Another chapter in the continuing saga of medical assistance in dying (“MAID”) was completed on January 31, 2018 when the Divisional Court of the Ontario Superior Court of Justice ruled on the constitutionality of the “Effective Referral Provisions” of the Human Rights Policy and MAID Policy of the College of Physicians and Surgeons of Ontario (“CPSO”). (In this blog post, I am focussed on the MAID Policy but the judgment refers to the Policies.) The Effective Referral Provisions require physicians who are unwilling to provide, amongst other matters, MAID to their patients, on moral or religious grounds to provide an effective referral to another health care provider. The Christian Medical and Dental Society of Canada and the Canadian Federation of Catholic Physicians’ Societies, and Canadian Physicians for Life, along with a number of individual “objecting” physicians had challenged the Effective Referral Policy on the basis that the Policy violated their freedom of religion and conscience protected by s. 2(a) of the Charter and their right to equality protected by s. 15. Justice Wilton-Siegel, (Justices Lococo and Matheson concurring) disagreed and dismissed the challenges: The Christian Medical and Dental Society of Canada v. College of Physicians and Surgeons of Ontario, 2018 ONSC 579.
Photo of beluga from CTV News
Last week, the Court of Appeal for British Columbia overturned an injunctive order of the Supreme Court that had required a film-maker to remove certain segments of his film because they had been filmed in the Vancouver Aquarium subject to certain restrictive conditions and then used in the film without the Aquarium’s consent. The film sought to advance the case that cetaceans ought not to be kept in captivity, a thesis that ran counter to the Aquarium’s business objectives. In reversing the Supreme Court, the appellate court called upon the Charter and its protection of freedom of expression to justify its decision. To me, what was interesting about this decision (Vancouver Aquarium Marine Science Centre v. Charbonneau, 2017 BCCA 395) was the fact that the Court used the Charter to limit the scope of discretionary power that the judge of first instance could exercise in issuing such an injunction.
A recent decision of Chief Justice Hinkson of the British Columbia Supreme Court in Lamb v. Canada (Attorney General), 2017 BCSC 1802 has underscored the fact that Canada is not done with the medical assistance in dying portfolio. As we know, in 2016, the Liberal government pushed through Bill C-14 over the objections of many who asserted that the Bill did not comply with the Supreme Court of Canada’s ruling in Carter v. Canada (Attorney General), 2015 SCC 5. Indeed, in a previous post, I predicted that if the legislation passed “as is”, we would see “yet another challenge (and more people suffering unnecessarily) in the not too distant future”. Unfortunately, this prediction has come to pass.
BC’s Selkirk Mountains as seen from space: NASA
On November 3, 2017, the Supreme Court of Canada confirmed that, yet another part of a First Nation’s claimed traditional territory could be subject to permanent development because the government had conducted “reasonable consultation”. In Ktunaxa Nation v. British Columbia (Minister of Forests, Lands and Resources), 2017 SCC 54, the Court delivered a double blow to the Indigenous Nation. Not only did the Court hold that the Indigenous Nation’s freedom of religion was not infringed by the government’s decision to approve a year-round ski resort development on their claimed sacred grounds but the Court also found that the Minister had reasonably consulted the Indigenous Nation and that, therefore, the governmental approval was upheld. There are a number of perspectives to this case so this blog post will actually be considering:
1. Freedom of religion;
2. Reasonable consultation and accommodation; and
3. Supreme Court of Canada appointments.
Last week, the Québec National Assembly passed the Religious Neutrality Act, also known as Bill 62. Aside from the Indian Act which I
continue to believe is Canada’s most discriminatory legislation (it is pretty hard to argue that the Indian Act’s legislative purpose was anything other than to contain and control the Indian peoples of Canada – of course, this is a conversation for a different day), I can think of no other provincial or federal legislation that is as overtly discriminatory as Bill 62.
While the Act proclaims the secular nature of the organs of state of the Québec government, its central provisions deal with, of all things, face covering. And not just for the personnel of the Québec government. For anyone receiving services from the Québec government. So to be clear, the rule is that to provide or receive services, one’s face must be covered.
This last year has seen surprising developments throughout the Western world. Probably none is more surprising than the changes that have been the consequences of the election of American President Donald Trump. His daily Tweets (his preferred means of communicating White House policy it would seem) are often confusing, contradictory, and,…, well…, frankly concerning. Like many, I have found many of President Trump’s pronouncements troubling. They demonstrate to any who have the most basic comprehension of the proper functioning of western democracies that he does not understand or appreciate the importance of basic constitutional norms. Like freedom of the press. Or worse, like rule of law.
For about nine years here on Canada’s West Coast, a constitutional battle has been fought over the future of public health care. The opening shots were fired in 2008 by some individual patients against a private surgery clinic, Cambie Surgeries Corporation (“Cambie”), claiming that Cambie was illegally extra-billing and that the Medical Services Commission (the “MSC”) was not properly enforcing the law. Cambie then responded by launching its own action in early 2009, challenging the constitutionality of provisions of the provincial Medicare Protection Act claiming that they caused undue delay in access to health care resulting in a violation of the patients’ rights to life, liberty and security of the person as guaranteed by s. 7 of the Charter (amongst other challenges). Since 2009, there have been over thirty reported decisions of the Supreme Court of British Columbia dealing with procedural issues. Over twenty of those reported decisions have been issued since the commencement of trial (I am sure that there are many more unreported decisions).
A recent decision of the Supreme Court of Canada regarding the Internet giant, Google, has delivered some very important lessons for future litigants in the field of cyber-speech. In Google Inc. v. Equustek Solutions Inc., 2017 SCC 34, the Court has delivered two two principal lessons:
1. If you are going to allege constitutional values or arguments, such as the importance of freedom of expression, ensure that you develop a full evidentiary record in support of your position;
2. The Court may well understand that there is a distinction between those who provide technology such as search engines and those who use it for the purposes of breaking the law.
In its first decision of the year, Ernst v. Alberta Energy Regulator, 2017 SCC 1, the Court released its reasons for dismissing the appeal of Jessica Ernst, an Albertan who was suing, amongst others, the Alberta Energy Regulator for breaching her Charter-protected freedom of expression and seeking Charter damages for that alleged breach. At issue before the Supreme Court was whether the immunity clause in s. 43 of the Alberta Energy Resources Conservation Act had the effect of barring her claim for Charter damages. In a strange 4:1:4 split, a majority of the Court held that it did.
As 2016 fades into the distance, I thought that it might be useful to look back and see what were some of the biggest constitutional developments in the Old Year. There were many but I think that a few stand out for me. A number do not involve constitutional judicial determinations but they are major Canadian constitutional developments nonetheless.