The Curious Case of Section 15 and Courts of First Instance: The Joint Asper Centre, LEAF and West Coast LEAF Intervention in Canadian Council for Refugees, et al. v. Minister of Citizenship and Immigration, et al 

by Caitlin Salvino

In the Fall of 2022, the Supreme Court of Canada (SCC) will hear the case Canadian Council for Refugees, et al. v. Minister of Citizenship and Immigration, et al.[1] The David Asper Centre for Constitutional Rights, West Coast Legal Education and Action Fund (West Coast LEAF), and Women’s Legal Education and Action Fund (LEAF) have been jointly granted intervener status.[2] Their joint intervention focuses on the treatment of claims under section 15 of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms (Charter) by courts of first instance.

The Safe Third Country Agreement with the United States

In Canada, an individual can apply for refugee status at an official Port of Entry or at an Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada office. To qualify for refugee status the claimant must either: (1) have a well-founded fear of persecution or (2) are at risk of torture, or cruel or unusual punishment in their home countries.[3]

In Canada, the federal government has restricted Port of Entry asylum claims through the Safe Third Country Agreement (STCA) with the United States (US). The STCA bars refugee claimants that arrive at the Canadian border from the US, unless they meet a narrow category of exceptions.[4] The STCA expects refugees to make an asylum claim in the first safe country they enter, in this case the US. The Canadian government maintains that countries will only be recognised as a “safe third country” if they respect human rights and offer a high degree of protection to refugee claimants.[5]  The Immigration and Refugee Protection Act (IRPA) requires the Government of Canada to continuously review the STCA with the US to ensure that it meets  four conditions listed in the IRPA.[6] The STCA with the US has been criticised by refugee and human rights organisations, based on increasing evidence of mistreatment of refugee claimants in the US.[7]

Challenging the Constitutionality of the Safe Third Country Agreement

In 2017, the STCA was jointly challenged by refugee claimants barred under the STCA, together with the Canadian Council of Refugees, Amnesty International and the Canadian Council of Churches. In addition to arguing that provisions of the STCA were ultra vires, the Applicants argued that the combined effect of sections 101(1)(e) of IRPA and 159.3 of the Immigration and Refugee Protection Regulations unjustifiably infringed sections 7 and 15 of the Charter.[8]

Under section 7, the Applicants argued that many asylum seekers rejected under the STCA are automatically imprisoned upon their return to the US as a form of punishment depriving the claimants of their section 7 rights to liberty and security of the person.[9] With respect to section 15, the Applicants argued that the STCA with the US has a disproportionate impact on female-identifying refugee claimants. This claim was supported by evidence of a narrower interpretation of gender persecution asylum claims in the US[10] and a one-year bar on all refugee claims in the US.[11] The one-year ban on refugee claims requires an individual to seek asylum within one year of experiencing persecution – a restriction that poses a barrier for women and 2SLGBTQQIA[12] individuals who experience gender persecution that involve unique forms of trauma that often result in delayed reporting.[13]

The Applicants succeeded at the Federal Court in 2020. The Federal Court declared that the provisions[14] enacting the STCA unjustifiably infringed section 7 of the Charter.[15] The Federal Court held that the STCA was intra vires federal authority and declined to address the arguments put forward on section 15 of the Charter.[16] As a remedy for the section 7 violation, the impugned provisions were declared to have no force or effect and the declaration of invalidity was suspended for six months.[17]

The Federal Court ruling was overturned by the Federal Court of Appeal in 2021.[18] The Federal Court of Appeal agreed with the lower court that the STCA is intra vires the federal authority[19] but disagreed with the findings with respect to section 7 of the Charter.[20] The Federal Court of Appeal, held that the two impugned provisions, which recognise the US as a safe third country, do not cause the harms being challenged under the Charter.[21] Instead, the Federal Court of Appeal held that section 102(3) of IRPA, which includes the criteria for safe third country designation, should have been challenged under judicial review in relation to the alleged harms under the Charter.[22] Regardless of the appropriate approach, the Federal Court of Appeal disagreed with the lower court’s factual findings on section 7, which the Federal Court of Appeal deemed insufficient and unrepresentative of the experiences of refugee claimants on the whole.[23] On section 15, the Federal Court of Appeal agreed with the Federal Court’s approach to judicial restraint and also declined to address the claim based on equality rights.[24]

