Legal Self-Services

Jim Gardner, of SUNY Buffalo, has an interesting post at The Faculty Lounge, arguing that

[t]he capacity to acquire information, shop, travel, and do almost anything without human intermediation is conceived as a right, or at least a new baseline norm.  Insistence upon the necessity of human interaction as a condition for completing a transaction is now the deviation requiring justification.  At the same time, whether human adjuncts to transactions add value seems to be a matter of deep skepticism.

This certainly rings a bell. For what it’s worth, I usually prefer finding information myself (online) to asking for it; I am annoyed when I have to go to a bank teller instead of just using an ATM; and so on. (Though, unlike in prof. Gardner’s most extreme example, I have not taken to resolving disagreements with my room-mate via texting.) In prof. Gardner’s view, this creates problems for legal education (because students are skeptical about the value of human educators and advisers) and is bound to create problems for lawyers who, imbued with this self-service mentality, might lack the personal skills necessary to be professional, effective “human adjuncts”.

But there is another way in which the self-service mentality is already affecting the legal profession. As anyone involved with the legal system probably knows, it is increasingly common for litigants to represent themselves, causing no end of grief to themselves and serious troubles to lawyers and judges who have to deal with them. And while the cost of legal services, and lack of funding for legal aid (especially in civil matters) is a major cause of this problem, it is not the only one. People choose to forego professional assistance, even when they could afford it. They take false confidence from the availability of a great deal of legal information on the internet. The emergence of the self-service mentality described by prof. Gardner helps explain why.

But although share that mentality myself, it is important to stress that when it comes to law – as probably in at least some (though surely not all) other areas – it is a dangerous one. For people who choose to represent themselves rather than rely on a lawyer, consequences tend to be sad. As I wrote here,

law and justice, as any first-year law student learns, are very different beasts. CanLII might succeed in its stated goal, which “is to make Canadian law accessible for free on the Internet.” Yet it seems that by making law freely accessible, such resources give people a false sense of being able to succeed in the legal system without professional help, and even without more than a very superficial acquaintance with it, which leads them to fail to get the justice, if any, that the system could give them if used properly.

As I said back then, if you can help it, don’t try it at home.


My apologies for the lack of posts lately. There seems to be little going on worth posting about, or perhaps my brain is in aestivation.

Brandishing Banishment

There was an interesting op-ed yesterday in the Globe & Mail, by Lorne Neudorf, a Cambridge PhD candidate, discussing the status and use of banishment as a punishment in Canadian law. Contrary to what we might be incline to suppose, banishment, understood as a legal injunction preventing the person subject to it from living in a certain place, is not just found in Norse sagas. It is, Mr. Neudorf writes, “banishment is an instrument in the judicial toolkit” in Canada:

Although rare, banishment orders are not unknown in Canadian law. Territorial restrictions may be built by judges into peace bonds, terms of bail and probationary orders as part of a sentence where permitted by the Criminal Code. Such orders require the accused to stay away from a particular geographic area for the safety of victims or for the benefit of the accused’s rehabilitation for a limited period of time. Banishment-type orders must balance these objectives with the potentially disruptive effect of the order on the accused and the accused’s constitutional rights, such as those to freedom of mobility and protection against cruel and unusual punishment.

Another consideration, he adds, it is not fair to protect one community, from which a person is banished, by dumping a trouble-maker on another community.

Mr. Neudorf’s review of the case law is instructive and worth a read. For my part, I am not very knowledgeable about this topic, though “a study of banishment” is actually on my ever-growing list of papers it would be interesting to write. (It is, alas, much easier to think up a bunch of great topics than to write even one mediocre paper!) I can only point to a few sources for further reading for those interested and some random thoughts:

1) A paper by UVic’s Jeremy Webber on “The Grammar of Customary Law,” which (among other interesting things) devotes considerable attention to aboriginal legal traditions, in many of which

the respect for autonomy extends to the very interpretation of society’s norms. There is great reluctance to impose a particular interpretation of the law either on any member (in some societies) or on someone of high rank (when the society is hierarchically ordered). Such an imposition is considered deeply incompatible with the person’s dignity. Indeed, this respect for a person’s moral autonomy may contribute to the prevalence of banishment as a punishment in many indigenous societies: rather than forcing compliance, the community treats offenders as having, by their conduct, placed themselves outside society. (606)

