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Confronting Judicial Supremacy: A Defence of Judicial Activism and the Supreme Court of Cananda's Legal Rights Jurisprudence

  • James B. Kelly (a1) and Michael Murphy (a2)

This article considers the relationship between judicial review and democracy through a case analysis of legal rights by the Supreme Court of Canada. Perhaps more accurately, this article seeks to engage an influential group of scholars, the Canadian interpretivists, best illustrated by the scholarly contributions of F.L. Morton, Rainer Knopff and Christopher P. Manfredi. Unlike the Canadian interpretivists, who conclude that judicial activism by the Supreme Court of Canada has undermined liberal constitutionalism, this article suggests that judicial activism has deepened constitutional supremacy. This argument is developed in two parts. In the first section, the theoretical limitations of original understanding are explored, largely as a way to illustrate the conceptual difficulties facing the Canadian interpretivists and their attempt to demonstrate the unconstrained nature of judicial power in Canada. In this section, we contend that the construction of original understanding is a highly subjective enterprise that creates the myth of judicial supremacy. In the second section, the empirical limitations of the claim of judicial supremacy are discussed by identifying the paradox of judicial activism — how judicial activism and its impact varies depending on the state actor at the centre of a Charter challenge. Through a case analysis of legal rights cases decided by the Supreme Court of Canada, this article confronts the myth of judicial supremacy by demonstrating that judicial activism against the police does not advance judicial supremacy but strengthens constitutional supremacy. By redefining the relationship between citizens and the state through an activist legal rights jurisprudence, the Supreme Court of Canada has effectively checked arbitrary uses of state power by the agents of law enforcement. This activism serves to advance constitutional supremacy, despite claims to the contrary by the Canadian interpretivists.

Cet article étudie la relation entre le contrôle constitutionnel exercé par la Cour Suprême du Canada et la démocratie en analysant la jurisprudence portant sur les droits garantis par la Charte. Plus précisément, l'article vise à engager le débat avec un groupe influent d'universitaires, les interprétivistes canadiens, illustrés par les contributions scientifiques de F. L. Morton, Rainer Knopff et Christopher P. Manfredi. Contrairement aux interprétivistes qui concluent que l'activisme judiciaire de la Cour Suprême du Canada a compromis le constitutionnalisme libéral, cet article suggère qu'il a plutôt renforcé la suprématie de la Constitution. Cet argument est développé en deux parties. Dans la première, les limites théoriques de la compréhension de l'intention du législateur historique sont explorées pour illustrer les difficultés conceptuelles auxquelles font face les interprétivistes canadiens dans leur tentative de démontrer que le pouvoir judiciaire au Canada est sans contrainte. Nous soutenons que la construction de la compréhension historique est une entreprise hautement subjective qui a crée le mythe de la suprématie judiciaire. Dans la deuxième partie, les limites empiriques de ce mythe sont discutées en identifiant le paradoxe de l'activisme judiciaire: comment il varie, ainsi que son effet, selon l'acteur étatique qui se trouve au centre du recours à la Charte. Grâce à une analyse de cas d'un ensemble de décisions portant sur les droits garantis, l'article confronte ce mythe en démontrant que l'activisme judiciaire contre la police ne renforce point la suprématie judiciaire mais bien celle de la Constitution. En redéfinissant la relation entre les citoyens et l'État par une jurisprudence activiste des droits, la Cour suprême du Canada a effectivement contrôlé des abus de pouvoir par les agents de police. Cet activisme sert bien l'avancement de la suprématie constitutionnelle, quoi qu'en disent les interprétivistes canadiens‥

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1 Manfredi, C.P., “Adjudication, Policy-Making and the Supreme Court of Canada: Lessons From the Experience of the United States” (1989) 22 Can. J. Pol. Sci. 313; Manfredi, C. P., Judicial Power and the Charter: Canada and the Paradox of Liberal Constitutionalism (Toronto: McClelland and Stewart, 1993) [hereinafter: Judicial Power and the Charter]; Morton, F.L., “The Charter Revolution and the Court Party” (1992) 30 Osgoode Hall L. J. 627 F.L. [hereinafter The Charter Revolution]; Morton, F.L. and Knopff, R., “Permanence and Change in a Written Constitution: The ‘Living Tree’ Doctrine and the Charter of Rights” (1990) 1 Supreme Court L. Rev. 531 [hereinafter: Permanence and Change]; Morton, F. L. and Knopff, R., The Charter Revolution and the Court Party (Peterborough: Broadview Press, 2000) [hereinafter: Morton & Knopff, The Charter Revolution and the Court Party].

