In a decision made in late 2014, the Quebec Court of Appeal affirmed the legal profession’s unique role in undertaking constitutional challenges. In a unanimous decision (Vezina, Savard, and Vauclair JJA), the Court upheld Justice Roy’s decision to reject the Government of Canada’s application to strike the claim of the Barreau du Quebec for want of standing. The relatively short decision, Canada (Procureur general) v. Barreau du Quebec, 2014 QCCA 2234, was released on December 4, 2014 and was a judgment “par la Cour”.
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Today, in Canada (Attorney General) v. Federation of Law Societies of Canada, 2015 SCC 7,the Supreme Court confirmed that one of the hallmarks of the legal profession, namely, solicitor-client privilege is one of the fundamental principles of justice worthy of constitutional sanction under s. 7 of the Charter. In reviewing the federal government’s anti-terrorism and anti-money laundering legislation, the Court also ruled that, to the extent the legislation required lawyers to obtain and keep information about their clients for the government, it constituted an unreasonable search and seizure contrary to s. 8 of the Charter.
Today, in its fifth decision of the year, the Supreme Court overturned yet another decades old precedent and found the Criminal Code provisions prohibiting physician-assisted death in end-of-life situations unconstitutional and contrary to s. 7 of the Charter. This is the third time this year that the Court has overturned one of its previous decisions on constitutional matters. In Carter v. Canada (Attorney General), 2015 SCC 5, the Court spoke with one voice and in its own name (the headnote states that the precedent was “distinguished” but make no mistake, it no longer applies to these same statutory provisions against assisted death). No one justice was accredited with the authorship of the reasons.
Last week, Justice Jamie Campbell of the Nova Scotia Supreme Court delivered a scathing indictment of the decision of the Nova Scotia Barristers’ Society (the “Society”) to recognize law degrees for the proposed law school at Trinity Western University (“TWU”) only if TWU changes its “community covenant” against sex outside the confines of a legal marriage between a man and woman. The focus of the Society’s concerns is that the Community Covenant would have the effect of discriminating against members of the LGBT community. His judgment (Trinity Western University v. Nova Scotia Barristers’ Society, 2015 NSSC 25) is the first of what will no doubt be a series of judicial pronouncements on the various provincial law societies’ decision to accredit or not to accredit TWU’s proposed law school. Challenges in British Columbia and Ontario are also well on their way to being heard. Yet again, the collision between equality rights and freedom of religion finds itself on the center stage of Canada’s judicial arenas. The last time this issue went to the Supreme Court of Canada was in 2001 in yet another TWU case, Trinity Western University v. British Columbia College of Teachers, 2001 SCC 31. While the Court held that the Charter was not directly applicable in that case, it did determine that any concerns of the College of Teachers respecting the discriminatory effects against homosexuals were to be subject to the respect for the principles of the religious faith professed by TWU. Justice Campbell does not consider that the time is nigh for that 2001 judicial determination to change.
In two decisions released only two weeks apart, the Supreme Court of Canada has clearly moved to “refang” the union movement, especially insofar as it involves government employers. In its first decision of the year, Mounted Police Association of Ontario v. Canada (Attorney General), 2015 SCC 1, the majority of the Court ruled that the laws prohibiting RCMP members from being able to freely organize their own independent labour association (ie. a labour union) contravened their freedom of association as protected by s. 2(d) of the Charter and could not be justified under s. 1. In last Friday’s decision, Saskatchewan Federation of Labour v. Saskatchewan, 2015 SCC 4, a majority of the Court held that Saskatchewan’s “essential services” laws which prohibit the public service from striking were similarly contrary to s. 2(d) and unconstitutional. In both cases, Justice Rothstein (joined by Justice Wagner in the second decision) provided powerful dissents. As a result of these decisions and other relatively recent decisions, Canada constitutional protection of freedom of association has now come to protect core elements of labour relations, such as the right to bargain collectively, the right to strike and the right to freely choose an independent labour association to represent their interests viz-a-viz the employer. We have come a long, long way from the labour trilogy of 1987.