.

[9] The third stage of the public interest standing analysis adjusted the precedent from Minister of Justice of Canada v. Borowski. In Borowski, the SCC held that the third public interest standing factor required that the party seeking public interest standing show that: “there is no other reasonable and effective manner in which the issue may be brought before the Court”. The SCC in Downtown Eastside Sex Workers altered the rigid Borowski third factor from requiring that litigation is the most effective means of bringing forward the case to requiring that the litigation is an effective means of bringing forward the case. See Minister of Justice of Canada v Borowski, [1981] 2 SCR 575, 130 DLR (3d) 588 and  Downtown Eastside Sex Workers, supra note 2 at paras 19–20, 44.

[10] The SCC affirmed the purposeful and flexible interpretive approach to public interest standing that was established in Canadian Council of Churches v. Canada (Minister of Employment and Immigration). See Downtown Eastside Sex Workers, supra note 2 at para 23 citing Canadian Council of Churches v Canada (Minister of Employment and Immigration), [1992] 1 SCR 236, 88 DLR (4th) 193, at 252.

[11] Council of Canadians with Disabilities, supra note 1.

[12] Ibid at para 8.

[13] Ibid.

[14] Ibid at paras 9–10. Also see Council of Canadians with Disabilities v British Columbia (Attorney General), 2020 BCCA 241, at para 21 [Council of Canadians with Disabilities BCCA].

[15] MacLaren v British Columbia (Attorney General), 2018 BCSC 1753.

[16] Council of Canadians with Disabilities BCCA, supra note 14.

[17] Attorney General of British Columbia v. Council of Canadians with Disabilities, 2022 SCC 27, leave to appeal to SCC granted, 2021 CanLII 24821.

[18] Council of Canadians with Disabilities, supra note 1 at para 31.

[19] Ibid at para 56.

[20] Ibid at para 33.

[21] Ibid at para 34.

[22] The third public interest standing factor is whether the litigation is a reasonable and effective means to bring forward the challenge. See Downtown Eastside Sex Workers, supra note 2 at para 44. Also see Council of Canadians with Disabilities, supra note 1 at para 58.

[23] Council of Canadians with Disabilities, supra note 1 at para 69.

[24] Ibid at paras 63–67.

[25] Ibid at para 71.

[26] Ibid at paras 72, 74–75.

[27] Ibid at para 122.

[28] Ibid at para 78.

[29] Ibid at paras 119–123.

[30] Peter J Roberts, “The Thorny issue of Costs and Special Costs”, (3 November 2014), online: Lawson Lundell LLP <https://www.lawsonlundell.com/Commercial-Litigation-and-Dispute-Resolution-Blog/the-thorny-issue-of-costs-and-special-costs>.

[31] Peter Hogg, Constitutional Law of Canada, student ed (Scarborough: Carswell, 2006) at 850.

[32] Constitution Act, 1982, being Schedule B to the Canada Act 1982 (UK), 1982, c 11 at s 52(1).

[33] Attorney General of British Columbia v. Council of Canadians with Disabilities, 2022 SCC 27 (Factum of Intervener David Asper Centre for Constitutional Rights, at para 6).

[34] Ibid at paras 13-15.

[35] Council of Canadians with Disabilities, supra note 1 at paras 113–116.

[36] Quote provided directly from Executive Director of the Asper Centre Cheryl Milne.

The Positives of Campaigning: City of Toronto and Freedom of Expression at the Supreme Court

by Bailey Fox


On October 1, 2021, the Supreme Court of Canada (SCC) released its decision in Toronto (City) v Ontario (Attorney General), 2021 SCC 34 [City of Toronto]. In the 5-4 decision, the Supreme Court held that the legislation that reduced the size of Toronto City Council during an ongoing municipal election did not violate the Constitution’s guarantee of freedom of expression. The Court also held that unwritten constitutional principles cannot, on their own, invalidate legislation.

The Asper Centre intervened in the case, specifically on the issue of the scope of freedom of expression in the context of municipal elections. The decision, while resolving the immediate dispute, raises many new questions about the future of the Charter of Rights and Freedoms’ s.2(b) guarantee of freedom of expression. The divide between the majority and dissenting opinion on the role of unwritten constitutional principles also highlights the existing divide between the Supreme Court’s judges regarding Charter interpretation.