2 Judicial Power and the Charter, ibid. at 37.

3 Morton & Knopff, The Charter Revolution and the Court Party, supra note 1 at 40–52.

4 For a further discussion of the reasonable limits clause, see Hiebert, J. L., “The Evolution of the Limitation Clause” (1990) 28 Osgoode Hall L. J. 103; Hogg, P. W., “Section 1 Revisited” (1992) 1 N.J.C.L. 1; Jackman, M., “Protecting Rights and Promoting Democracy” (1996) 34 Osgoode Hall L. J. 661; Laforest, G., “The Balancing of Interests under the Charter” (1993) 2 N.J.C.L. 133.

5 The relevant provisions of the Charter read as follows:

s.1 The Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms guarantees the rights and freedoms set out in it subject only to such reasonable limits prescribed by law as can be demonstrably justified in a free and democratic society.

s.24 (2) Where in proceedings under subsection (1), a court concludes that evidence was obtained in a manner that infringed or denied any rights or freedoms guaranteed by this Charter, the evidence shall be excluded if it is established that, having regard to all the circumstances, the admission of it in the proceedings would bring the administration of justice into disrepute.

s.33 (1) Parliament or the legislature of a province may expressly declare in an Act of Parliament or of the legislature, as the case may be that the Act or a provision thereof shall operate notwithstanding a provision included in section 2 or sections 7 to 15 of this Charter.

(2) An Act or provision of an Act in respect of which a declaration made under this section is in effect shall have such operation as it would have but for the provision of this Charter referred to in the declaration.

(3) A declaration made under subsection (1) shall cease to have effect five years after it comes into force or on such earlier date as may be specified in the declaration.

(4) Parliament or a legislature of a province may re-enact a declaration made under subsection (1).

(5) Subsection (3) applies in respect of a re-enactment made under subsection (4). Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms, Part I of the Constitution Act, 1982, being Schedule B to the Canada Act 1982 (U.K.), c. 11.

6 Kelly, J. B., “The Charter of Rights and Freedoms and the rebalancing of liberal constitutionalism in Canada, 1982–1997” (1999) 37 Osgoode Hall L. J. 625. I have updated this study to include Charter cases decided by the Supreme Court of Canada between 1998–1999 and to remove the non-Charter cases included in the 1999 study. Please refer to Appendix 1 for a complete list of the 110 activist Charter decisions by the Supreme Court of Canada between 1982 and 1999.

7 As Peter Hogg notes: “There is no single principle that explains judicial review and reconciles it with democracy.” Hogg, P. W., “The Charter of Rights and American Theories of Interpretation” (1987) 25 Osgoode Hall L. J. 87 at 111. Our intention is simply to build a persuasive case in favour of one such principle. See also Freeman, S., “Constitutional Democracy and the Legitimacy of Judicial Review” (19901991) 9 Law and Philos. 328.

8 Hamilton, Alexander, Madison, James and Jay, John, The Federalist (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1966) at 318–22 [hereinafter Federalist].

9 Ibid. at 356.

10 Montesquieu, , The Spirit of the Laws, Book XI, trans. & eds. Cohler, A. M., Miller, B. C. & Stone, H. S. (New York: Cambridge University Press, 1989), Chapter 6.

11 Federalist, supra note 8, at 302–12.

12 “Ambition must be made to counteract ambition.” Ibid. at 356.

13 Ibid‥

14 To quote Madison himself: “It may be a reflection on human nature, that such devices should be necessary to control the abuses of government. But what is government but the greatest of all reflections on human nature? If men were angels, no government would be necessary. If angels were to govern men, neither external nor internal controls on government would be necessary.” Ibid‥

15 Judicial Power and the Charter, supra note 1 at 37.

16 Judicial Power and the Charter, supra note 1 at 46; Permanence and Change, supra note 1 at 545; and The Charter Revolution, supra note 1 at 651.

