Coronavirus – as viewed by Constitutionally Canadian

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Image by Thanasis Papazacharias from Pixabay

The coronavirus crisis in Canada

Like so many other countries around the world, Canada has been rocked by the coronavirus or more specifically CoVID19 virus. Only a short time ago, Canadians thought that this virus was a problem that affected other countries, not ours. That perception is long gone.

We are now under a state of emergency. By and large, we work from home – if we can work at all. We practise “social distancing”, a phrase that most of us had never heard back in February of this year. The provinces and territories have issued public health orders, restricting our movement, our social interactions, our businesses, our way of life. The federal government has limited the ability of people to enter and leave the country. Massive spending programs, the likes of which we have not seen since the last World War, are being unleashed. Unemployment greater than anything experienced since the Great Depression is expected.

All of these changes have occurred in weeks, sometimes days, and huge pressures have been exerted on our federation, on our democracy, on our governance. Our constitutional framework is being tested and we have only just begun. Here are some of the constitutional issues that I think are coming to the fore as a result of the coronavirus outbreak:

Charter of Rights issues

The orders of the different orders of governments clearly are having an effect on the mobility rights of Canadians and the permanent residents of Canada. Prior to the coronavirus outbreak, the ability to enter or leave Canada was the unquestioned right of a Canadian citizen, protected by s. 6 of the Charter. Now that right is subjected to significant restrictions, of a level and nature not normally seen in peacetime.

Not only is the right to enter and leave the country being affected, but so too is the right to travel between provinces. While the restrictions on this right (also protected by s. 6) are less dramatic or pronounced, they do exist and some provinces, including my own, British Columbia, are actively advocating that residents of other provinces do not come across our provincial borders.

Intra-provincial mobility is being restricted in different provinces. This right to move freely that descended from the rights of freemen to move without restrictions from the nobility is being clamped down now in an attempt to limit the spread of the contagion. Constitutional protection of this right is now found in s. 7 of the Charter. 

Mobility rights are not the only rights being affected. Many of the fundamental freedoms are directly impacted by the measures. Today is Passover, a sacred Jewish holiday. This weekend is Easter, one of the most celebrated Christian holidays. Earlier last month was Nowruz, a Persian religious holiday. All of these religious holidays are normally celebrated collectively. Under the public health orders, such collective gatherings are banned. Accordingly, the fundamental freedoms of religion, association and peaceful assembly are affected.

In all of these instances, the question must be posed whether the measures adopted to combat the coronavirus outbreak are proportionate and justifiable given the limits they impose on such constitutional rights and freedoms.

Canadian federalism

Just a few months ago, the Canadian federation was being rocked by protests, with railways and ports being shut down. The provinces were blaming each other and the federal government. Indigenous nations were seeking a meaningful voice.  The coronavirus has changed the focus.

Today, we are witnessing huge investments in time, money and human resources in fighting the coronavirus, limiting its spread, “flattening the curve”, understanding it, and developing a vaccine or treatment for it. As well, gigantic plans are being created for supporting the Canadian population when so many are out of work and for bringing our economy back to life after the virus is brought under control.

Although these are early days, the provinces and the federal government appear to be working together. Things are just being done. Legal frameworks are being erected quickly. The normal care regarding constitutional jurisdiction is, most likely, not being exerted. As we progress through what will likely be months of battle against this virus, the question will be whether jurisdictional limits have been exceeded. It will also be whether this apparent exercise in cooperative federalism will continue and whether it may serve to shape future constitutional debates.

Another issue that will have to be resurrected will be whether the Indigenous Nations of Canada have been overlooked. That whole issue of Indigenous jurisdiction and Indigenous law which was at the forefront of our political and constitutional debate back in January has not gone away. But it would seem that the niceties of that debate have been pushed to the side as the federal, provincial and territorial governments deal with the immediacy of the crisis. So, how will we return to deal with that issue in the aftermath of CoVID19?

Parliamentary democracy

Just this Monday, Prime Minister Trudeau announced that the government was actively looking at whether Parliament could sit virtually.  If a virtual Parliament came to fruition, that could be a fundamental constitutional development and one that might survive the coronavirus outbreak.

There are already critics of such a proposal.  Adam Wherry wrote an op-ed today in which he suggested that Parliament requires that the members get to know each other, work together and interact with each other. He has good points. That being said, a virtual Parliament may make it easier for parliamentarians of the more remote or distant parts of the country to maintain better contact with their constituents and yet still participate in the parliamentary debates and committees.

I suspect that there would need to be a number of small “c” constitutional amendments in order to make this virtual Parliament a true and lasting reality. But it should be explored and not just for this crisis.

I hope to revisit these and other constitutional issues being raised by the coronavirus over the next few weeks. I invite you to reach out to me by commenting on this post, to suggest topics for discussion, and to provide alternate perspectives.

I remain

Constitutionally yours

Arthur Grant

Post script

It has been almost two years since I did my last blog post. I had just been recovering from significant surgery (bilateral hip replacement) and I was focused on that. As well, my work levels exploded, a happy situation I suppose.

I can report that, not only did I recover from my hip surgery but I exceeded everyone’s expectations, including my own. I returned to my passion, rowing, and competed both in 2018 and 2019. If the coronavirus permits, I will be rowing and competing again this year and for as long into the future as my health and circumstances permit.

Work is still busy but I think that I have found ways to tame it.  I have some great people working with me and they make it all possible.