On July 27, 2018, shortly after being elected, the Ontario government tabled the Better Local Government Act, SO 2018, c 11 [BLGA]. The BLGA reduced the number of wards in the City of Toronto from 47 to 25 during the City’s ongoing election. The BLGA upended the election, eliminating 22 wards and requiring candidates to pivot their campaigns to new or unfamiliar districts.

Shortly after being enacted on August 14, 2018, a number of parties, including affected candidates and the City of Toronto brought an application seeking to invalidate the BLGA. The parties advanced a few constitutional arguments, including that the BLGA violated ss.2(b) and s.15(1) (equality rights) of the Charter, as well as the unwritten constitutional principles of democracy and the rule of law. The application was heard on an expedited basis on September 9, 2018. In City of Toronto et al v Ontario (Attorney General), 2018 ONSC 5151, the application judge held that the BLGA violated both candidates’ and electors’ s.2(b) rights and could not be justified under s.1 of the Charter. Given the s.2(b) violation, the application judge held that it was not necessary to consider the role of unwritten constitutional principles. The application judge invalidated the legislation and restored the 47-ward format for the election.

The government sought an appeal, and an urgent stay, of the application judge’s decision at the Ontario Court of Appeal (OCA). In its stay decision, the OCA found that candidates were seeking a positive right to a particular platform, and held that the BLGA did not substantially interfere with expressive freedom. Based on the stay decision, the BLGA remained in force and Toronto’s election proceeded on a 25-ward basis.

A little over a year later, the appeal was heard and decided on its merits. The Asper Centre intervened in the appeal. In Toronto (City) v Ontario (Attorney General), 2019 ONCA 732, the OCA reversed the application judge’s decision and affirmed the constitutionality of the BLGA. Justice Miller, writing for the majority, characterized the claim as a positive one – that the claimants were seeking access to a statutory platform as opposed to freedom from government interference in electoral expression. Applying the case of Baier v Alberta, 2007 SCC 31 [Baier], the Court held that the claimants must demonstrate a substantial interference with freedom of expression but have failed to do so since the government is not required to ensure the effectiveness of expression.

In dissent, Justices Nordheimer and MacPherson would have denied the appeal on a finding that the BLGA violated all electoral participants’ s.2(b) rights. The dissenting justices largely adopted the submissions of the Asper Centre on this point.

The City of Toronto appealed the OCA’s decision.

The Supreme Court’s Decision


Chief Justice Wagner and Justice Brown wrote the 5-judge majority decision. Like the OCA, the SCC characterized the claim as a positive one, that is that the claimants were seeking access to a particular statutory platform (a 47-ward council). Noting that this appeal was an opportunity to ‘affirm and clarify’ the Baier framework, the Court held that when claimants are seeking to impose an obligation on the government to provide access to a statutory platform for expression, the s.2(b) claim is a positive one (para 24). In such cases, the claimant must demonstrate that lack of access to a statutory platform has substantially interfered with, or “radically frustrated”, expression to such an extent that expression is “effectively precluded” (para 26).

Applying the Baier framework, the Court held that the claim was a positive one, however the City had not demonstrated substantial interference with expression. The Court noted that the Act did not prevent candidates from engaging in political speech or impose conditions on the content or meaning of speech. The Court rejected submissions that the BLGA rendered prior campaigning meaningless, noting that government action that makes prior speech less effective is not a substantial interference with s.2(b). The Court concluded that candidates’ freedom of expression was not radically frustrated and therefore the BLGA did not violate s.2(b).

On the question of the role of unwritten constitutional principles in Charter interpretation, the Court held that these principles – like democracy and the rule of law – could be used for exactly that, and nothing more. Adopting a textual approach to constitutional interpretation, the Court held that unwritten constitutional principles represent general principles underlying the constitutional order, and while they may assist the Court as interpretative tools or to develop structural doctrine, these principles do not have independent legal force.


Justice Abella penned the reasons on behalf of the four dissenting judges. They would have allowed the appeal based on a finding that the BLGA violated s.2(b) of the Charter.

The dissent rejected the Baier framework and would have applied the test for a s.2(b) violation from Irwin Toy Ltd v Quebec, [1989] 1 SCR 927 [Irwin Toy]. Justice Abella noted that Baier only applies to circumstances where an existing statutory platform is underinclusive, and characterized the claim in this case as government interference with expressive rights attached to an electoral process (para 151). Applying the Irwin Toy framework, Justice Abella held that the BLGA’s timing “interfered with the rights of all participants in the electoral process to engage in meaningful reciprocal political discourse” (para 157). Justice Abella held that since the government had not provided any justification for the legislation’s timing, it could not be saved under s.1.

