The Unnatural Likeness of Deference: The Supreme Court of Canada and the Democratic Process

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Hulme, Kristin Claire
Deference , Supreme Court of Canada , Democratic Process
This dissertation examines the behaviour of the Supreme Court of Canada in cases involving electoral/referendum laws and the alleged violation of freedom of expression and/or the right to vote. In 2007, it declared that the judiciary should adopt "a natural attitude of deference" towards Parliament's decisions about the democratic process when determining, under section one of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms, whether the infringement is reasonable and justified. This declaration reflected institutional concerns about judicial competence to review legislative choices in this area of public policy and the democratic legitimacy of it doing so. It was made even though the Court had found laws unconstitutional in a majority of the cases that it had heard to date. Deference is often simply equated with government 'wins' in court. Such an equation ignores the effect that the decision has on judicial reasoning. It sets the standard of review the court uses when applying the Oakes test, the framework within which the section 1 analysis occurs. It also establishes the standard of proof that the Crown must meet to demonstrate that an infringement is justified. The outcome of constitutional disputes can turn on the decision about deference, pointing to a need for structure and coherence in the judiciary's approach. A review of the Court's jurisprudence shows that this need has not been met. In spite of its importance to constitutional adjudication, the analytical process by which the decision is made has garnered little attention from those who study the Charter. This dissertation seeks to fill this gap by examining deference theory and the use of deference in disputes involving the democratic process and by proposing an approach for specific use in these cases. The approach links the decision to the nature of the legislation, the nature of the right and the nature of the parliamentary discourse that preceded the enactment or amendment of the impugned law. Before setting the standards of review and proof used during the Oakes test, courts should determine whether: they have the necessary competence and legitimacy to act; the right warrants stringent constitutional protection; and parliamentarians engaged in serious deliberations that included the Charter and the reasonableness of any infringements.
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