So the long and short of it all is that I hope to be doing a lot more of Constitutionally Canadian. You will probably find that I will be making more of an emphasis on the issue of Indigenous jurisdiction, Indigenous governance and Indigenous laws. I think that these present some of the biggest constitutional issues that our country will face and I aspire to make a contribution towards an understanding of them and, with luck, towards a resolution and lasting reconciliation.

AG

The Supremes keep the lid on the keg – the beer still does not flow freely in Canada – R. v. Comeau, 2018 SCC 15

 

drink-beer.jpgOn April 19, 2018, in R. v. Comeau, 2018 SCC 15,  the Supreme Court of Canada ruled that New Brunswick was within its rights to control the flow of beer across its provincial borders: unrestrained interprovincial free trade in Canada (at least for beer) is still a pipedream. But imbedded in the Court’s judgment were seeds that, properly fertilized and irrigated, may well grow into a more robust protection of economic union.

Mr. Comeau had decided that he wanted to bring some cheaper Quebec beer and other alcohol across the Québec/New Brunswick border. The police in New Brunswick were lying in wait for him and charged him with a violation of the New Brunswick Liquor Control Act. At trial, he challenged the constitutionality of s. 134(b) of the Liquor Control Act, arguing that it contravened s. 121 of the Constitution Act, 1867.

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“Rule of Law” – Is it under Siege?

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.

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The birthday of Canada’s Constitution and the British Columbian lesson

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Today marks the 150th anniversary of the date that Canada’s constitution came into effect. While many are saying that today is Canada’s 150t birthday, it is more accurate to say that it is the “150th birthday” of Canada’s written federal constitution. On July 1, 1867, the British North America Act, now named the Constitution Act, 1867, came into force and the fledgling federation known as Canada was created. But Canada and her constitution existed long before that, Even in the political and legal sense of the word, “Canada” was a concept or an entity in one form or another well before 1867. There was the united Province of Canada, Upper and Lower Canada, and, of course, the indigenous nations that spanned the territories of what is now Caanda for long before 1867. But today, I would like to commemorate the 150th anniversary of Canada’s BNA Act (let’s use the former name today for old time’s sake). I would also like to take notice of what transpired recently in British Columbia to underscore that Canada and her constitution are much, much older than 150 years.

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UK Supreme Court rules – Parliament must authorize the triggering of Brexit – R. v. Secretary of State for Exiting European Union, 2017 UKSC 5

Today, in an 8:3 split ruling in R. v. Secretary of State for Exiting the European Union, 2017 UKSC 5, the United Kingdom Supreme Court held that Parliament must first authorize the exercise of Article 50’s triggering of the notice for exiting the European Union. While this blog focuses on Canadian constitutional law, what I found of interest was the discussion by the majority on the role of royal prerogative under the Constitution. Much of that discussion is applicable in the Canadian context.
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Constitutional Democracy and Rule of Law and the American Election

Yesterday, I did two things of note. First, I listened with interest to a webinar sponsored by our Constitutional and Human Rights Law Section of the Canadian Bar Association entitled “Access to Information at a Crossroads: Implications of the Long-gun Registry Case”. Second, I watched the televised returns of the American election.

Notwithstanding its title, the webinar was about rule of law and how access to information is inextricably interwoven with that concept. Its speakers were Suzanne Legault, Information Commissioner of Canada, and Dr. Vincent Kazmierski, Department of Law and Legal Studies of Carleton University. Using the Long-gun Registry case as an example, the speakers illustrated how the rule of law was involved and perhaps even imperilled from various perspectives. Dr. Kazmierski presented a thesis that postulated that the government of the day abused its powers to overwhelm legitimate rights to access to information and that, in so doing, disrespected essential elements of the principle of rule of law. (You can probably still listen to the excellent webinar by contacting the CBA Professional Development at pd@cba.org.)

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The Senate says “’nuff”… Bill C-14 approved by the Red Chamber

This is just a quick post to note that Bill C-14 in the more restricted format passed by the House of Commons – for the second time – was just approved by the Senate by a 44 to 28 vote. Earlier, the Senate had returned the Bill to the House of Commons with a substantial majority of Senators agreeing that the House of Commons’ version was too restricted, especially considering the requirement that a person seeking medical assistance in dying (“MAID”) be at the point where his or her natural death was “reasonably foreseeable”. Constitutional experts had testified before the Senate to the effect that this version of the Bill was unconstitutional because it stripped away rights from a group of persons that the Supreme Court of Canada had expressly determined were theirs. So what next?

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Don’t complain when the Senate fulfills its constitutional role: Bill C-14 as a case-study

Government ministers and opposition leaders were in a flap this last week. The Senate dared to amend Bill C-14, the bill on physician-assisted dying and strike out one of the qualifications that the House of Commons had insisted on – namely, that natural death be reasonably foreseeable. Opposition Leader Rona Ambrose stated in response on June 9, 2016:

“We have the courts making laws in this country and now we have an unelected Senate changing the laws of an elected House….”

Minister of Health Jane Philpott stated that the government was “concerned” about the amendments to a bill that “has been supported by a vote in the House of Commons”. Justice Minister Jody Wilson-Raybould called the amendment a “significant one” and said that it would “broaden the regime of medical assistance in dying in this country and we have sought to ensure that we, at every step, find the right balance that is required for such a turn in direction.”

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The Court comes to the defence of solicitor-client privilege – Canada (Attorney General) v. Chambre des notaires du Québec, 2016 SCC 20

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.

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The Succession to the Throne Act, 2013 survives constitutional scrutiny: Motard v. Canada (Attorney General)


 

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.

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