Whatever

On Thursday, the Supreme Court handed down its decision in Kanthasamy v. Canada (Citizenship and Immigration), 2015 SCC 61, an immigration law case. Paul Daly expertly discusses takes apart the majority opinion from the administrative law perspective. For my part, I will deal with the substance of the decision. While I’m not an immigration law aficionado, I do have some practical knowledge of it, having clerked at the Federal Court for a year. So I’ll comment from the perspective of someone formerly (and briefly) “in the trenches,” someone who actually had to deal with cases of this sort on a regular basis.

The issue in Kanthasamy was the standard to be applied by the bureaucrats reviewing (on behalf of the Minister of Citizenship and Immigration) applications for exemptions from the requirements of the Citizenship and Refugee Protection Act on the basis of “humanitarian and compassionate considerations.” In practice, most of these applications are made by people whose applications for asylum are unsuccessful and who seek to be granted permanent residence in order to avoid deportation. Mr. Kanthasamy was in this situation too. The test that had long been applied by the administrative decision-makers, and also by the Federal Court on judicial review, was drawn from a set of Guidelines issued by the government. Under this test, there existed “humanitarian and compassionate grounds” for allowing a person to stay in Canada if deportation would result in “unusual and undeserved or disproportionate hardship” to that person or to another directly affected one.

The Supreme Court was unanimous in holding that this was not the right approach. There was no unanimity, however, about what the right approach was. The five-judge majority, in an opinion by Justice Abella, insisted that the decision-maker must

focus[] … on the equitable underlying purpose of the humanitarian and compassionate relief application process. [They must] see[] the words in the Guidelines as being helpful in assessing when relief should be granted in a given case, but … not treat them as the only possible formulation of when there are humanitarian and compassionate grounds justifying the exercise of discretion. …

They should not fetter their discretion by treating these informal Guidelines as if they were mandatory requirements that limit the equitable humanitarian and compassionate discretion granted [by statute]. [31-32]

It is necessary to look at all the circumstances, and not to become fixated on specific words, treating them as discrete criteria.

For its part, the two-judge dissent, in an opinion by Justice Moldaver, emphasized the exceptional nature of “humanitarian and compassionate” applications, which must not become “a separate, freestanding immigration process, something Parliament clearly did not intend.” [85] The correct approach to the examination of such applications “must balance the dual characteristics of stringency and flexibility.” [96] A test that does this is:

whether, having regard to all of the circumstances, including the exceptional nature of H&C relief, the applicant has demonstrated that decent, fair-minded Canadians would find it simply unacceptable to deny the relief sought. To be simply unacceptable, a case should be sufficiently compelling to generate a broad consensus that exceptional relief should be granted. [101; emphasis in the original]

Justice Moldaver insists that “The ‘simply unacceptable’ test … should not be seen as wordsmithing,” [104] and assures us that will be readily applied because “[i]t uses concepts that are well-understood and regularly applied in Canadian law,” [ibid.] notably in the contexts of extradition proceedings and the doctrine of abuse of process in criminal law. By contrast, in the opinion of Justice Moldaver,

the test that [Justice Abella] proposes is amorphous. It does not provide any guidance to decision makers as to the kinds of factors outside the hardship test that would be sufficient to justify relief. Even more problematic, by introducing equitable principles, it runs the risk of watering down the stringency of the hardship test. Relief could be granted in cases which arouse strong feelings of sympathy in an individual decision maker, but which do not reach the stringent standard that the hardship test demands. [107]

“Amorphous” is, indeed, a polite way of putting it. My reaction on first reading the majority opinion was that it said nothing at all, and that I must have missed something. Having read the dissent, and re-read the majority opinion before writing this post, I have come to the conclusion that I did not miss anything, and that the majority does, indeed, abjectly fail to provide any guidance to both the administrative decision-makers and to the Federal Court, where their decisions are reviewed (if they are reviewed at all), usually without any further right of appeal. Indeed, the majority opinion is even worse than just a failure to provide guidance: it takes away what little guidance there was, saying that it was not good enough ― and replaces it with nothing.

But would the dissent’s “simply unacceptable” test have been any better? I doubt it. Justice Moldaver’s proposed measure of “simple unacceptability” is “broad consensus that exceptional relief should be granted.” Whose consensus is this? And how is a bureaucrat, or a judge of the federal court, supposed to ascertain its existence? These are silly questions of course. Acceptability and consensus, just like “community standards” and other tests of this sort, are just rhetorical devices. There exists a broad consensus if a judge ― or a bureaucrat ― thinks that there ought to exist a broad consensus, and that’s that.