Joint Asper Centre, LEAF and West Coast LEAF Intervention

In Canada, there is a growing recognition of the relevance of gender-related persecution in refugee asylum claims. Although it is not yet recognised as an independent ground to establish fear of persecution, if claimed, gender-related persecution must be assessed by the Refugee Division panel considering the claim.[25] The assessment of gender-related persecution claims requires an examination of the link between gender persecution and the enumerated grounds in the Refugee Convention.[26]

The Applicants argued that the STCA violated both sections 7 and 15 of the Charter. Under section 15, the Applicants argued that the STCA disproportionately impacts female-identifying refugees[27] and provide an extensive evidentiary record of gender discrimination under the STCA.  After determining that provisions of the STCA unjustifiably infringed section 7 of the Charter the Federal Court declined to address the section 15 claim.[28] In doing so, the Federal Court made no factual findings on the evidence of gender-based discrimination within the STCA legal regime. The Federal Court’s disregard of the section 15 claim was upheld by the Federal Court of Appeal who determined that lower courts are not required to consider all Charter claims because section 15 “does not enjoy ‘superior status in a hierarchy of rights’”.[29]

The joint Asper Centre, West Coast LEAF and LEAF intervention for the upcoming SCC hearing focuses on the Federal Court’s decision to not consider and make factual findings on all Charter issues raised that are supported by an extensive evidentiary record. The joint interveners argue that the Federal Court should have decided the section 15 claim and the refusal to consider the section 15 claim inappropriately applied the doctrine of judicial restraint.[30]

The joint interveners support their position with three arguments. First, a purposive interpretation of the Charter as a whole requires a ruling on all Charter claims raised with an extensive evidentiary record. The Federal Court’s decision to decline considering the section 15 issue altered the subsequent justificatory analysis of section 1 and the appropriate remedy.[31] Second, the lower court erred in its application of the principle of judicial restraint, which does not permit a court to favour one Charter claim over another.[32] This flawed interpretation of the principle of judicial restraint has the practical implication of creating a hierarchy of Charter rights, within which section 15 is relegated to the bottom.[33] Third, the Federal Court’s failure to address the section 15 claim minimises the issue of gender-based violence and historic disadvantage experienced by women and 2SLGBTQQIA individuals.[34]

Looking Ahead

The SCC hearings in Canadian Council for Refugees, et al. v. Minister of Citizenship and Immigration, et al. will be heard in Fall 2022.[35] The joint intervention by the Asper Centre, West Coast LEAF and LEAF argues that this case represents a unique opportunity for Canada’s highest court to send a directive to lower courts regarding the treatment of court cases with multiple Charter claims. This guidance on the treatment of multiple Charter claims in a single case is particularly relevant to equality rights under section 15 – a Charter provision that has been historically dismissed[36] and has experienced uncertainty based on its “continual reinvention” in the jurisprudence.[37]

The Asper Centre, West Coast LEAF and LEAF filed their joint intervention factum on June 15, 2022 and it 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] The date of the SCC hearings for Canadian Council for Refugees, et al. v. Minister of Citizenship and Immigration, et al. is October 3, 2022.

[2] Canada (Citizenship and Immigration) v Canadian Council for Refugees, 2021 FCA 72, leave to appeal to SCC granted, 2021 CanLII 129759. 

[3] Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada, “How Canada’s refugee system works”, (27 November 2019), online: Government of Canada https://www.canada.ca/en/immigration-refugees-citizenship/services/refugees/canada-role.html.

[4] Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada, “Canada-U.S. Safe Third Country Agreement”, (23 July 2020), online: Government of Canada https://www.canada.ca/en/immigration-refugees-citizenship/corporate/mandate/policies-operational-instructions-agreements/agreements/safe-third-country-agreement.html.

[5] Overview of the Canada–United States Safe Third Country Agreement Background Paper, 4, by Madalina Chesoi & Robert Mason, 4 2020-70-E (Library of Parliament, 2021) at 1–2.

[6] The four conditions that are evaluated in each review are: (1) if they are a party to the Refugee Convention and Convention Against Torture; (2) its policies and practices are in line with those two international treaties; (3) its human rights record and (4) whether they are party to an STCA agreement with Canada. See Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada, supra note 3.

[7] “US as a Safe Third Country Infographic”, (June 2017), online: Canadian Council for Refugees <https://ccrweb.ca/en/us-safe-third-country-infographic>; Contesting the Designation of the US as a Safe Third Country, by Amnesty International & Canadian Council for Refugees (2017); “Refugees entering from US and Safe Third Country: FAQ”, (February 2017), online: Canadian Council for Refugees https://ccrweb.ca/en/refugees-entering-us-and-safe-third-country-faq.