17 Judicial Power and the Charter, supra note 1 at 46.

18 Permanence and Change, supra note 1 at 540.

19 Their commitment to this more moderate account of fundamental rights is somewhat ambiguous. Morton and Knopff, for example, seem to lament the contemporary turn away from theories of natural rights towards what they feel are nihilistic forms of moral relativism, but they offer neither refutation nor rebuttal of such theories. Ibid., at 540–1.

20 Permanence and Change, supra note 1 at 539–42, 544–5; Permanence and Change, supra note 1 at 40, 54–6.

21 See Permanence and Change, supra note 1 at 9–14, 36–7.

22 See Dworkin, R., A Matter of Principle (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1985), Chapter Two [hereinafter A Matter of Principle]; idem., Freedom's Law: The Moral Reading of the American Constitution (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1996). Chapter 14 [hereinafter: Freedom's Law]; and Ely, J. H., Democracy and Distrust (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1980), Chapters One and Two.

23 For this particular argument see P. Hogg, supra note 7 at 96.

24 A Matter of Principle, supra note 22 at 33–57.

25 Dworkin puts it as follows: “[T]here is no such thing as the intention of the Framers waiting to be discovered, even in principle. There is only some such thing waiting to be invented.” A Matter of Principle, supra note 22 at 39. The phrasing we have used is more accurate, since claiming to know this, as Dworkin might appear to be doing, can be interpreted as a similarly undemonstrable claim to certainty. It is, moreover, more compatible with the general point of view which Dworkin defends in his book.

26 Permanence and Change, supra note 1 at 544–5.

27 Ibid. at 539.

28 Judicial Power and the Charter, supra note 1 at 40.

29 The Charter Revolution, supra note 1 at 651.

30 Permanence and Change, supra note 1 at 545–6.

31 Judicial Power and the Charter, supra note 1 at 46. Manfredi to his credit at least acknowledges the difficulty of answering the types of doubts that have been raised in this regard, but ultimately he makes no attempt to answer them. Ibid., at 42–3.

32 Dworkin charges Robert Bork with a similar circularity in his most recent defence of original intent. Freedom's Law, supra note 22, Chapter 14.

33 Wittgenstein, L., On Certainty (Oxford: Basil Blackwell, 1974) sections 427 and passim; idem., Philosophical Investigations (Oxford: Basil Blackwell, 1984), sections 109–33 and passim. For a recent application of this philosophical point of view to liberal democratic theory see Rorty, R., Contingency, Irony, and Solidarity (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1989).

34 Permanence and Change, supra note 1 at 544–6; Judicial Power and the Charter, supra note 1 at 54.

35 Judicial Power and the Charter, supra note 1 at 46–7.

36 For an interesting argument against this point see Waldron, J., “A Rights-Based Critique of Constitutional Rights” (1993) 13 Oxford J. of L. Studies 18 at 46–51.

37 Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms, supra note 5.

38 See the discussion of this process of constitutional dialogue in relation to sections 1 and 33, using the case of Ford v. Quebec, in Tully, J., Strange Multiplicity: Constitutionalism in an Age of Diversity (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1995) at 167–72. For differing approaches to the dialogue concept, see Hogg, P. W. and Bushell, A. A., “The Charter Dialogue Between Courts and Legislatures (Or Perhaps the Charter of Rights Isn't Such a Bad Thing After All)” (1997) 35 Osgoode Hall L. J. 75; Manfredi, C. P. and Kelly, J. B., “Six Degrees of Dialogue: A Response to Hogg and Bushell” (1999) 37 Osgoode Hall L. J. 513; Hogg, P. W. and Thornton, A. A., “Reply to ‘Six Degrees of Dialogue’” (1999) 37 Osgoode Hall L. J. 529.

39 Compare this to the Court's own recent characterization of its relationship with Parliament, included as part of its ruling in the controversial Mills case: “The relationship between the courts and the legislature should be one of dialogue,” Madam Justice Beverley McLachlin and Mr. Justice Frank Iacobucci wrote on behalf of the 7–1 majority. “The courts do not hold a monopoly on the protection and promotion of rights and freedoms. Just as Parliament must respect the Court's rulings, so the Court must respect Parliament's determination that a legislative scheme can be improved. To insist on slavish conformity would belie the mutual respect that underpins the relationship between the courts and legislature that is so essential to our constitutional democracy.” Makin, Kirk, “Top Court bows to will of Parliament, The Globe and Mail (Friday, November 26, 1999) A3.