Justice Moldaver says that the “simply unacceptable” test is similar to those that are applied in other areas of the law. But, while true, this assertion misses the crucial point that the people who will actually be applying this test ― i.e. bureaucrats and Citizenship and Immigration Canada ― are not familiar with those areas of the law. They are, as Prof. Daly points out, not even lawyers. Indeed, even the judges of the Federal Court, who will be reviewing the bureaucrats’ decisions ― on the deferential “resonableness” standard ― are not familiar with these areas of the law, which are related to the criminal law context, though to be sure, the Federal Court does occasionally deal with abuse of process claims. The Supreme Court recently acknowledged the limits of the Federal Court’s subject-matter expertise, in Strickland v. Canada (Attorney General), 2015 SCC 37, which I blogged about here. In that case the issue was the Federal Court’s suitability to deal with family law issues, but the problem is similar in the criminal law and extradition contexts.

In short, both the majority and the dissent approach the case in a manner that is largely divorced from the reality in which it was decided and, more importantly, in which similar cases will be decided in the future. Neither provides helpful guidance to the decision-makers who are going to deal with these cases as part of their regular routine. (It might not be a coincidence that the only judge with the experience of such cases, Justice Rothstein, was not on the panel that decided Kanthasamy. With his retirement, the shortage of relevant practical experience on the Court is now permanent.) The judges act like generals who visit a distant and, on the whole, not terribly important position once in a blue moon, point in the direction of something on the horizon, and depart, self-satisfied. The local commanders might try to figure out what it is that the generals wanted, the soldiers might be impressed with confident tone and eloquent gestures, but there are unlikely to be substantial changes on the front line as a result of this visit.

As a result, I’m not at all convinced that the result of the majority’s decision will be that too many “humanitarian and compassionate” applications will be granted, as Justice Moldaver fears ― or for that matter that more will be, as Justice Abella presumably wants. (By the way, neither judge, I suspect, knows how many are actually granted now. Certainly we at the Federal Court had no idea. Since the decision is, ostensibly, the Minister’s, he or she cannot apply for judicial review of a decision granting an application, so the courts never see them.) Left to their own devices ― freed from the constraints of the Guidelines and protected by a deferential standard of review ― the bureaucrats who deal with the applications might even become less, rather than more, likely to grant the applications. After all, in my admittedly limited experience, they do not exactly share Justice Abella’s sensitivities and inclinations. More likely, however, they will just shrug off the Supreme Court’s latest pronouncement. And really, that’s pretty much what it deserves.

A Bad Case

As promised, here are some thoughts on the Memorandum of Fact and Law that the federal government’s lawyers have filed in response to Aniz Alani’s challenge of the Prime Minister’s policy of not appointing Senators. (I had previously canvassed what I thought ― mostly, but not entirely, correctly ― would be the main issues in this case here, and commented on the Federal Court’s decision rejecting the government’s motion to strike here.) Full disclosure, before going any further: I have spoken to Mr. Alani about this case, and made some comments on the draft of his own Memorandum of Fact and Law. Whether this makes me biased, you be the judge.

The government makes four arguments for dismissing Mr. Alani’s challenge. First, it says that he does not deserve to be granted public interest standing to pursue it. Second, the claim is, in its view, non-justiciable, because it requires the court to enforce a constitutional convention. Third, even if justiciable, the issue is not within the jurisdiction of the federal court. And fourth, when it comes to the actual merits, the Prime Minister has “broad discretion” as to the timing as well as the contents of his advice.

Note what’s missing here: an actual claim that s. 32 of the Constitution Act, 1867 doesn’t require the appointment of Senators. It’s blindingly clear that it does, and much of the government’s argument is devoted to directing the Court’s attention away from this simple truth. That said, all truths are not to be told by courts generally, and by the Federal Court of Canada specifically, and the government’s arguments on justiciability and, perhaps especially, jurisdiction are serious, albeit presented in a rather misleading way.

The standing argument is more difficult to take seriously. The test for granting a person public interest standing (i.e. the ability to pursue a claim that has no impact on his or her own legal rights) is explained in the Supreme Court’s decision in Canada (Attorney General) v. Downtown Eastside Sex Workers United Against Violence Society, 2012 SCC 45, [2012] 2 S.C.R. 524. There must be a serious justiciable issue ― a point that is treated separately in the government’s submissions (and presumably always will be if it is a live issue in a case, which makes me wonder whether it even should be treated as part of the standing inquiry). The claim must be a reasonable and effective means of getting the issue before the courts. This is normally the most contentious part of the test, but here, the government’s submissions have little to do with the usual inquiry into the existence of alternative ways of getting the issue litigated. They focus, rather, on the other element of the standing test, which asks whether the claimant has a genuine interest in the issue. The government makes much of the the fact that Mr. Alani hadn’t taken an interest in the question of Senate vacancies for any length of time before launching his application. In its submission, this makes him “a ‘busybody’ as the term is defined in the jurisprudence,” [39] a person who doesn’t really care about the issue, and thus undeserving of representing the public interest.