Justice Abella also commented on the role of unwritten constitutional principles, holding that they are independent of, and form the backdrop to, the written text of the constitution. These principles represent society’s normative commitments and therefore have independent legal force. Per the dissent, in rare cases, unwritten constitutional principles may invalidate legislation that has otherwise escaped the reach of an express constitutional provision.

Where do we go from here?

The majority’s critique of Irwin Toy and affirmation of Baier is notable and perhaps concerning. The majority notes at para 14 that Irwin Toy “has been criticized for setting too low a bar for establishing a s. 2(b) limitation…”. The analysis then continues with a discussion of s.2(b)’s internal limits, the distinction between positive and negative claims, and an affirmation of Baier. While this is a legitimate and existing critique of Irwin Toy, the Court does not expand on why such a broad test is at odds with the text of s.2(b), is normatively problematic, or why or whether it should be changed. However, the Court’s decision has the effect of limiting the applicability of the Irwin Toy framework, and potentially narrowing the scope of s.2(b), and thus adding complexity to s.2(b) litigation. As noted in the dissent at para 155, claimants must now meet a preliminary burden of demonstrating that their s.2(b) claim is a negative entitlement. Adding this inquiry to the s.2(b) analysis is especially concerning given that the distinction between positive and negative entitlement is easily malleable (again, a critique noted by the dissent at para 152 and previous SCC jurisprudence).

Also of note is the very high bar the Court states is required to establish a s.2(b) violation under Baier/City of Toronto. To succeed under this framework a claimant must show that lack of access to a statutory platform has radically frustrated expression to the extent that it is effectively precluded. The substantial interference standard (which was imported from the freedom of association jurisprudence and has since been impugned in that context; see City of Toronto at para 21) thereby recognizes that some interference with expressive freedom is constitutionally permissible. City of Toronto ignites a latent question about s.2(b)’s internal limits and elevates the bar that claimants must meet if a Court considers the claim a positive one.

The decision’s discussion of unwritten constitutional principles also reflects an ongoing divide among SCC judges between a textual and liberal/purposive interpretation of the Charter. While both opinions resolved the dispute on s.2(b) grounds, they nevertheless included a sustained discussion in obiter on unwritten constitutional principles. The majority subscribes a limited role for purposive interpretation, and later notes that notes that unwritten constitutional principles may assist with constitutional interpretation, but only where the test is not sufficiently definitive (para 65). But what is notably absent is any engagement by the majority with the purpose of s.2(b), or the impact of the principle of democracy on the analysis of a case where the scope of s.2(b) is at issue. While Justice Abella recognizes that freedom of expression includes the right to engage in political discourse (paras 114 – 122), the relevance of political discourse or the election context takes a backseat in the majority’s decision. This, in addition to emphasizing the distinction between a positive and a negative claim, is a marked departure from earlier jurisprudence like Irwin Toy that emphasized the purpose of freedom of expression, and  its connection to political discourse, and a broad scope for s.2(b).

In conclusion, the case that came to the Supreme Court was concerned with mid-election reform to Toronto City Council’s structure. However, in destabilizing the s.2(b) framework and narrowing the applicability of unwritten constitutional principles, the SCC’s decision leaves constitutional litigators, scholars, and students with many questions about the future of s.2(b) and constitutional interpretation.

Bailey Fox is a Research Assistant with the Asper Centre and is currently an LLM student at the University of Toronto, Faculty of Law. 

Meet Jonathan Rudin, the Asper Centre’s New Constitutional Litigator-in-Residence


By Leila Far Soares 

Jonathan Rudin, program director at Aboriginal Legal Services and experienced litigator, will be co-teaching the Asper Centre’s Clinic course as the new Constitutional Litigator-in-Residence for Fall 2021. Mr. Rudin has written widely and spoken passionately on the topic of aboriginal justice and has advocated countless cases before all-levels of Canadian court. We are very fortunate to have him join our faculty at the law school this coming term.  

Mr. Rudin’s interest in the law emanated from a desire to influence social change, a desire which served as the driving force behind his motivation to attend law school. Yet, for just over a decade after graduating and getting called to the bar, he did not work directly in law. Instead, Mr. Rudin opted to work with social justice organizations, where he could focus on fundraising and organizational development: “I wanted to get involved with things that I felt were working more broadly and systemically to address issues,” rather than “putting a Band-Aid on a gaping wound.”  