40 Morton & Knopff, The Charter Revolution and the Court Party, supra note 1 at 34–53; Manfredi, C. P., “Judicial Review and Criminal Disenfranchisement” (1998) 60 The Rev. of Pol. 279 at 285–287.

41 Young, A., “The Charter, the Supreme Court of Canada and the Constitutionalizing of the Investigative Process” in Cameron, J., ed., The Charter's Impact on the Criminal Justice System (Toronto: Carswell, 1996) 2; Roach, K., Due Process and Victims' Rights (Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 1999) at 5963.

42 In this paper, an activist judgement is considered to occur when the rights claimant either demonstrates that state action has infringed the Charter of Rights and Freedoms, or the Supreme Court of Canada grants the rights claimant the remedy sought.

43 Strayer, B. L., “Life under the Canadian Charter: Adjusting the Balance between Legislatures and the Courts,” (1988) 1 Public Law 347 at 357–358.

44 Kelly, supra note 6 at 628, 654–657.

45 Hogg and Bushell, supra note 38 at 75; see Manfredi and Kelly, supra note 38 at 513.

46 Collins test, cited in R. v. Hebert, [1990] 2 S.C.R. 151 at 188.

47 Watson, J., “Blood Samples: Are they Real or not?” (1990) 2 Journal of Motor Vehicle Law 173 at 174.

48 R. v. Stillman, [1997] 1 S.C.R. 607 at 655 (per Cory).

49 Kelly, J. B., “The Supreme Court of Canada and the Complexity of Judicial Activism” in James, P., Abelson, D. and Lusztig, M., eds., The Myth of the Sacred: The Charter, the Courts and the Politics of the Constitution in Canada (Montreal: McGill-Queen's University Press, forthcoming) at 1213.

50 Ibid.

51 The Canadian interpretivists, such as Morton, Knopff and Manfredi, would dispute that this case analysis illustrates that Charter review has strengthened constitutional supremacy in Canada. Instead, they would argue that the Court's approach to legal rights has advanced judicial supremacy, as it has been the judiciary that has given legal rights their content and meaning. While we would agree that the Court has moved beyond the text in interpreting legal rights, we dispute that it has done so to the degree to facilitate a paradigm shift from constitutional to judicial supremacy.

52 R. v. Brydges, [1990] 1 S.C.R. 190.

53 R. v. Manninen, [1987] 1 S.C.R. 1233.

54 R.. v. Brydges, supra note 52 at 203.

55 Ibid. at 216–217.

56 Ibid. at 217.

57 Burgess, L., “Recent Developments in Drinking and Driving Law and the Right to Counsel” (1994) 5 Journal of Motor Vehicle Law 25 at 38.

58 R. v. Prosper, [1994] 3 S.C.R. 236.

59 Ibid. at 267.

60 R. v. Clarkson, [1986] 1 S.C.R. 383.

61 R. v. Black, [1989] 2 S.C.R. 138.

62 R. v. Clarkson, [1986] 1 S.C.R. 383 at 395–396.

63 R. v. Black, [1989] 2 S.C.R. 138 at 158.

64 A critical analysis of the Supreme Court of Canada's decision to exclude cell statements is provided in the following study: Gibson, J. L., “In Defence of Cell Statements” (1990) 73 Criminal Reports (3d) 379 at 381.

65 R.. v. Hebert, [1990] 2 S.C.R. 151.

66 Ibid. at 152.

67 Ibid. at 153

68 Ibid. at 209.

69 R. v. Broyles, [1991] 3 S.C.R. 595.

70 Ibid. at 595.

71 Ibid. at 617.

72 R. v. Greffe, [1990] 1 S.C.R. 755.

73 Ibid. at 757.

74 Ibid. at 758–759.

75 Morton & Knopff, The Charter Revolution and the Court Party, supra note 1 at 33–37; Judicial Power and the Charter, supra note 1 at 37.

* The authors wish to thank the Journal's anonymous reviewers for excellent comments on an earlier version of this article.

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