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).
On July 26, 2017, the Supreme Court of Canada rendered two much awaited decisions respecting the duty of the National Energy Board to consult and accommodate the aboriginal rights of two distinct Indigenous peoples for two distinct projects. In one, Clyde River (Hamlet) v. Petroleum Geoservices Inc., 2017 SCC 40, a tiny Inuit community from Nunavut convinced the Court that it had not been deeply and meaningfully consulted or reasonably accommodated and therefore, the National Energy Board’s approval of the petroleum-testing project was overturned and quashed. In the other, Chippewas of the Thames First Nation v. Enbridge Pipelines Inc., 2017 SCC 41, the Court held that the NEB had appropriately and sufficiently consulted and then accommodated the southwest Ontarian Indigenous nation and upheld the NEB’s approval of Enbridge’s project. Of note, the Court ordered that the Chippewas of the Thames pay Enbridge’s costs.
The headline on today’s CBC News website says “Indigenous leaders to boycott Monday’s meeting with premiers”. The article outlines how three Indigenous groups, namely, the Assembly of First Nations, the Metis National Council and Tapirit Kanatami, have decided to withdraw from the Council of the Federation meeting where the leaders of the provinces and territories will be meeting because they (the indigenous leaders) are not being recognized as full and equal participants. In my opinion, this article demonstrates the pressing need for Canada’s reconciliation process to recognize the governments of Indigenous peoples in a more formal and constitutional manner.
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.
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.
Today, the new Minister of Democratic Institutions, Karina Gould, announced that the Liberal government has officially abandoning the objective of electoral reform. Thus, notwithstanding the promise that 2015 would be the “last federal election conducted under the first-past-the-post system” made during the 2015 electoral campaign, Canada will be faced with more elections which permit very small percentages of the voting public to put in place electoral majorities.
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.
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.