Actually, I think it makes sense to say that, if banishment is a response to a reluctance to impose an interpretation of norms, it is not really a form of punishment, but merely a form of dispute-resolution (or rather, dispute-avoidance). In the same way, a group of people can play a game according to some peculiar rule, and tell someone who is insisting that that’s not how it’s supposed to be played to play along or to leave. This group has no power to “punish” in a real sense, and banishment is the only way it can deal with disagreement, at least if negotiation fails. Similarly, it makes sense to say that expulsion from Canada of a non-citizen convicted of a serious crime – surely the most frequent use of banishment in Canadian law – is not a form of punishment (indeed it would arguably be unconstitutional if it were interpreted as such, because it would be discriminatory to punish non-citizens more severely than citizens for the same crime), but also a response to a refusal to “play along.”

2) The Supreme Court’s decision in Lakeside Colony of Hutterian Brethren v. Hofer, [1992] 3 S.C.R. 165, dealing with an attempt by a private (religious) community to expel recalcitrant members, thereby depriving them of their property rights. Like portions of prof. Webber’s paper, it is also a study of the interaction between state and non-state, and formal and informal normative orders, and raises the question whether banishment is a form of punishment or something else (and indeed whether that’s a yes-or-no question).

3) Last but not least, a recent article by Yale’s Oona Hathaway and Scott Shapiro in the Yale Law Journal on “Outcasting: Enforcement in Domestic and International Law,” which I have not yet had a chance to read, but which seems to argue that “outcasting” or banishment is a form of law enforcement―perhaps raising questions about distinction between enforcement and punishment.

Interpreting Interpretations

I would like to come back to the two cases I mentioned in yesterday’s postA.-G. Canada v A.-G. Ontario, [1937] A.C. 326, better known as the Labour Conventions Reference, and Missouri v. Holland, because they might tell us something about a problem much broader than the issue (important though it is in its own right) that they addressed, the ability of a federal legislature to legislate in order to implement a treaty if similar legislation would be, in the absence of the treaty, of the resort of state or provincial legislatures. The judgments in the two cases are an interesting comparison, being authored by two of the greatest judges of their respective countries (and of the common law world), less than two decades apart – and arriving at diametrically opposed conclusions. One apparent difference between the reasons Lord Atkin and Justice Holmes give for their respective conclusions lies in the interpretive methodologies they use. Could it explain the difference of outcomes?

Lord Atkin’s discussion of s. 132 of the Constitution Act, 1867, and his dismissal of the possibility that this provision justifies Parliament’s power to legislate in order to implement a treaty is remarkably formalist/originalist. S. 132 provides that “[t]he Parliament … of Canada shall have all Powers necessary or proper for performing the Obligations of Canada or of any Province thereof, as Part of the British Empire, towards Foreign Countries, arising under Treaties between the Empire and such Foreign Countries.” The federal government argued that, in light of Canada’s accession to independence and becoming able to enter into treaties on its own (rather than as part of the Empire), which was not anticipated when the Constitution Act, 1867, was drafted and enacted, this provision should be interpreted as giving Parliament the power to implement not only imperial treaties, but also those concluded by Canada. Not so, says Lord Atkin: “it is impossible to strain the section so as to cover the uncontemplated event” (p. 7 in the document linked to). This from a body which, only a few years earlier, berated the Supreme Court of Canada for its originalism and refusal to “strain the section” in Edwards v. A.-G. Canada, [1930] A.C. 124, better known as the Persons Case, famously insisting that “The British North America Act planted in Canada a living tree capable of growth and expansion within its natural limits.”