[8] Canadian Council for Refugees v Canada (Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship), 2020 FC 770, at paras 82–83 [Canadian Council for Refugees FC].

[9] Ibid.

[10] Ibid at para 151.

[11]  Ibid at para 153.

[12] The acronym 2SLGBTQQIA refers to Two-Spirit, lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, questioning, intersex and asexual.

[13]  Canadian Council for Refugees FC, supra note 8 at para 153.

[14] Immigration and Refugee Protection Act, SC 2001, c 27, s 101(1)(e), 159.3.

[15] Canadian Council for Refugees FC, supra note 8 at para 162.

[16] Ibid at paras 151–154.

[17] Ibid at para 163.

[18] Canada (Citizenship and Immigration) v Canadian Council for Refugees, 2021 FCA 72, at para 179 [Canadian Council for Refugees FCA 2021].

[19] Ibid at para 179.

[20] Ibid at paras 132–168.

[21] Ibid at paras 46–47.

[22] Ibid at paras 92–93.

[23] Ibid at paras 132–168.

[24] Ibid at paras 169–174.

[25] Immigration and Refugee Board of Canada, Chairperson Guidelines 4: Women Refugee Claimants Fearing Gender-Related Persecution, online: https://irb.gc.ca/en/legal-policy/policies/Pages/GuideDir04.aspx.

[26] The enumerated grounds under the Refugee Convention are having a well-founded fear of being persecuted for reasons of race, religion, nationality, membership of a particular social group or political opinion. See UN General Assembly, Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees, 28 July 1951, United Nations, Treaty Series, vol. 189, p. 137, 1951.

[27] Canadian Council for Refugees FC, supra note 8 at para 151.

[28]  Ibid at para 154.

[29] Canadian Council for Refugees FCA 2021, supra note 19 at para 172 citing Gosselin, supra note 25 at para 26.

[30] Canada (Citizenship and Immigration) v Canadian Council for Refugees, 2021 FCA 72, leave to appeal to SCC granted, 2021 CanLII 129759 (Factum of Joint Interveners Asper Centre, West Coast LEAF and LEAF, at para 3).

[31] Ibid at para 4.

[32] Ibid at para 18.

[33] Ibid at para 4.

[34] Ibid at para 26.

[35] The date of the SCC hearings for Canadian Council for Refugees, et al. v. Minister of Citizenship and Immigration, et al.is October 3, 2022.

[36] Bruce Ryder & Taufiq Hashmani, “Managing Charter Equality Rights: The Supreme Court of Canada’s Disposition of Leave to Appeal Applications in Section 15 Cases, 1989-2010” (2010) 51 SCLR 505; Jonnette Watson Hamilton & Jennifer Koshan, “Adverse Impact: The Supreme Court’s Approach to Adverse Effects Discrimination under Section 15 of the Charter” (2014) 19 Rev Const Stud 191.

[37] Jennifer Koshan & Jonnette Watson Hamilton, “The Continual Reinvention of Section 15 of the Charter” (2013) 64 UNBLJ 19.

R v Sullivan, R v Chan and R v Brown: The Supreme Court’s Ruling on the Defence of Extreme Intoxication

by Kathryn Mullins

On May 13, 2022 the Supreme Court handed down its unanimous ruling in the related cases of R v Brown,[1] R v Sullivan[2] and R v Chan.[3] The Court declared that s. 33.1 of the Criminal Code, which barred the use of the defence of self-induced intoxication for crimes of general intent, is unconstitutional and of no force or effect. While the decision has been controversial in terms of public opinion, it was not surprising to the many constitutional and criminal legal scholars who have previously studied the topic.[4]

Much of the focus in the media is on the consequences of the declaration of invalidity, but less attention has been paid to the reasons that s. 33.1 of the Criminal Code was found to violate the section 7 and 11(d) Charter rights of accused persons.

Background

While judicial consideration of the relevance of intoxication in criminal offences dates back centuries, the modern Canadian law generally begins with Leary v the Queen [Leary].[5] That case solidified the common law rule that the defence of intoxication cannot be used with respect to crimes of general intent.

