On June 3, 2016, the Supreme Court of Canada yet again upheld the constitutional principle in support of professional secrecy between legal advisors and their clients. Justices Wagner and Gascon, rendering reasons for the Court in Canada (Attorney General) v. Chambre des notaires du Québec, 2016 SCC 20, underscored the importance of solicitor-client privilege, not only in the judicial system, but also in the legal system. Accordingly, in Chambres des notaires, as well as in Canada (National Revenue) v. Thompson, 2016 SCC 21, released contemporaneously, the Court held that the right to professional secrecy trumped the need of the government to be able to obtain accounting records of legal advisors in so far as they related to clients.
The Minister of Democratic Institutions, Maryam Monsef, has announced the creation of a special committee to investigate and oversee what sort of electoral process should be adopted in time for the next federal election, currently slated for 2019. In my view, the committee approach she is using is fraught with problems. No matter how “good” its recommendations may be, they will be viewed as the product of a Liberal government-biased committee and will not bear the hallmark of impartial legitimacy that any electoral process must have.
In two separate decisions, the courts have made it clear that nothing in Carter v. Attorney General (Canada), 2015 SCC 5 requires that the person seeking medical assistance in dying be suffering from a terminal illness or condition. And yet the government persists in pursuing Bill C-14 with its requirement of “reasonable foreseeability” of death.
More than 14 months after the Supreme Court first held that the Criminal Code provisions forbidding physician-assisted death were unconstitutional in Carter v. Canada (Attorney General), 2015 SCC 5, and almost three months to the day from the date that the Supreme Court gave a four month extension to its suspension of the declaration of unconstitutionality (see Carter v. Canada (Attorney General), 2016 SCC 4), the Liberal government has introduced its legislative response with a bill, Bill C-14, An Act to amend the Criminal Code and to make related amendments to other Acts (medical assistance in dying).
On February 16, 2016, the Quebec Superior Court upheld the Succession to the Throne Act, 2013, an Act of the federal Parliament that gave Canada’s assent to an Act before the Parliament of the United Kingdom that changed the rules of succession for the British monarchy such that the system of male preference primogeniture under which a younger son could displace an elder daughter in the line of succession was to be ended and also such that the rule that rendered anyone who married a Catholic became ineligible to succeed to the Crown was similarly removed. In Motard v. Procureur general du Canada et al., 2016 QCCS 588, Justice Claude Bouchard examined the question as to whether the amendments to the royal succession, and Canada’s assent to them, were changes to Canada’s constitution and, if so, whether Part V of the Constitution Act, 1982 was therefore engaged.
Recently, there have been increasing cries for the Liberal government to hold a referendum on any new electoral system. On the CBC News website today, there is a report on a poll conducted by Insight West which found that nearly two thirds of Canadians polled considered that there should be a referendum on any new system of voting. But would this be a good way to decide upon such an issue?
For those of you who follow this issue, the current score is 2 to 1 for Trinity Western University as against the Law Societies. TWU has won two of the three trial court decisions – namely, those in British Columbia and Nova Scotia. It lost its inaugural round in Ontario. All three decisions are being appealed. As we all know, this one is going all the way to the Big House.
Where do things stand right now in the three provinces?
In today’s Globe and Mail, Lawrence Martin has underscored the “crisis in journalism”. His opinion piece, “A crisis that cries out for a public inquiry”, presents an important question about the state of the “fourth establishment” and its role in democratic government. He describes the root of the problem as follows:
Today, we have a crisis in the journalism industry unprecedented in scope. A media implosion. Newspapers being reduced to digital editions, large numbers losing their jobs, circulation falling, ad revenues plunging, near monopoly ownership of big-city dailies, the old business model in a state of collapse.
He goes on to observe that “it’s a joke to think that a healthy democracy can be restored given the continuing depletion of the one industry that holds business and government to account”. He asks “[i]f traditional print journalism cannot be sustained, what fills the void?” Good question.
On January 19, 2016, the Honourable Maryam Monsef, Minister of Democratic Institutions, announced the appointment of first members of the non-partisan panel that is charged with the task of coming up with qualified candidates for Senate vacancies. The panel, which has three federal representatives, two Ontario provincial representatives, two Quebec provincial representatives and two Manitoba provincial representatives, is supposed to come up with five qualified candidates for each Senate vacancy for those three provinces. The recommendations are not binding on the Prime Minister who ultimately submits his choices to the Governor General. The nine members of this initial panel are all eminently qualified. But there is criticism of the process. Some of the criticism has merit.
Last year, when Prime Minister Trudeau announced that he would press ahead with his plans for a non-partisan advisory panel to assist in choosing candidates for the Senate, BC’s Premier, Christy Clark, immediately slammed the proposal. She retorted that BC would not participate. On the same day as the Prime Minister’s announcement, she tweeted that the “Senate has never represented BC’s interests at the national level”. Later, she issued a statement: “[The proposed] changes do not address what’s been wrong with the Senate since the beginning. It has never been designed to represent British Columbians or our interests”. She has argued that BC is grossly under-represented, only getting 6 seats in the 105 seat Senate, and Mr. Trudeau’s changes would only serve to the Senate to think that it is somehow legitimate and that this would allow it to think that it could make decisions on behalf of the country. She stated that the Senate does not have that power and should not have it.
Premier Clark is both right and wrong. Furthermore, in my opinion, British Columbia is not the only party that should be seeking structural changes to the Senate. Specifically, I believe that the indigenous peoples of Canada should be included in any discussions involving revisions to the Senate.
[image from endcyberbullying.org]
On Friday, Justice McDougall of the Nova Scotia Supreme Court ruled that Nova Scotia’s Cyber-Safety Act is unconstitutional, violating both s. 2(b) and s. 7 of the Charter. The Cyber-safety Act was passed in 2013 in response to the public outcry over the suicide death of a young woman, Rehtaeh Parsons, linked to her having been bullied on-line. In his 66 page judgment in Crouch v. Snell, 2015 NSSC 340, Justice McDougall held that the Nova Scotian legislature had gone too far in its attempt to address the dangers of cyberbullying.