The Supreme Court of Canada

Greg MonfortonThe Supreme Court of Canada has been in the news recently. We have had decisions of major importance dealing with mandatory retirement at age 65 and the issues of hate propaganda. We hear so much about the decisions they make. But have you ever wondered about the court itself?

The Supreme Court of Canada is the highest Court in Canada. The Court sits only in Ottawa. It hears appeals from the highest Courts of the provinces and answers legal questions referred to it by the federal government.

The Court is a body of nine justices. They are appointed through the Governor General by the Prime Minister.

The main qualification for becoming a Supreme Court of Canada Justice is, of course, legal ability. Everyone knows, however, that our Prime Ministers have usually paid some attention to making sure the various regions of the country are represented on the Court.

For the most part people elevated to the Supreme Court of Canada are Justices from the highest level Courts of the provinces. But this is not mandatory. The late Mr. Justice John Sopinka, for instance, was a prominent Toronto lawyer who was appointed directly to the Supreme Court.

Because of time restrictions, it is difficult to get a case before the Supreme Court of Canada. The Court will hear criminal and civil cases depending upon the seriousness of the case, the importance of the legal issue, and the general public importance of the case.

In recent years, the Supreme Court of Canada has been called upon more and more to decide upon hotly contested political issues. The reason for this is no secret. In 1982, our country adopted the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms.

The Charter mandates our Courts to declare illegal, any act of parliament or a provincial legislature, which infringes the fundamental rights guaranteed within it. To this end, the Courts, and ultimately the Supreme Court of Canada, have had choice but to decide cases involving important political questions.

The mandatory retirement and hate propaganda cases were Charter of Rights cases. Other examples are the abortion decisions of the last few years and the case that dealt with the issue of signs in Quebec being in French only. It is an unavoidable fact now in Canada that our Supreme Court will play more of a noticeable role in our political life.

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