With general intent offences, the Crown needs to prove only a willingness to commit the act (i.e. assault – the question is simply whether force was intentionally applied), while specific intent crimes involve a heightened sense of intention, for example, assault with intent to resist arrest – there is an added ulterior purpose which goes to the mens rea of the accused.[6]

It is easier, then, to imagine how intoxication might call into question a heightened intention or ulterior purpose, making it harder to prove beyond a reasonable doubt, while generally being unable to disprove the simple willingness to commit an act of general intent.

Notwithstanding the existence of the common law rule, this is not the first time the Court has made the defence of self-induced intoxication more available. In the 1994 case of R v Daviault,[7] the Court seemingly put an end to the Leary rule and made the defence available for general intent offences. However, like the Court in 2022, it too specified that when it comes to violent general intent crimes like assault and sexual assault, the defence is only available when the accused can prove they were in a state akin to automatism.

Despite that qualification, the public reaction to Daviault was intense – so much so that it spurred Parliament to craft a new solution. That solution, s. 33.1 of the Criminal Code, specified that it is not a defence that the accused lacked the general intent or voluntariness to commit an offence by reason of intoxication where they departed markedly from the standard of care generally recognized in Canadian society, which occurs when they interfere with the bodily integrity of another person. Effectively, then, the defence of self-induced intoxication, even in the case of automatism, was entirely unavailable for general intent crimes involving violence.

Brown, Sullivan and Chan all challenged the constitutionality of this provision in their individual but similar cases. All three accused consumed drugs which had unexpected and profound impacts on their brains, and all three assaulted other people (with varying degrees of severity, ranging from broken bones to death) in automatism-like states. While the Ontario Court of Appeal declared s. 33.1 unconstitutional in both Sullivan and Chan (heard together), the Court of Appeal of Alberta upheld the law in Brown.

What’s Wrong with S. 33.1?

In its unanimous opinion, the Supreme Court declared that s. 33.1 is unconstitutional on the grounds that it violates the s. 7 and 11(d) rights of the accused. It adopted the terminology used by Paciocco J.A. of the Ontario Court of Appeal to explain why s. 33.1 is unconstitutional on the basis of three breaches: the actus reus breach, the mens rea breach, and the substitution breach.

Actus Reus

Physical voluntariness, as a requirement of all true criminal offences, is a principle of fundamental justice.[8] The jurisprudence on s. 7 is clear that the act in question must be the voluntary act of the accused for actus reus to be made out,[9] and that the “absence of volition … is always a defence”.[10] On that basis, the Court concludes it is impossible for a person experiencing a state of automatism as a result of self-induced intoxication to act voluntarily. Automatism is not a more severe or extreme form of intoxication, but a state more comparable to sleepwalking or delirium; “the body moves, but there is no link between mind and body”.[11] Proving automatism will require scientific evidence, and the court repeatedly confirms that any intoxication short of automatism will not ground a defence of this kind.

The Crown argued that s. 33.1 was constitutionally sound as it pertains to voluntariness because it punishes the voluntary act of becoming extremely intoxicated. It relies on the idea, originating from R v Penno,[12] that Parliament can validly bar the use of the defence of intoxication when intoxication is the gravamen of the offence (that case related to the offence of having control of a motor vehicle while intoxicated). The Crown pinned the connection to intoxication on the “marked departure” aspect of s. 33.1 – it argued that the “predicate act” of self-induced extreme intoxication is the gravamen of the offence. The intoxication itself, then, is the voluntary “marked departure from the standard of reasonable care generally recognized in Canadian society”.[13]

The Court flatly rejected the argument that intoxication is the gravamen of the offence. It held that s. 33.1, which begins with the words “it is not a defence”, does not create a new offence in the form of the “predicate act of self-induced extreme intoxication” – a plain reading makes it clear that it serves to invalidate a defence only. As per LeBel J.’s understanding in R v Bouchard-Lebrun,[14] the marked departure is the interference (or threat of interference) with the bodily integrity of another person, not the intoxication. Since the gravamen of the offence is the violence, not the intoxication, a lack of voluntariness caused by intoxication (at the level of automatism) means that the accused cannot bear criminal liability for the act in accordance with the principles of fundamental justice.