This argument is really beside the point, however. The policy of not appointing Senators is new and unprecedented. Nobody can have demonstrated a long-standing interest in it, because it did not exist, or at least hadn’t been publicly announced, until last winter. Mr. Alani became interested in it as soon as it was possible for anyone to do so. The government’s argument amounts to a suggestion that nobody can bring a public interest court challenge to an unconstitutional government policy for some undefined time after it is put in place, because doing so makes the claimant a “busybody.” This is absurd. As for Mr. Alani himself, right or wrong, he has made a difficult argument very seriously; he has invested a considerable amount of time and effort into it; he doesn’t just come to court with a vague sense of grievance; he has also, I have argued, taken his role as a (self-appointed) representative of the public with more seriousness than most public-interest litigants, or for that matter the government itself, tend to do. In the absence of any other, more effective, vehicle for getting the issue adjudicated, his challenge deserved to be addressed substantively, and not dismissed for lack of standing.

The government’s argument on justiciability is that Mr. Alani “seeks … judicial enforcement of the Prime Minister’s role in Senate appointments.” [45] Courts, according to orthodox constitutional theory, are not in the business of enforcing constitutional conventions, and thus they should not adjudicate Mr. Alani’s claim. Nor is the Supreme Court’s recognition in Reference re Senate Reform, 2014 SCC 32, [2014] 1 S.C.R. 704, of the existence of a “constitutional architecture” enough to make conventions justiciable.

As I have indicated above, I think that the justiciability issue is a serious one, but not exactly for the reasons the government suggests. Indeed, I think that it is somewhat misleading to describe Mr. Alani’s claim as seeking the enforcement of a convention. Convention says that the Governor General appoints Senators on the Prime Minister’s advice, and not on his own initiative. It eliminates the discretion that the text of the Constitution Act, 1867 seems to give to the Governor General. If the Governor General decides to appoint Senators on his own, without waiting for the Prime Minister’s advice, and the Prime Minister tries to block those appointments, that would indeed be an attempt to enforce a convention. What Mr. Alani is asking for is something else. He wants the Prime Minister to be told that he must advise the Governor General ― not the Governor General to be told that he must follow the Prime Minister’s advice. The duty Mr. Alani is asking the court to enforce is not the Governor General’s, but the Prime Minister’s.

This is, admittedly, a novel claim, and it raises two issues: does the duty in question exist at all, and if so, what is its nature? Contrary to the government’s submissions, I think that the notion of constitutional architecture is pertinent here. The architecture of our system of responsible government involves an advice-giving Prime Minister (in some situations, including Senate appointments) and cabinet (in others). When the relevant actors are refusing to give advice to the Governor General, they are undermining this architecture. This is particularly so when the advice in question is necessary for the Governor General to legitimately perform a clear constitutional duty, such as the appointment of Senators. For this reason, I think that it is quite clear that the Prime Minister does indeed have a duty to advise the Governor General to make Senate appointments. And, while this is less clear, I think that taking the notion of constitutional architecture seriously requires us to conclude that this duty is indeed a legal one.

The federal government’s strongest argument, in my view, is the one about the jurisdiction of the Federal Court, which is only empowered to review decisions of bodies acting pursuant to an Act of Parliament or a Crown prerogative. The government contends that the Prime Minister, in his advice-giving capacity, is not such a body. The heart of Mr. Alani’s argument on this point is his submission that

[i]In the case of Senate appointments, the Governor General enjoys the Crown prerogative power to summon and receive advice from the Prime Minister. The Prime Minister, in turn, has jurisdiction to advise “by a prerogative of the Crown.”

The government’s response is that “[t]he advice is simply provided pursuant to a constitutional convention” [75] ― otherwise, it says, the advice would be binding on the Governor General.

I think this is a difficult question. On the one hand, it’s not obvious to me that if the Governor General has the prerogative to summon advisers and receive and advice (as he does), the advice he receives is given “by” that prerogative. On the other, I think the government is wrong to claim that the non-binding nature of the advice shows that it is strictly conventional in nature. Convention that makes the advice binding, but it does not follow from that that the advice itself is given pursuant to a conventional, rather than a legal obligation. Indeed, as I suggest above, I believe that the Prime Minister does have a legal obligation to provide advice on Senate Appointments ― but again, I’m not sure that this is enough to make this advice into one given “by a prerogative of the Crown,” rather than a duty directly imposed by the constitution, over which, as the government argues, the Federal Court would lack jurisdiction (so that Mr. Alani would have to bring a new case in a provincial superior court if he wants the matter adjudicated).