However, this social justice work ultimately led Mr. Rudin to a career in litigation. His involvement with several indigenous organizations coupled with the knowledge he gained while completing his Masters in Constitutional Law at Osgoode Hall, piqued his interest in indigenous justice and culminated in an opportunity to work for Aboriginal Legal Services. ALS marked the beginning of Mr. Rudin’s engagement with constitutional litigation, allowing him to intervene in a number of significant and noteworthy cases. Of these, Mr. Rudin described R v Gladue and R v Ipeelee as two cases which stand out as most memorable to him. “You don’t always know going in how significant a case will be, how the court is going to take it, or what they are going to focus on.” Mr. Rudin emphasized the real issues and consequences at play in bringing constitutional challenges: “when you do this sort of work, especially if it is constitutional, you don’t just lose for your client, there are bigger issues at play.” 

Mr. Rudin plans to bring the litigation experience he’s gained at ALS to the University of Toronto Faculty of Law this fall, offering students a practical perspective and sharing insights as to what constitutional litigation really entails. He hopes to convey “a sense of how the process works and what it takes.” His experiences speaking before the Court have taught him valuable lessons in what judges want: brevity, clarity, and structure. “Writing a factum or doing oral arguments before the court, you are presenting things to an audience: judges. This is a very different audience, and one we are not familiar with playing to.” He plans to share these lessons, alongside many more, through the clinic.  

In the meantime, I asked Mr. Rudin if there was any advice he could offer to current law students. He remarked how difficult being a law student during a global pandemic must be and the inevitable fatigue that must accompany zoom law. In fact, Mr. Rudin described the challenges he faces as a lawyer working in a COVID world. “A lot of the work I do, it’s not me, it’s a whole team of people working together,” and meeting over zoom can certainly change professional dynamics. Mr. Rudin expressed his hope that next fall he will be able to meet with students in person. To mitigate zoom fatigue and the exhaustion that can come from the demanding nature of law school generally, Mr. Rudin stressed the importance of maintaining interests and activities outside of the law. For Mr. Rudin, this takes the form of regular jam sessions with his band: Gordon’s Acoustic Living Room. 

Additionally, Mr. Rudin encourages current students to keep an open mind as they navigate through their years of law school. Often times, he remarked, students have a pre-conceived notion of what area of law they want to pursue without knowing much about what it really entails. “There are all sorts of areas of law that we know nothing about and the more opportunities you have to try things the better.” He lauded the Asper Centre’s clinic as giving students a real sense of what working in constitutional law encompasses. He encourages students to take the opportunities the clinic has to offer and looks forward to meeting students in a few short months. 

Leila Far Soares is an incoming 2L JD student at the Faculty of Law and is currently one of the Asper Centre’s summer research assistants. 

Introducing our Summer 2021 Research Assistants!


The Asper Centre is excited to welcome eight new research assistants for Summer 2021, three of whom who are working directly through the Factor-Inwentash Faculty of Social Work. This year’s research assistants will be taking on many new and existing projects, including an upcoming podcast series and a ground-level Charter challenge to Canada’s voting age.

2021 Asper Centre Summer Research Assistants

Leila Far Soares

Leila will be entering her 2L year at the University of Toronto Faculty of Law. She received her undergraduate degree from the University of Toronto, where she double-majored in criminology and ethics, society & law. During her 1L year, Leila was an associate editor at the University’s Law Review as well as a member of the Asper Centre’s Prisoners’ Rights Working Group. She continues to work with the Centre this summer and her research focus is on the judicial treatment of the open court principle in the context of administrative tribunals as well as the Centre’s Law Foundation of Ontario-funded police accountability project. Additionally, she is assisting on the constitutional challenge to Canada’s voting age. In her free time, Leila enjoys reading, travelling, and watching movies.


Wei Yang

Wei will be entering his 2L year at the University of Toronto Faculty of Law. He completed his undergraduate studies at the University of Toronto, majoring in Political Science and Ethics Society & Law. In addition to his research role on many upcoming Asper Centre projects, he will also be working with the Centre on the ground-level constitutional challenge to Canada’s voting age. The Charter declares that all Canadians have the right to vote (s. 3) and to equality and non-discrimination (including on the basis of age) (s. 15). The current voting age of 18 years old thus infringes the Charter rights of young Canadians and weakens our democracy. In 1L, Wei was a member of the Asper Centre’s Refugee and Immigration Law Working Group. He is also the Co-President of UofT Law’s Asia Law Society for the 2021 – 2022 academic year.