Mens Rea

It is also a principle of fundamental justice that a minimum level of mens rea is required for criminal convictions. At the minimum level of penal negligence, a court must ask whether a reasonable person in the position of the accused would have foreseen the risk and avoided it, and whether the failure of the accused to do so is a marked departure from that reasonable standard. S. 33.1, however, deems a person to have departed markedly from that standard even when it was entirely unforeseeable that the intoxicants would have such an effect on them. By preventing the foreseeability question from being examined properly, the Court says that s. 33.1 has the effect of convicting a person without proof of mens rea, essentially creating absolute liability offences which carry the possibility of imprisonment – an unacceptable outcome which violates s. 7 of the Charter.[15]

At the Court below, Slatter J.A. in Brown disagreed, representing a relatively common public opinion that when one voluntarily ingests intoxicants they foresee and accept the risk of “rendering [themselves] an automaton”,[16] and in doing so they depart markedly from what a reasonable person would do. Like Paciocco J.A. at the Ontario Court of Appeal, though, the Supreme Court did not accept this reasoning – intoxication is far too common of an occurrence in the average Canadian to support the conclusion that it is a marked departure from what reasonable people do.

Substitution

The last breach, the substitution breach, violates the s. 11(d) right to be presumed innocent until proven guilty. To be proven guilty, the Crown must make out all of the essential elements of a crime (the mens rea and actus reus). There have been cases where substitutions – in which proof of one fact is taken to substitute for proof of one of the essential elements – were valid, but only when the substituted fact “leads inexorably” to the conclusion that the essential element exists.[17] Some, like Slatter J.A., have argued that intoxication meets this test: putting oneself in a situation where it is possible to lose control by way of extreme intoxication is proof of the fault for the violent act that follows.

The Court does not accept this argument and finds it improper to substitute proof of self-induced intoxication for proof of the elements of the offence. As the Court says, “the choice to become intoxicated through legal or illegal means, a choice that many Canadians make, cannot be said to be the same as an intention to perpetrate the illegal act.”[18] The result is that the substitution violates s. 11(d), because it creates a situation in which a person can be convicted despite a reasonable doubt as to whether the essential elements of the offence have been established.[19]

What’s Next?

After failing at the proportionality stage of the s. 1 analysis, s. 33.1 is declared invalid. This does not mean, however, that Parliament will be unable to once again prevent the defence from being used, even in cases of automatism. The Court provides examples of constitutionally valid ways of doing so, the clearest of which is the creation of a new provision which actually makes the act of extreme intoxication itself the gravamen of the offence. As the Court says, “the sense that an accused who acts violently in a state of extreme self‑induced intoxication is morally blameworthy is by no means beyond the proper reach of the criminal law”.[20]

In the face of strong public disapproval with the decision, it is entirely possible that Parliament will take the same approach it did after Daviault and craft a new provision. The concern for victims of domestic and sexual violence at the hands of intoxicated offenders, victims who, as the intervener Women’s Legal Education and Action Fund point out, tend to be vulnerable women and children, is legitimate. The Supreme Court has sent a strong message, however, that if Parliament plans to legislate to protect these victims, it must do so in a way that complies with the Charter rights of accused persons too.

Kathryn Mullins is a 1L JD Candidate at the Faculty of Law and is the Asper Centre’s 2022 summer Research Assistant.

[1] R v Brown 2022 SCC 18.

[2] R v Sullivan 2022 SCC 19.

[3] Ibid.

[4] See Kent Roach, Criminal Law, 7th ed (Toronto: Irwin, 2018) at 277; Michelle S. Lawrence, “Voluntary Intoxication and the Charter: Revisiting the Constitutionality of Section 33.1 of the Criminal Code” (2017) 40:3 Man LJ 391-425; Dennis J. Baker and Rainer Knopff “Daviault dialogue: the strange journey of Canada’s intoxication defence” (2014) Rev of Const Stud 19:1 35-58.

[5] Leary v the Queen [1978] 1 SCR 29.

[6] R v Tatton 2015 SCC 33.

[7] R v Daviault [1994] 3 SCR 63.

[8] Brown, supra note 1 at para 47.

[9] R v Théroux [1993] 2 SCR 5 at 522.

[10] Daviault, supra note 7 at 74.

[11] Brown, supra note 1 at para 47..

[12] R v Penno [1990] 2 SCR 865.

[13] Brown, supra note 1 at para 77.

[14] R v Bouchard-Lebrun 2011 SCC 58.

[15] Reference Re BC Motor Vehicle Act [1985] 2 SCR 486.

[16] R v Brown 2021 ABCA 273 at para 31.

[17] Brown, supra note 1 at para 99.

[18] Ibid at para 49.

[19] Ibid at para 34.

[20] Ibid at para 10.