Finally, on the substantive issue in Mr. Alani’s challenge, the government argues that the remedy he seeks, namely a declaration that Senate vacancies must be filled “within a reasonable time” is too vague to be granted, and that there is no constitutional convention limiting the time a Prime Minister can take to recommend an appointment. The matter is one in which the Governor General (and, presumably, the Prime Minister) has a “wide discretion.” [89]

One thing that comes to mind in response is Justice Rand’s famous statement in Roncarelli v. Duplessis, [1959] SCR 121, that “In public regulation of this sort there is no such thing as absolute and untrammelled ‘discretion’, that is that action can be taken on any ground or for any reason that can be suggested to the mind of the administrator.” (140) The context is not quite the same ― we’re not talking about economic regulation or even administrative law, but the warning is apposite. The Governor General does, undoubtedly, have some discretion, perhaps wide discretion, in complying with s. 32 of the Constitution Act, 1867, because a Senate appointment is, or should be, a serious political decision which may reasonably take some time. But this discretion cannot be abused in every which way a Prime Minister thinks expedient.

And, once again, the government’s emphasis on (non-existent) conventions is rather beside the point. The issue here is not that some one vacancy has gone unfilled for too long. It is that the Prime Minister has announced a policy of not filling them at all. If the existence of a constitutional convention cannot overturn clear constitutional text, then surely the non-existence of a convention cannot do so either. Yet that is exactly the government’s contention: no convention specifies how quickly s. 32 must be complied with, therefore s. 32 need not be complied with at all. This too is absurd.

When a court finally reaches the merits of Mr. Alani’s claim, it ought to rule in his favour. The government’s substantive submissions are feeble ― not because its lawyers are bad, but because its case is. But whether the Federal Court is the court that can address the merits of this case is a difficult question, to which I am unable to suggest a definitive answer.

Adequate Alternatives

Last week, the Supreme Court issued an interesting decision which, although apparently only concerned with judicial review (of the administrative law sort) and the respective jurisdiction of the Federal and superior courts, also tells us something about the role of the courts more generally. The case, Strickland v. Canada (Attorney General), 2015 SCC 37, was an appeal from decisions by the Federal Court and the Federal Court of Appeal not to hear an application for judicial review of the legality of the Federal Child Support Guidelines, which the applicants said did not comply with the requirements set out in their enabling legislation. The Supreme Court unanimously dismissed the appeal, and held that the federal courts were right to decline to exercise their undoubted jurisdiction to review the Guidelines’ legality.

Both federal courts concluded that provincial superior courts would be better placed to consider such a challenge, within the context of a case where the Guidelines would be applicable. Such cases, and family law matters more generally, are the preserve of the provincial courts. Federal courts have very little say in family law, and lack the expertise in this area. The interests of justice, they thought, would be better served by having a more expert court consider the issue.

The first question which the Supreme Court addressed was whether it was indeed the case that a provincial superior court could consider a challenge to the Guidelines’ legality. Section 18 of the Federal Courts Act, after all, gives the federal courts exclusive jurisdiction to review the actions of the federal administration, including the regulations it issues, such as the Guidelines. However, Justice Cromwell, for the majority, concluded that “[a] provincial superior court can hear and determine a challenge to the legality of the Guidelines where that determination is a necessary step in disposing of support proceedings properly before it.” [15] He pointed out that the Court already held, in Canada (Attorney General) v. TeleZone Inc., 2010 SCC 62, [2010] 3 S.C.R. 585, that superior courts could exercise their jurisdiction to award damages against the federal Crown without the federal courts having first considered the legality of the Crown’s conduct in the context of an application for judicial review. This decision, Justice Cromwell said, “support[ed] the principle that the provincial superior courts have the authority to consider and rule on the legality of the actions of federal tribunals when doing so is a necessary step in adjudicating claims properly before the superior courts.” [22] Thus if a litigant who is seeking or opposing a child support order wants to challenge the legality of the Guidelines in a case before a superior court, he or she may do so.

Given this conclusion, the second question for the Supreme Court was whether the federal courts were right to decide that such a challenge would be a better vehicle for considering the legality of the Guidelines then an application for a declaration made to the federal courts. The courts’ power to review the legality of the decisions of governments (as well as some other organizations) is discretionary, meaning that in some circumstances, the court will decline to exercise it. This is particularly so, Justice Cromwell pointed out, when the remedy sought is a declaration. As Justice Cromwell further pointed out, “[o]ne of the discretionary grounds for refusing to undertake judicial review is that there is an adequate alternative,” [40] which “need not be the claimant’s preferred remedy or identical to that which the claimant seeks by way of judicial review.” [59] In this case, the question was whether challenging the legality of the Guidelines before the provincial superior courts was such an alternative, an issue that must decided by looking at all the circumstances of the particular case, including “the purposes and policy considerations underpinning the legislative scheme in issue.” [44]

The appellants claimed that going to the Superior Courts was not an adequate alternative for them. They did not want to (re)litigate their child-support cases ― they only sought to have the Guidelines themselves declared illegal, and thus had no reason for turning to the superior courts. But unlike litigants asserting a private right, the “appellants do not have a right to have the Federal Court rule on the legality of the Guidelines,” [48] and the Court was entitled to refuse to do so. In making that decision, it could not

simply look at the alleged advantages of judicial review from the appellants’ perspective so that they can make their point, but also must engage with the more fundamental questions of how judicial review interacts with the operation of the Guidelines in family law litigation in the provincial courts. [50]

In this regard,

it would be curious, to say the least, if the legality of a central aspect of [the family law] regime were to be finally decided by the federal courts, which, as a result of federal legislation, have virtually no jurisdiction with respect to family law matters. [51]

Finally, a ruling by the federal courts that the Guidelines are illegal would not prevent a “proliferation of litigation.” For one thing, it “would not be binding on any provincial superior court.” [53] For another, “[i]t would be for the provincial courts to decide the impact of the illegality of the Guidelines on particular support orders and that could only be done in the context of a multitude of individual cases.” [53] There would be other consequences, too, with which only the superior courts could deal.