Alison Schwenk

Alison just completed her 1L year at the University of Toronto Faculty of Law. She graduated from McGill University, majoring in Political Science. Alison will be focused on long-term projects with the Asper Centre, and is currently working with Executive Director Cheryl Milne on Clinic training responsibilities and the “Children, Youth and the Law” course at the Faculty of Law. During 1L, Alison was a member of the Asper Centre’s Indigenous Rights Working Group, where she conducted research on civil oversight of law enforcement and its impact on Indigenous peoples. She loves completing jigsaw puzzles, crosswords and sudoku (Alison also still plays the 2048 puzzle game!)

Eunwoo Lee

Eunwoo is an incoming 3L student at the University of Toronto Faculty of Law. He studied political science at York University, Glendon Campus. Eunwoo will be researching recent case law citing the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child (UNCRC). Given that judicial citations of the UNCRC is a relatively new phenomenon, Eunwoo hopes to discover trends and themes across the case law and how the Convention is being applied across Canada. This research will be used to develop presentable content at the National Judicial Institute Conference in 2022. Eunwoo loves to spend his free time playing jazz and funk guitar.


Szymon Rodomar

Szymon will be entering his 3L year at the University of Toronto Faculty of Law. He studied international development, politics and sociology at Trent University. Szymon is laying the groundwork for the Asper Centre’s Podcast Project. He is currently conducting research on constitutional law cases that the Asper Centre and Faculty of Law alumni have been involved in, brainstorming possible topics and case law to discuss in each new episode. Szymon also volunteers with Law in Action Within Schools (LAWS), a education program hosted by the University of Toronto Faculty of Law and Osgoode Hall Law School that provides students from four Toronto-area high schools with a variety of extracurricular opportunities related to law and justice. Szymon is an avid runner and enjoys cooking (although he also enjoys running to visit new restaurants as well!).

Toolkit for Evidence-Based Child Protection Research Assistants (at the Factor-Inwentash Faculty of Social Work)

Alina Valachi

Alina is currently completing her dual JD/MSW degrees at the University of Toronto. She received her B Eng from McGill University and BSW from Dalhousie University. Alina is working at the Factor-Inwentash Faculty of Social Work as the Project Manager of the Toolkit for Evidence-Based Child Protection Practice project. This project is a Law Foundation of Ontario-funded collaboration between Dr Barbara Fallon at the Factor-Inwentash Faculty of Social Work and the David Asper Centre. This project aims to synthesize legislation, case law and social science literature in key areas of child protection practice to ensure that decisions made in the justice system reflect the best interests of children and families involved in the child welfare system. She is also the Project Lead of the Pro Bono Students Canada (PBSC) Trans ID Clinic at Friends of Ruby. In her free time, Alina enjoys mountain biking with her children and reading philosophy.

David Baldridge

David is an incoming 2L student at the University of Toronto Faculty of Law. He completed his undergraduate studies at the University of Toronto, majoring in Economics and Political Science. David is also working at on the Toolkit for Evidence-Based Child Protection Practice project this summer at the Factor-Inwentash Faculty of Social Work, where he is primarily focusing on researching relevant case law. During his 1L year, David was a member of the Prisoners’ Rights Working Group at the Asper Centre. He was also involved in the Faculty of Law’s Privacy and Cybersecurity Law Group. Outside of law school, you will see David playing trumpet in orchestras, jazz ensembles and chamber groups.

Alison Gillanders

Alison is a graduate of McGill University, majoring in International Development Studies and minoring in Philosophy. She is a research assistant for the Toolkit for Evidence-Based Child Protection Practice project at the Factor-Inwentash Faculty of Social Work. Alison will be expanding upon the project by creating new templates on matters such as openness in adoption, legislation and the case law. As part of the project, Alison will be focusing on research in the social science literature. At McGill, she was a Director of Sponsorship for McGill Women in Leadership. She eagerly awaits Toronto’s gradual reopening so she can continue biking and exploring new parks and other destinations around the city.

Asper Centre Intervention Influences SCC on Suspended Declarations

by Jeffrey Wang

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

[1] Para 81.

[2] Para 94.

[3] Para 121.

[4] Para 133.

[5] Para 129.

[6] Para 131

[7] Para 148.

[8] Ibid.

[9] Paras 150-151.

[10] Para 175.

[11] Para 176.