R v Chouhan: The Constitutionality of Abolishing Peremptory Challenges

by Annie Chan

The Asper Centre recently intervened in R v Chouhan, a case before the Supreme Court of Canada (SCC) whose outcome has fundamental implications on the process of jury selection in criminal trials.

Background

For 150 years, two types of challenges were permitted in jury selection in a criminal trial: (1) peremptory challenges, where a juror can be dismissed without explanation, and (2) challenges for cause, which require specific grounds. Section 634 of the Criminal Code allowed the Crown and the accused a fixed number of peremptory challenges each depending on the nature and seriousness of the offence [1]. In September 2019, Parliament enacted Bill C-75, An Act to amend the Criminal Code, the Youth Criminal Justice Act and other Acts and to make consequential amendments to other Acts, which introduced three amendments to the jury selection process [2]. The first amendment expanded s. 633 of the Criminal Code, allowing judges to stand by jurors for the purpose of “maintaining public confidence in the administration of justice”. The second amendment repealed s. 634 of the Criminal Code, thereby abolishing peremptory challenges. Finally, the third appointed the presiding judge as the adjudicator of truth for challenges for cause in lieu of lay triers.

The bill came into force on September 19, 2019. On that same day, jury selection for the appellant, Mr. Chouhan, was scheduled to begin. Mr. Chouhan, who was at that time charged with first degree murder, challenged the constitutional validity of the second and third Bill C-75 amendments, arguing that they infringed upon his rights as an accused under ss. 7, 11(d) and 11(f) of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms [3][4].

Procedural History

The balance of Mr. Chouhan’s argument hinged on the abolition of peremptory challenges as infringing on his ss. 11(d) right to a fair hearing by an impartial tribunal. In upholding the constitutionality of the amendment, the trial judge emphasized the strong presumption of jury impartiality and the numerous safeguards in place to ensure this, including the availability of unlimited challenges for cause based on a reasonable prospect of partiality [5]. Mr. Chouhan appealed, arguing that in cases where the accused is racialized, the assumption of jury impartiality is rebutted, giving rise to the need for peremptory challenges [6]. In upholding the trial judge’s ruling, the Ontario Court of Appeal described the use of peremptory challenges in weeding out biased jurors as inherently paradoxical, as the exercise of such challenges is often purely subjective and rooted in stereotypes [7]. Leave to appeal was granted by the Supreme Court and oral arguments were heard on October 7, 2020.

Supreme Court of Canada Proceedings

At the heart of the proceedings was whether peremptory challenges actually advance or hinder the selection of fair and impartial juries, particularly when the accused belongs to a racialized community. In addition to Mr. Chouhan and the Crown, numerous interveners, including several representing racialized communities, submitted arguments falling on both sides of this issue. Counsel for Mr. Chouhan argued that peremptory challenges mitigate the effects of racial prejudice on jury selection by giving the accused at least some minimal control and confidence in the impartiality of the jurors and the fairness of the trial process. This position was supported by oral arguments from Joshua Sealy-Harrington on behalf of the BC Civil Liberties Association who argued that “implicit bias compromises the impartiality of trial juries and absent peremptory challenges, there is no safeguard against that implicit bias in the entirety of the jury selection process.”

In contrast, Aboriginal Legal Services intervened on the basis that peremptory challenges perpetuate discrimination against Indigenous persons in the criminal justice system. In fact, the legislature’s intent in eliminating peremptory challenges was to address concerns surrounding their use in excluding Indigenous people from juries. This issue was exemplified in the 2018 case of R v Stanley where an all-white jury acquitted Gerald Stanley, a white Saskatchewan farm-owner for both manslaughter and second-degree murder after he shot and killed a young Indigenous man named Colten Boushie. During jury selection, peremptory challenges were used to exclude five visibly Indigenous persons from the jury.

The Asper Centre intervened with the position that the abolition of peremptory challenges did not infringe on the Charter. Our factum (as can be found here) emphasized the inherent subjectivity of peremptory challenges which are often based on racial prejudice or stereotypes, thus inviting abuse via discriminatory use. The Asper Centre was represented by University of Toronto Professor of Law and Prichard-Wilson Chair of Law and Public Policy, Kent Roach. In oral arguments, Professor Roach noted that peremptory challenges are often based on “guess-work and gut instincts”. Thus, “deputizing the accused to use a limited number of peremptory challenges to ensure representativeness and impartiality is neither reliable nor transparent”. He noted that the problems with implicit bias would be more effectively dealt with through a robust challenge for cause procedure and a more diverse jury roll, as was argued in R v Kokopenace.