Ultimately, says Justice Cromwell. family law expertise is required to adequately decide of the challenge to the Guidelines’ legality. It is provincial superior courts that deal with the issues on which the disposition of such a challenge would depend, and have a sense of the Guidelines’ real-life operation and effects. Even if they cannot grant the precise remedies sought by the appellants, it is they who should hear their claims.

* * *

I think this is the right decision. It reminds me of Bilodeau c. Canada (Ministre de la Justice), 2009 QCCA 746. Mr. Bilodeau sought to have Québec’s courts review a decision of the federal Justice Minister refusing to review his criminal conviction, which he claimed was a mistake. The majority of the Québec Court of Appeal sided with the government, holding that a decision of the federal administration could only be reviewed by the Federal Court. But Justice Duval Hesler (as she then was, and for whom I did some research as a part-time clerk) dissented, arguing (among other things) that “it is desirable that a court engaged this [judicial] review know, understand, and be in the habit of applying the relevant principles” [106] of law. Stickland does not overrule Bilodeau, since it does not affect the majority’s conclusion that the Mr. Bilodeau’s application was not “properly before” the provincial courts at all, but I am happy to see the now-Chief Justice’s logic vindicated.

In a way, however, Justice Cromwell’s reasons are actually unsatisfactory. Perhaps this is too much to ask of a judicial opinion as opposed to an academic study, but I wish he had explored the parallel between the issue he was facing and that of public interest standing ― on which he is, after all, the Supreme Court’s resident expert, having authored its opinion in the leading case on the subject, Canada (Attorney General) v. Downtown Eastside Sex Workers United Against Violence Society, 2012 SCC 45, [2012] 2 S.C.R. 524. As Justice Cromwell explained, the claim in Strickland was for a “public law remedy.” The appellants were not looking for anything for themselves, at least not immediately. Their situation was somewhat different from the usual public interest litigants, because their legal rights would have been affected by an invalidation of the Guidelines, but their claim was arguably more similar to public interest one than to a traditional private action.

Under the Downtown Eastside framework, courts will grant a litigant who does not have a personal stake in the dispute public interest standing to contest the legality (and often the constitutionality) of government action if they consider the claim to be a “reasonable and effective” vehicle for having the issue determined. The standing inquiry is, of course, concerned with the claimants, because there is a suspicion that, lacking a personal stake in the dispute, they will not pursue their case effectively, and might interfere with the rights and autonomy of persons who do have such a stake. Accordingly, courts ask themselves whether would-be public interest litigants are genuinely concerned about the issues they are raising, and whether they will be able to litigate them in such a way as to enlighten the courts, and possibly to bring to bear evidence and arguments that would not be available to other parties. But courts are also concerned with using their proverbially scarce resources effectively, as well as with ensuring that an adversarial debate will take place. And, although not fully determinative, the existence of alternative effective means of addressing the issue will clearly be of considerable importance.

It seems to me that the concerns that were weighing on Justice Cromwell’s mind in Strickland are not very different. Ultimately, the issue is whether the case, as framed by the appellants, was a reasonable and effective vehicle for addressing the issue it presented. To be sure, unlike in public interest standing cases, Justice Cromwell (as well as the courts below) worry not about the proposed parties’ capacity to pursue the case, but about the proposed adjudicators’ ability to resolve it. The alternative whose existence might justify refusing the claim to proceed is not the possibility that other litigants could make the same arguments (possibly) before the same court, but that (possibly) the same litigants could make the same arguments before a different court. But these are two aspects of the same problem.

Especially with public interest litigation, which raises complex and often fact-intensive issues ― and has the potential to do so in a relative factual vacuum ― courts are concerned about being able to settle disputes effectively. This may be difficult to do because the parties fail to provide enough information or because the court itself lacks the necessary expertise. For better or worse, Canadian courts aren’t exactly shy about exercising their jurisdiction even in such difficult cases. But it is reassuring to see that, when an alternative recourse susceptible of making for better-informed adjudication exists, they can still insist on it being taken.

No, no, no!

