Foreign Affairs: A Delicate Balancing Act

This article by Prof. Ed Morgan was originally published in The Lawyers Weekly, April 13, 2012.

When it comes to conducting foreign affairs, it is well established that the constitution puts the weight of responsibility on the federal government. But in recent years, the courts have deviated from that rule as often as they have invoked it.

In the Afghan prisoners case, the Federal Court of Canada explained that the government owes no constitutional duty when, after questioning, the military turns detainees over to a foreign government. The judgment presumed that Canadian forces require flexibility, and enjoy the discretion to deviate from domestic rules when they deal with an allied state and prisoners of war.

Minister Kenney’s Ban on Face Coverings is Ultra Vires

Not only is Minister Kenney’s ban on face coverings a gratuitous insult to Muslim women, it’s ultra vires.

In the wake of all the publicity about the Minister of Immigration’s decree that no one shall be allowed to go through the citizenship ceremony with her face covered, I thought I'd find out how the ban on face coverings was authorized in law. It appears that the ban is buried in the Operations Manual on citizenship ceremonies.  The Operations Manual provides guidance to citizenship bureaucrats (including Citizenship Judges) about how to interpret and apply the law -- the Citizenship Act and the Citizenship Regulations.  Since they are only guidelines, they do not have the force of law, and are invalid to the extent that they contradict the statute or the regulations.

You can find the citizenship manual here (PDF) (see s. 6.5). The manual contains an elaborate set of instructions about how citizenship officials shall respond if a woman is both uppity and oppressed enough to show up with her face covered.

The Houdini Gambit

This commentary by Prof. Jeffrey MacIntosh was first published in the Financial Post on November 23, 2010.

Do the feds have the constitutional jurisdiction to create a national securities regulator? Not surprisingly, the federal government thinks so. Also not surprisingly, the government of Quebec does not. Quebec has referred the matter to the Quebec Court of Appeal for a decision (just as the feds have sent a reference to the Supreme Court of Canada, but the Quebec court gets the first kick at the can).

Ottawa’s legal case, in a recently filed factum with the Quebec Court of Appeal, totters on the brink of schizophrenia. At the outset, the factum invites the court to conclude that the issue of constitutionality “does not involve a performance assessment of the existing 13 provincial and territorial regulators.” But, mirabile dictu, much of the balance of the argument is sedulously devoted to demonstrating the manifest superiority of federal legislation. Go figure.

Hirschl Publishes New Book: "Constitutional Theocracy"

Prof. Ran Hirschl has published a new book, Constitutional Theocracy (Harvard University Press, 2010).

From the publisher:

At the intersection of two sweeping global trends - the rise of popular support for principles of theocratic governance, and the spread of constitutionalism and judicial review - a new legal order has emerged: constitutional theocracy. It enshrines religion and its interlocutors as "a" or "the" source of legislation, and at the same time adheres to core ideals and practices of modern constitutionalism. A unique hybrid of apparently conflicting worldviews, values, and interests, constitutional theocracies thus offer an ideal setting-a "living laboratory" as it were-for studying constitutional law as a form of politics by other means. In this book, Ran Hirschl combines insights from legal theory, economics, theology, and political sociology with a rigorous comparative analysis of religion-and-state jurisprudence from dozens of countries worldwide to explore the evolving role of constitutional law and courts in a non-secularist world.

Comprehensive Draft Federal Securities Act Released Today

The federal government today released a draft securities act filed in support of its constitutional reference to regulate capital markets activity.  The draft act is largely based on provincial securities legislation: for example, the provisions relating to disclosure of information, prospectus offerings and the public interest power remain generally the same.  However, the act contains a number of new provisions which together appear to be improvements over existing law.

To begin, the act contains a new purposes section. In addition to protecting investors and fostering fair, efficient and competitive capital markets, the new Canadian Securities Regulatory Authority must contribute “to the integrity and stability of the financial system”.  Expanding the purposes section in this way is sound. The financial meltdown demonstrated that systemic risks can arise from increasingly complex products (such as derivatives) and highly leveraged institutions (such as hedge funds) that distribute these products. Contributing to the stability of the financial system is thus a pertinent goal of securities regulation.

Khadr and Prerogative Power

(from Spring 2010 Rights Review 3:1)

What one might call “older” constitutional law has been very much in the news lately with the two controversial prorogations by Prime Minister Harper; the Government’s failure to disclose documents relating to Afghan detainees being released by Canadians to face torture; and the Supreme Court of Canada failing to provide a meaningful remedy for the ongoing breach of Omar Khadr’s Charter rights. Khadr, a Canadian citizen, has been held at Guantanamo Bay since 2002 on terrorism and related charges after being captured on Afghan soil. The Court found a serious breach of Mr. Khadr’s Charter rights yet chose not to tread into the realm of foreign affairs by directing the Government of Canada to seek his release from US custody. Though I focus solely here on the Khadr case, the thread common to all of these events is that they all concern exercises of the royal prerogative.