Now I actually think that Lord Atkin could have made a plausible principled argument for why s. 132 could not be applied to treaties concluded by Canada in its own capacity. Relative to the Canadian constitutional order, imperial treaties were external events; they could be imposed on Canada, without much regard for the usual framework of Canadian federalism and democracy. So arguably it did not matter much which legislature was given the power to implement them. By contrast, the implementation of Canadian treaties, the products of Canada’s own constitution, should respect this framework. (It is perhaps for this reason that s. 132 is found among the “miscellaneous” provisions of the Constitution Act, 1867, rather than along with the distribution of legislative powers in ss. 91-95.) Indeed, Lord Atkin might be hinting at something like this argument, mentioning a “distinction between … obligations imposed upon Canada as part of the Empire by an Imperial executive responsible to and controlled by the Imperial Parliament and … obligations created by the Dominion executive responsible to and controlled by the Dominion Parliament.” But Lord Atkin says it is “unnecessary to dwell upon” this, and it seems not to be the reason for his holding concerning the meaning of s. 132, which is purely what would now be called textualist or originalist.

By contrast, Justice Holmes in Holland explicitly rejects these interpretive methodologies (at 433):

when we are dealing with words that also are a constituent act, like the Constitution of the United States, we must realize that they have called into life a being the development of which could not have been foreseen completely by the most gifted of its begetters. It was enough for them to realize or to hope that they had created an organism; it has taken a century and has cost their successors much sweat and blood to prove that they created a nation. The case before us must be considered in the light of our whole experience and not merely in that of what was said a hundred years ago.

A constitution, says Justice Holmes, should be interpreted in light only of today’s practical concerns. The treaty and legislation at issue concern migratory birds,

a national interest of very nearly the first magnitude … . It can be protected only by national action in concert with that of another power. The subject-matter is only transitorily within the State and has no permanent habitat therein. But for the treaty and the statute there soon might be no birds for any powers to deal with. We see nothing in the Constitution that compels the Government to sit by while a food supply is cut off and the protectors of our forests and our crops are destroyed. (435)

(Incidentally, although I am very far from being an expert on the topic, I do not recall any attempts to engage with these arguments in the literature dealing with originalism.)

But is drawing this contrast between Lord Atkin’s and Justice Holmes’s judgments enough to say that interpretive approaches explain their contrary conclusions? It might make sense to suppose that a textualist/originalist approach to the interpretation of federalist provisions of a constitution is likely to be more favourable to state or provinces, while a practical or principled one will favour federal governments. Changes in the way our societies function (in the economic realm especially) seem to dictate larger roles for central governments at the expense of local ones. Some have characterized the Supreme Court’s ruling in Reference re Securities Act, 2011 SCC 66, [2011] 3 S.C.R. 837, declaring unconstitutional the establishment of a federal securities regulator, as impractical and stuck in the 19th century.

Yet if one looks carefully at the reasons in the Labour Conventions Reference and in Holland, things are not so neat. Justice Holmes is a textualist when he parses the Supremacy Clause of Article VI of the U.S. Constitution for confirmation of the status of treaties, while Lord Atkin is mindful of principle and of practical concerns when he calls our attention to the reasons behind the federal division of powers in the Constitution Act, 1867, and insists that “[i]n totality of legislative powers, Dominion and Provincial together, [Canada] is fully equipped” (p. 10) to implement any treaty it enters into. Debating the merits, whether in terms of legitimacy or of consequences, of constitutional interpretive methodologies can be entertaining (as the American academia’s fascination with such debates attests). But it is questionable whether their real-life application is ever so pure as to make the ostensible choice of one methodology over another matter much.

Go Ask Your Mom!

Is it conceivable that states, like a child who, denied by one parent, asks the other to let them stay up late, ask around for permission to do something they would not normally be permitted? Lord Atkin enlisted the threat of such a course of action as an argument in his famous opinion for the Judicial Committee of the Privy Council in The Labour Conventions Reference, writing (at p.9 in the document linked to) that “it would be remarkable that while the Dominion could not initiate legislation however desirable which affected civil rights in the provinces, yet its government … need only agree with a foreign country to enact such legislation.”

The judgment, denying Parliament the ability to enact social legislation it felt was necessary to respond to the Great Depression on the ground that such legislation was for the provinces to adopt, made a lot of people furious and, if I remember well, F.R. Scott for example criticized this suggestion as being fanciful fear-mongering. Justice Holmes, writing for the majority of the Supreme Court of the United States in Missouri v. Holland, 252 U.S. 416 (1920), a case that presented much the same issue as Labour Conventions, did not even consider this question, and went on to hold – contrary to Lord Atkin and the Privy Council – that the federal legislature could legislate to implement an international treaty regardless of its (dis)ability to enact the same legislation in the absence of a treaty.