Ruling from the bench

The Supreme Court of Canada issued a ruling from the bench on the same day as the oral arguments were heard. Their ruling upheld the constitutionality of the abolition of peremptory challenges with written reasons to follow. This unexpectedly expeditious judgment may have been an attempt to mitigate the delays in criminal jury trials stayed pending this ruling as well as to alleviate the uncertainty surrounding the validity of convictions which were decided subsequent to the enactment of Bill C-75 but prior to this appeal.

Annie Chan is a 1L JD student at the Faculty of Law and is currently an Asper Centre work-study student.

[1] Criminal Code, RSC 1985, c C-46. s 634.

[2] Bill C-75, An Act to amend the Criminal Code, the Youth Criminal Justice Act and other Acts and to make consequential amendments to other Acts, 1st Sess, 42nd Parl, 2019, c 25 ss 269-273.

[3] R v Chouhan, 2020 ONCA 40 at para 17 [Chouhan] [4] Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms, Part I of the Constitution Act, 1982, being Schedule B to the Canada Act 1982(UK), 1982, c 11.

[5] Chouhan at para 33

[6] ibid at para 37

[7] ibid at para 87

 

 

Supreme Court of Newfoundland and Labrador dismisses Constitutional Challenge to Travel Restriction

by Ainslie Pierrynowski

Does a provincial government have the authority to restrict interprovincial travel? Can limitations on mobility rights be justified in the name of public health? These timely issues were at the heart of Taylor v Newfoundland and Labrador,[1] a September 17, 2020 decision from the Supreme Court of Newfoundland and Labrador.

Background

On July 1, 2019, the Public Health Protection and Promotion Act, or the PHPPA, came into force in Newfoundland and Labrador.[2] When the Minister declares a public health emergency under PHPPA, section 28(1)(h) of the PHPPA enables the Chief Medical Officer of Health (CMOH) to make orders restricting travel to the province.[3]

In light of the COVID-19 pandemic, the CMOH issued such an order, effective May 4, 2020. This order limited entry to Newfoundland and Labrador residents, asymptomatic workers, and people with extenuating circumstances. On May 5, 2020, the CMOH made another order, which expanded the circumstances where a person would be exempt from the travel restriction.

When Kimberly Taylor’s mother passed away on May 5, 2020 at her home in Newfoundland and Labrador, Taylor sought an exemption from the travel restriction to attend her mother’s funeral. Taylor’s request was denied. Consequently, Taylor challenged section 28(1)(h) of the PHPPA. Taylor argued that this provision was beyond the legislative competence of the provincial legislature. In the alternative, Taylor contended that section 28(1)(h) infringed right to mobility and right to liberty pursuant to sections 6 and 7 of the Charter, respectively.

Is Section 28(1)(h) Beyond the Province’s Jurisdiction?

Justice Donald H. Burrage held that section 28(1)(h) fell within the province’s constitutional jurisdiction over matters of a local and private nature. At its core, the provision aimed at protecting and promoting the health of Newfoundland and Labrador’s population. Any impact on federal spheres of power, such as interprovincial undertakings, was merely incidental.

Furthermore, Justice Barrage noted, “[i]n the public health response to COVID-19 there is plenty of room for both levels of government…an effective public health response demands the cooperative participation of each [emphasis in the original].”[4]

Does Section 28(1)(h) infringe the Charter?

Justice Burrage determined that section 28(1)(h) did not engage Taylor’s right to liberty. A finding that Taylor’s right to liberty was engaged because of the travel restriction would effectively make section 6 mobility rights synonymous with the section 7 right to liberty. This conclusion would produce incoherence in the Charter, since section 7 applies to anyone “physically present in Canada and by virtue of such presence amenable to Canadian Law”[5] and is subject to the principles of fundamental justice, whereas section 6(1) only applies to Canadian citizens[6] and is subject to section 1 of the Charter. Alternatively, Taylor’s decision to attend her mother’s funeral does not amount to a “fundamental personal choice” and therefore does not attract Charter protection.

On the other hand, Justice Burrage concluded Taylor’s mobility rights had been infringed. Justice Burrage found that the right to remain in Canada under section 6(1) of the Charter included the right to move within Canada.