What is the royal prerogative? It is the unfettered discretion that once ran the machinery of government – Charles I described it as absolute and beyond reproach and was later beheaded – of which little remains. Despite the whittling away by statute and practice, what remains of the Crown prerogative is, nevertheless, significant.

Canadian Educators Need Education on Hate Speech

This commentary was first published in the National Post on March 22, 2010.

Educate yourself about Canada’s hate laws, the Provost of the University of Ottawa told conservative pundit Ann Coulter in advance of her visit. Campus authorities apparently fear Coulter’s reputation for provocative views. They would remind her that unlike in the United States, hate speech is outlawed here and our defamation laws are strictly enforced.

Well, there’s nothing wrong with education, but as long as we’re encouraging it for our guests we might also think about educating ourselves.

As all of our university officials know, the willful promotion of hatred against an identifiable group is a crime. The problem is that the offence – or, rather, the specter of the offence – is used more as a threat to silence speakers than as a basis for actual prosecutions. The threat is easy to invoke and is often effective in chilling the very debate that campus life is supposed to foster. Our universities encourage diversity in their student and faculty bodies, but as the Coulter case demonstrates, they often bridle at too much diversity of opinion.

How to Tame a Prerogative

From The Globe and Mail (March 10, 2010)

Opposition efforts to get at the facts about Afghan detainee abuse appear not to have entirely abated, despite former Supreme Court of Canada justice Frank Iacobucci's appointment to advise the government about releasing documents. Prime Minister Stephen Harper's constitutional footwork certainly did not do the trick. Prorogation simply will not erase the stain of Canadians handing over Afghan detainees to face torture, if accusations are true. The break also should not allow him to escape the House's motion calling for uncensored documents relating to the abuse allegations.

Up until the day before the motion in December, the government side claimed that a variety of statutes legally barred it from releasing documents that threatened national security. It was only then that Carolyn Kobernick, assistant deputy minister in the Department of Justice, acknowledged that there was no statutory basis for refusing to deliver unredacted documents.

Instead, Ms. Kobernick claimed that the government, when making decisions regarding disclosure, would be guided by “the values underlying Parliament's intention in these provisions” – namely, “to protect the national security of Canada from harm by the unauthorized disclosure of sensitive information.” So there was no legal bar to the production of unredacted documents, only a discretion guided by values underlying the law.

It's a Legal Maze for Canadian Authorities Abroad

This commentary by Prof. Ed Morgan was first published in The Globe and Mail on May 27, 2009.

Canadians may be surprised to learn a few things about our constitutional law.

First, the military owes no duty toward detainees arrested by us and turned over to a foreign state for custody.

Second, our intelligence service does owe a duty toward prisoners taken into custody by a foreign state and turned over to us for interrogation.

Third, our diplomats are obliged to intervene with a foreign legal system that fails to live up to our domestic standards of punishment.

And fourth, our police are free to comply with a foreign legal system that fails to live up to our domestic standards of search and seizure.

When it comes to the powers of the Canadian government abroad, each new court ruling makes us wonder if the judges took the time to read the last one. How did this confused state of affairs come to be?

In Yellowknife, Language Rights Go Back on the Menu

First published in the Globe and Mail, April 21, 2009.

In taking on the chef who runs the famed Wildcat Cafe, Yellowknife's city council appears to have concocted a recipe for bringing Quebec-style language politics to the Northwest Territories. In the process, it has given us the basis for a constitutional crise du jour.

The iconic eatery in Yellowknife's Old Town sports a log cabin veneer, rough wooden benches and floors, and a pedigree that harks back to the 1930s prospectors who founded it and the miners and bush pilots who made it a frontier landmark. The building was designated a heritage site in the early 1990s and it has been leased out by a municipal committee to licensed operators since reopening as a popular tourist destination in the late 1970s.

Le Wildcat Cafe, as it's now known, is currently run by a Quebec-born restaurateur. It serves up a northern repertoire of muskox sirloin, caribou burgers and, from personal experience, the best arctic char this side of anywhere. But the great northern food and ambience have been eclipsed by a language feud that brings the Constitution into play. It all turns on the French article "Le," which has been added to the historic name. The Yellowknife council wants it banished.