In his guest-post, for which I thank him, Maxime St-Hilaire offers three critiques of the judgments that have upheld the constitutionality of Justice Mainville’s appointment to the Québec Court of Appeal ― that of the Québec Court of Appeal in Renvoi sur l’article 98 de la Loi constitutionnelle de 1867 (Dans l’affaire du), 2014 QCCA 2365, and that of the Supreme Court in Quebec (Attorney General) v. Canada (Attorney General), 2015 SCC 22. None of these critiques persuade me.

* * *

The first is that the two Courts were wrong to consider that the words “from the bar of [Québec],” which, in section 98 of the Constitution Act, 1867, define the pool of eligible appointees to the province’s superior courts, can ― as a purely textual matter ― extend to former members of the bar. This conclusion rests on an absence of any textual indication that the link with the bar must be current in the text (such as can, according to the Supreme Court’s majority’s opinion in l’Affaire Nadon, Reference re Supreme Court Act, ss. 5 and 62014 SCC 21, [2014] 1 S.C.R. 433, be inferred from the wording and interplay of ss. 5 and 6 of the Supreme Court Act). For prof. St-Hilaire, however, this conclusion is both “counter-intuitive” (my translation, here and throughout) and “arbitrary because it makes that which is specific and contingent into something general and essential.”

I simply do not see how this is the case. As Sébastien Grammond, who (brilliantly) represented the Canadian Association of Provincial Court Judges, pointed out at the Supreme Court hearing, one can be “from” somewhere even if one has not lived there for a long time. (And, I would add, even if one has moved any number of times since having lived there.) Similarly, one can meaningfully say that a federal court judge appointed from the Barreau du Québec is still “from” that bar ― as opposed to some other one ― after he or she has held judicial office for many years. At the very least the interpretation that imposes no temporal constraint is just as plausible as the one that does. In my view, it is actually more so.

* * *

Prof. St-Hilaire’s second critique is historical. Actually, it consists of two distinct claims. The first is that, contrary to what the Québec Court of Appeal (and implicitly the Supreme Court) concluded, the concerns that motivated the enactment of s. 98 were the same that, later, motivated the enactment of what would eventually become s. 6 of the Supreme Court Act ― and, therefore, that the reasoning of the Supreme Court’s majority in l’Affaire Nadon is applicable to l’Affaire Mainville as well.

Actually, I think that it is easy to see that, while in a very general sense these two provisions were indeed motivated by the same concern for the integrity of Québec’s civil law, the precise problems they were intended to solve were quite different. If they hadn’t been, the Supreme Court would have been created in 1867, along with the rest of the federal institutions. The additional problem that prevented this from happening was that a majority of the Supreme Court’s judges were obviously going to be non-Québeckers, and s. 98 could not apply. The guarantee of representation in s. 6 of the Supreme Court Act was the solution to this specific problem ― that of creating a national court which, despite mostly consisting of judges from common law provinces, would nonetheless be acceptable to Québec. This specific context was key to the Supreme Court’s reading of s. 6 in l’Affaire Nadon. The Court of Appeal and the Supreme Court were right to conclude that it made that case’s holding inapposite in interpreting s. 98.

The second part of Prof. St-Hilaire’s historical critique has to do with the meaning of the expression “from the bar” in 1867. Prof. St-Hilaire points to the statutory provisions regulating the appointment of judges to Québec’s courts before confederation, which he says “obviously” must inform the interpretation of s. 98. In his view, these provisions, of which he traces the history in great detail, only allowed the appointment of then-practicing lawyers to the Superior Court, and of the judges of that particular court as well as of then-practicing lawyers to the Court of Queen’s Bench, which since became the Court of Appeal. That is right, so far as it goes, at least with respect to the Court of Queen’s Bench (though I am not quite sure about the Superior Court). But, as those who supported the constitutionality of Justice Mainville’s appointment have always argued, s. 98 was drafted differently from these provisions. The models to which prof. St-Hilaire points were available, and yet they were not followed. So it is far from “obvious” that these provisions must or even can serve as guides for the interpretation of s. 98. Rather, the choice ― quite clearly the deliberate choice ― of a different wording, one that made no mention of the currency of bar membership or courts where the appointee may have served prior to appointment under s. 98 suggest that these conditions cannot be read into that provision.

And then, one must ask a broader question about the value of an originalist interpretation such the one prof. St-Hilaire offers, even one that is about original public meaning and not about original intent (on which Québec’s submissions in l’Affaire Mainville focused). Prof St-Hilaire simply assumes that originalism is an appropriate approach to this case, but that too is far from obvious. In particular, the federal courts, and federal court judges appointed to that office because of their membership in the Québec bar, such as Justice Mainville, simply did not exist in 1867. So to conclude that the original meaning of s. 98 would not have included such judges is not to say much of anything about whether that provision should be understood as allowing their appointment in 2015.

* * *

Prof. St-Hilaire describes his third and final objection as a “practical” one. He argues that allowing the appointment of a judge of the federal courts to Québec’s superior courts makes it possible “to do indirectly what one cannot do directly” ― that is to say, to subsequently appoint such a judge to one of Québec’s seats on the Supreme Court, contrary to the majority opinion in l’Affaire Nadon. This claim suffers from two major difficulties.