But recent developments suggest that Lord Atkin’s worry it is not so crazy anymore, if it ever was. On intellectual property for example, states (and supranational organizations such as the European Union) have apparently taken to using free-trade agreements as vehicles for smuggling into their domestic legislation restrictive rules on intellectual property which they would might find politically impossible to enact in stand-alone statutes visibly devoted to this purpose, as University of Ottawa’s Michael Geist has detailed in a series of blog posts.

Of course, there is a crucial difference between this example and the Labour Conventions case. The impediments to legislative expansions of IP rights are (mostly) purely political, not constitutional. In such cases, Lord Atkin’s “watertight compartments” (p. 10) are of no assistance. Nonetheless, his insistence that the existence of an international treaty should not prevent us from insisting that the usual constraints, be they constitutional or political, on government power ought always to be be upheld. Foreign governments should not be able to play the lenient parent if domestic courts, or voters, are inclined to be strict.

No Resraint

The Superior Court of Québec issued a potentially far-reaching decision last week, declaring a number of provisions of the Expenditure Restraint Act, S.C. 2009, c. 2, s. 393, constitutionally inapplicable to the CBC/Société Radio-Canada. In Association des Réalisateurs c. Canada (Procureur Général), 2012 QCCS 3223, justice Lise Matteau held that the application of provisions limiting salary raises that could be offered to civil servants to Radio-Canada’s employees was a violation of their right to freedom of association, protected by s. 2(d) of the Charter.

The Expenditure Restraint Act sets out upper limits on the extent of pay raises that the government and a number of crown corporations are entitled to grant their employees, as part of a package of measures responding to the global economic crisis and the ensuing budgetary difficulties. Provisions of collective bargaining agreements stipulating higher raises are invalid to the extent that they exceed the limits allowed by the statute, whether the agreement was entered into before or after its enactment. This means that the statute retroactively changes some collective agreements, including those of concluded by the plaintiffs in Association des Réalisateurs.

This, they said, deprived them of their right to engage in meaningful collective negotiations with their employer over the terms of their employments, in violation of s. 2(d) of the Charter as interpreted by the Supreme Court. Justice Matteau accepted this submission. Salary questions are key to the employees’ relationship with the employer and thus being able to negotiate on them is essential for the plaintiffs’ collective-bargaining rights to be meaningful. By setting aside the agreement reached between the plaintiffs and their employer, the Expenditure Restraint Act infringes on their right to collective bargaining.

The next question the court had to decide is whether the infringement was justified under s. 1 of the Charter. Although the plaintiffs challenged the government’s claim that the Expenditure Restraint Act addressed pressing and substantial concerns, Justice Matteau accepts it, given the context of economic crisis and budgetary pressure in which it was enacted. However, she holds that the application of the statute to CBC/Radio-Canada’s agreements with its employees is not rationally connected to the objective of reducing expenditures and controlling the salaries of the public sector employees. That is because the government financing of the CBC/Société Radio-Canada does not depend on the contracts it negotiates with its employees. The government gives the CBC a lump sum of money, and the corporation decides what to do with it. Cutting or limiting the growth of the CBC’s payroll does not change its lump sum subsidy and thus doesn’t help the government’s finances.

This seems like the correct result in light of the Supreme Court’s s. 2(d) jurisprudence, although I am far from being an expert in this area. But, assuming that the decision is indeed correct, it helps illustrate just how troubling that jurisprudence is. The problem is not so much the decision itself. If the court’s analysis of the CBC’s financial relationship with the government is right, there seems to be relatively little reason for imposing salary restraints on the CBC’s employees, except perhaps the rather speculative claim that, if allowed to raise its salaries as it pleases, the CBC will end up asking for – and obtaining – unaffordable financing increases from the government.

But the more troubling question is whether courts should be policing propriety of Parliament interference with collective agreements between the government and civil servants in the first place. I think that a consideration of the institutions involved and the rights at stake suggests a negative answer.