In this case, however, the violation of section 6(1) could be justified under section 1 of the Charter. According to Justice Burrage, the travel restriction related to a pressing and substantial objective: namely, protecting the province’s population from illness and death due to imported COVID-19 cases.

In terms of whether the travel restriction was rationally connected to this purpose, mathematical modelling presented in evidence showed that the travel restriction was an effective means of containing COVID-19. The model indicated that if non-resident travel to the province resumed at typical levels, the number of COVID-19 infections would rise to twenty times that of a scenario where the travel restriction remained in place and 1000 exempt non-residents entered the province every week.

As for the requirement that the impugned legislation must impair the protected right no more than necessary to achieve the desired objective, Justice Barrage found that limiting interprovincial travel was integral to containing COVID-19 in Newfoundland and Labrador. Overall, Justice Barrage concluded that the travel restriction’s benefit to the public outweighed its harms.

“While restrictions on personal travel may cause mental anguish to some, and certainly did so in the case of Ms. Taylor,” Justice Burrage wrote, “the collective benefit to the population as a whole must prevail.”[7]

Closing Thoughts

Ultimately, Taylor’s challenge to section 28(1)(h) was dismissed. Justice Barage held that the province’s  travel restrictions were consistent with the Constitution. The implications of this decision, however, stretch beyond the borders of Newfoundland and Labrador.

Across Canada, government responses to COVID-19 have forced legal advocates to grapple with the balance between individual rights and public health. For instance, a group of Yukon contractors have initiated a lawsuit challenging the territory’s COVID-19 restrictions. Similar to the challenge in Taylor, the applicants argue that the travel restrictions fall outside of the territory’s jurisdiction and that the travel restrictions infringe section 6 of the Charter. Meanwhile, the Justice Centre for Constitutional Freedoms released a report claiming that the Saskatchewan government’s COVID-19 response infringed the Charter and exceeded the province’s legislative jurisdiction. Echoing the basis for the Constitutional challenge in Taylor, the report contends that the Saskatchewan government’s COVID-19 response violates sections 6 and 7 of the Charter. Unlike Taylor, the report also draws on section 2 of the Charter, alleging that the Saskatchewan government’s actions have limited Saskatchewanians’ freedom to practice their faith, assemble, and associate.

The outcome of Taylor suggests that the courts may ultimately consider these measures Constitutional. While the Justice Centre for Constitutional Freedoms introduces a novel argument related to section 2 of the Charter, it remains to be seen whether this argument will eventually be raised in court.

Moreover, Justice Barrage concluded that PHPPA travel restrictions can operate alongside the federal Quarantine Act, as the latter deals with travel into Canada, not travel within Canada. Yet, Justice Barrage noted that “[i]t may well be the case that the Quarantine Act displaces s. 28(1)(h) of the PHPPA where international travel is concerned.”[8] Justice Barrage declined to expand on this point, as the case was concerned with domestic travel. Nevertheless, future cases might pick up this thread if federal and provincial travel restrictions ever come into conflict.

Overall, this case offers insight into the scope of provincial powers in the context of a public health emergency. This decision is significant—and not only due to the gravity of the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. After all, as Newfoundland and Labrador’s Minister of Health and Community Services said when the PHPPA was introduced in the House of Assembly, “We are living in a world with SARS and Ebola.  You are one plane flight away from a significant public health problem…”[9]  As new public health concerns continue to emerge, the relationship between the Charter and provinces’ efforts to safeguard the health of their population seems poised to evolve and develop in tandem with these new challenges.

Ainslie Pierrynowski is a 2L JD student at the University of Toronto Faculty of Law.

[1] 2020 NLSC 125 [Taylor].

[2] Public Health Protection and Promotion Act, SNL 2018, c P-37.3, s 67.

[3] Public Health Protection and Promotion Act, SNL 2018, c P-37.3, s 28(1)(h).

[4] Taylor v Newfoundland and Labrador, 2020 NLSC 125 at para 290.

[5] Singh v Canada (Minister of Employment and Immigration), (1985) 1 SCR 177 at 202.

[6] Section 6(2) applies to Canadian citizens and permanent residents.

[7] Taylor, supra note 1 at para 292.

[8] Taylor v Newfoundland and Labrador, 2020 NLSC 125 at para 277.

[9] “Bill 37, An Act Respecting The Protection And Promotion Of Public Health,” Newfoundland and Labrador, House of Assembly Proceedings, 48-3, Vol XLVIII No 44 (20 November 2018) at 2616.

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.