The first is that the majority in l’Affaire Nadon did not say that a former judge of the federal courts can never be appointed to the Supreme Court. On the contrary, the majority specifically pointed out that it did “not address” the question of whether such judge “who was a former advocate of at least 10 years standing at the Quebec bar could rejoin the Quebec bar for a day in order to be eligible for appointment to this Court under s. 6” [71] ― much less that of a judge served on one of Québec’s courts for some substantial period of time. The majority’s express refusal to address the issue is hardly warrant for inferring that the Court decided it in a specific way.

Second, prof St-Hilaire’s endorsement of the “practical objection” is unjustifiably selective. As I pointed out here, the same objection could be raised against the appointment, under s. 98, of persons who resigned their membership in the Québec bar in order to become judges of the provincial court. They too cannot be appointed directly to the Supreme Court pursuant to s. 6 of the Supreme Court Act, and yet become eligible for such an appointment if they are elevated to the Superior Court or Court of Appeal. Yet, like the Québec government, prof. St-Hilaire says that such appointments should be possible. Québec argued that that was because judges of the provincial court were members of a “legal institution of Québec,” while judges of the federal courts were not. It was a weak argument, given the federal courts’ involvement with Québec and its legal system, but at least it sounded in principle. Prof. St-Hilaire, for his part, simply says it is a “much better compromise between law and facts” (meaning the longstanding practice of such appointments, in Québec and elsewhere) than the interpretation retained by both the Court of Appeal and the Supreme Court. Yet, again as the federal government and others have always argued, this concession to constitutional practice is quite untethered from the text of s. 98, which does not distinguish between former lawyers appointed to provincial courts and former lawyers appointed to federal courts.

Undeterred, prof. St-Hilaire doubles down and suggests that the same approach “could and should indeed have been applied (mutatis mutandis, of course) to the interpretation of” section 97 of the Constitution Act, 1867.” Yet apart from, once again, the lack of any foundation in the text of s. 97, this interpretation would have led to the curious result that, while eligible under s. 5 of the Supreme Court Act to represent the province from which they were originally appointed to the federal courts at the Supreme Court (something the Supreme Court unanimously confirmed in l’Affare Nadon), federal court judges could not be appointed to that province’s own courts under s. 97. Then again, under prof. St-Hilaire’s and Québec’s interpretation, the judges of the Supreme Court itself, no matter what their previous affiliation, would not be eligible to be appointed to Québec’s courts under s. 98. Québec’s lawyer did his best to laugh this question away when it was put to him at the hearing at the Supreme Court and, when pressed, utterly failed to answer. I do not think that, had he been in that lawyer’s place, prof. St-Hilaire would have succeeded either.

* * *

Prof St-Hilaire undertook to convince us that, despite the absence of any indication to that effect in the text of that provision, s. 98 is best interpreted as preventing some, but not all, former lawyers from being appointed to Québec’s Superior Court and Court of Appeal. I do not think that his arguments are persuasive. At most, it seems to me that an interpretation of s. 98 that would bar the appointment of all (not just some) former lawyers was textually plausible, though no more, and probably less, compelling than the alternative, allowing the appointment of such lawyers.

And even if textually plausible, such a restrictive interpretation was practically undesirable. Everyone agreed, I believe, that Justice Mainville would make a fine judge of the Québec Court of Appeal. Had he been appointed directly to that court, the appointment would likely have been met with universal approval. Has his service at the Federal Court and Federal Court of Appeal made him a worse jurist? Of course not. And so it seems to me that an interpretation that would prevent the appointment of eminently qualified judges so as to assuage the fears that long-dead men might or might not have felt had some time traveller told them about the federal courts is not to be lightly favoured. The Court of Appeal and the Supreme Court were right not to fall into that trap.

As for whether the Supreme Court really has “repudiated” its opinion in l’Affaire Nadon, as prof. St-Hilaire suggests, I do not think we can quite say that. Again, there are real differences between the provisions at issue there and in l’Affaire Mainville, and just as the resolution of the former does not dictate that of the latter, so we cannot infer from the latter anything about the former. Still, we may indeed conclude that the Court views the statutory interpretation holding of l’Affaire Nadon as confined to its own specific facts, and not in need of being extended. That is good news indeed.

The Barreau Responds

I wrote last week that the Barreau may ― or may not ― have effectively reversed the outcome of l’Affaire Nadon, which prevented the appointment to one of Québec’s seats on the Supreme Court of judges occupying one of Québec’s seats on the federal courts by changing its rules of professional ethics so as to allow federal judges to remain members which, in turn, might have made it possible to appoint them to the Supreme Court. Earlier this week, I noted that, in addition to the substance of this change, I had serious questions about the procedure that had been followed prior to its coming into force, and indeed about whether the Barreau was even aware of its significance. These questions, which I had forwarded to the Barreau last Thursday, had gone unanswered.