Consider, first, the institutions. Suppose a civil servants’ union challenges the Expenditure Restraint Act. As applied to actual civil servants, it presumably is rationally connected to its objectives. So the court hearing the case will need to proceed to further stages of the s. 1 analysis – asking itself whether the restrictions it puts in place are minimally impairing of the s. 2(d) right and whether its beneficial effect outweigh the deleterious ones. Can it do so? Are courts really in a position that the limits on negotiating salaries that Parliament imposed were as little as possible? Although some comments made in obiter by Justice Matteau suggest that it would have been enough for the government to consult the unions, I wonder whether this is so considering that, after the consultation, Parliament still went ahead and imposed binding legislation. Deciding whether this legislation really was minimally impairing requires, it seems to me, analyzing the government’s budgetary situation, which is not something the courts are equipped for doing. And quite apart from institutional competence, there is the question of who, as a matter of legitimacy or political morality, ought to control government spending. The Stuart kings asserted the power to do so – and Charles I had his head cut off for his troubles. Since then, nobody has seriously challenged Parliament’s power of the purse. Is the Canadian judiciary prepared to do so?

It might be said that, when rights are at stake, it should. And, to be sure, enforcement of Charter rights sometimes results in the courts, in effect, requiring the government to make expenditures – in the area of language rights for example. But what sort of rights are at issue here? Courts say it is about a meaningful freedom of association. But the effect of the judgments in Association des Réalisateurs is to prevent Parliament from interfering with a private contract (between the CBC and its employees). Now that might be a good thing if you believe in freedom of contract. But it is clear that the framers of the Charter made a fundamental, deliberate choice not to protect economic rights – property and freedom of contract. This decision – and the Supreme Court’s jurisprudence from which it is derived – seems to say that trade unions have a constitutional right that no other Canadian has. Whatever one thinks, substantively, of the merits and demerits of unions, their being more equal than the rest of us this ought to be troubling.

Although the expression is often overused, I think that this is an area in which judicial restraint is really called for. I suppose the government will want to appeal the decision in Association des Réalisateurs. Perhaps the Supreme Court will yet have an opportunity to show some.

The Prerogative of High-Handedness

Today, the Federal Court of Canada has issued its decision in Turp v. Canada (Justice), 2012 FC 893, rejecting Daniel Turp’s challenge to the federal government’s decision to withdraw Canada from the Kyoto Protocol. Unambiguously correct in law, this decision illustrates the importance of politics, and the limits of the power of the courts to hold governments to account.

Mr. Turp contended that the decision to withdraw from the Kyoto Protocol was a violation of the Kyoto Protocol Implementation Act (KPIA) enacted by Parliament in 2007 and of the constitutional principles of the Rule of Law, separation of powers, and democracy. The government argued that it acted pursuant to the royal prerogative which gives the executive broad authority to conduct foreign affairs, including to enter in and withdraw from treaties, and that constitutional principles did not reduce this discretion.

The court acknowledged that a statute such as the KPIA can limit royal prerogative and direct the government’s action in an area where the prerogative, in the absence of legislation, would have made it discretionary. Such a limitation must, however, be expressed with some (though it is perhaps not clear how much) clarity. After examining the KPIA, the court finds that it simply does not do this. While its stated purpose is to ensure that Canada meets its obligations under the Kyoto protocol, the court points out that “the government’s decision to withdraw from the Protocol is clearly provided by article 27 of that Protocol and thus the government was in compliance with it.” Furthermore, the obligations the KPIA itself imposed on the government were not justiciable, and the statute has anyway now been repealed. There is no violation either of the statute or of the Rule of Law principle.

The court made short work of the remaining arguments based on the principles of separation of powers and democracy. Separation of powers is not infringed since the power to decide to withdraw from the Kyoto Protocol remained with the executive, not having been removed from it by statute. And any decision to consult Parliament, as the government had done before ratifying the Kyoto Protocol in 2002, is strictly voluntary. It is not constitutionally required.

In the realm of foreign policy, the government is for the most part constitutionally free to be stupid, to be high-handed, to act in disregard of Parliament’s wishes. It is for Parliament, and ultimately for the voters, to find remedies for these problems. Mr. Turp apparently intends to appeal, but he would be well advised not to waste his time and money on judicial battles, and to save his energy for politics.