March 11, 2016Filed Under: Canadian Law

Canada’s Highest Court

Canada’s Highest Court

In Canada, the buck stops at the Supreme Court, if it even gets that far. Though the Court is the last opportunity for appeal and has the final say in all Canadian legal matters, not everyone is guaranteed an audience. The court mostly chooses which cases it wishes to hear (though some are automatically heard), typically approving 40-75 of the 500-600 applications for leave to appeal it receives each year. These are typically only cases of national importance, with criminal cases usually making up the majority of the Justices’ workload. Cases from the last two years have included rulings on prostitution, senate reform, assisted suicide, and gun registry data among others.

The Court’s nine Justices can also be kept busy with “references” from both the provincial and federal level, which are requests from the government to provide an opinion on a legal issue. If a reference is deemed to be too political, rather than legal, the court can choose not to answer, as was the case with a same-sex marriage related reference in 2004.

The nine judges (called Justices) of the Court are led by the Chief Justice, and all are appointed by the federal government. The current Chief Justice, Beverley McLachlin, is both the first woman to hold the position and the longest serving Chief Justice. In Canada, the federal government appoints judges for all the federal courts, as well as all provincial superior and appellate courts. That’s quite a lot of judges!

View of the Supreme Court of Canada on the Ottawa River.
Photo by Norman Maddeaux via CC BY-ND 2.0

Recently, there’s been some controversy with the appointment of a Supreme Court Justice. Does the name “Marc Nadon” ring a bell? He was appointed to the Court to serve as one of the three Quebec Justices. His appointment was later rejected for not complying with the rules that applied to those appointments. It was a rather convoluted process that started with a Toronto lawyer and eventually led to the federal government submitting a reference on the issue to the Court, who then deliberated on the very law that brought them into existence-the Supreme Court Act. In the end, the Court ruled 6-1 that Nadon was not fit to represent Quebec on the Supreme Court.

Rulings from the Court aren’t always so existential. Just ask our Antonio Azevedo, who argued before the Court and won. The case, Peixeiro v. Haberman, ended up changing Canadian law and resulted in his client receiving compensation he may not have previously been entitled to. But more on that later. In the meantime, if you’ve been in hurt or in an accident, or would like to talk to Antonio about the Court’s scarlet red and mink-lined ceremonial robes, give us a call at 416-533-7133.

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