Until now. I am happy to report that I have heard back from the Barreau. The substantive part of its answer follows. (I had written in French, and the answer is in the language of Portalis as well.) I offer some comments on it below.

La refonte du Code de déontologie des avocats, comme vous le savez sans doute, a été amorcée en 2010. Ce travail a été confié à un comité consultatif dédié et constitué d’avocats qui ont apporté bénévolement leur expertise et leur collaboration à la rédaction. Ainsi qu’il en va pour tout dossier de cette nature, la proposition finale a été ratifiée par le Conseil général du Barreau.

Dans la rédaction des articles du Code visés par cette refonte, il importe de souligner que l’aspect politique n’a jamais été pris en considération. Seuls les principes éthiques et déontologiques ont balisé ce travail considérable.

En ce qui a trait à la formulation de l’article 139, alinéa 1, du Code de déontologie, nous avons effectué certaines vérifications sur les amendements proposés au cours des 4 années de refonte du Code qui ont mené à cette formulation finale.

Étant donné que nous souhaitons éviter l’interprétation que vous évoquez, le Barreau du Québec a demandé à l’Office des professions un amendement à cet article afin que celui-ci reflète mieux nos intentions. L’une des hypothèses envisagées pour cet amendement serait de laisser tomber la référence à la Loi sur les tribunaux judiciaires (chapitre T-16) et d’inclure tous les juges fédéraux.

In short, the Barreau seems to be hinting ― though without actually saying this, much less offering any evidence ― that the change might have been decided on well before l’Affaire Nadon broke out, or at least was concluded. At any rate, “the political aspect,” it asserts, “was never taken into consideration.” But it’s not just “the political aspect.” The statement, in the last paragraph of the Barreau’s answer, that it “wish[es] to avoid the interpretation that [I] put forward,” ― it’s not I, by the way, but rather the federal government’s lawyers who wrote its factum in l’Affaire Mainville, as well as Sébastien Grammond ― pretty clearly suggests that those who drafted and enacted the new rule simply hadn’t thought about its effect on the judges of federal courts or international tribunals.

The Barreau now wants to change the rule again, to “include all federal judges” (note that it says nothing about judges who sit on international tribunals). The trouble is that, even if it is true that the change was not “political” in the first place ― note, though, that the Barreau doesn’t directly answer my questions about who proposed it and how it was justified, beyond the vague assertion that the revision of the Code of Ethics was guided by “ethical and deontological principles alone” ― any new change cannot be so “apolitical.” The Barreau may claim that it would only be “to better reflect [its] intentions” ― but since it hadn’t thought about what it was doing in changing the rule, the claim that it had any “intentions” worth speaking of rings hollow. Its purported “intentions” are reverse-engineered to advance a specific position, which is that wants the holding of l’Affaire Nadon to stand ― and that position is “political.”

As I understand it, changing the rules again would require the approval of the Barreau’s General Council. If you are a Québec lawyer and are unhappy with the outcome of l’Affaire Nadon, as you ought to be, now is your chance to tell your representative on the Council about it. Make it an issue. Force a debate. The veil of ignorance has been lifted, for better or worse. It is impossible to pretend that there is nothing to see here.

As for myself, I am of two minds about this whole business and my role in it. On the one hand, I’d be lying if I said I didn’t care about the issue that I have tried to bring to the public attention being taken seriously. On the other, because I continue to believe that the Supreme Court’s opinion in l’Affaire Nadon was pernicious, I’d be sad to see the workaround that might have nullified it closed, if indeed it is closed. (I hope that it is not!) Then again, if the workaround had remained in place but without anyone alerting the public to it, any eventual appointment of a judge who had used would have raised a stink, perhaps a bigger stink than l’Affaire Nadon itself. It is best, I am inclined to think, that we be clear about things. As the old legal adage has it, it is often more important for things to be settled than for things to be settled right.

Baroud d’honneur, your honour : une concession, mais trois critiques de l’affaire du juge Mainville

« Nous sommes tous d’avis que le pourvoi doit être rejeté, essentiellement pour les motifs exposés par la Cour d’appel du Québec. […] Les arguments fondés sur le Renvoi relatif à la Loi sur la Cour suprême […] ne résistent pas à l’analyse. Comme la Cour d’appel l’a indiqué […], le présent pourvoi concerne des dispositions constitutionnelles et législatives différentes et le raisonnement et les conclusions de ce renvoi ne s’appliquent pas en l’espèce. » Voilà comment, par la bouche du juge Wagner mais à l’unanimité, la Cour suprême a rapidement disposé de l’appel de l’avis de la Cour d’appel du Québec relatif à l’article 98 LC 1867.

Dans son avis du 21 mars 2014 sur sa loi constitutive, la Cour suprême du Canada avait estimé que l’expression « choisis […] parmi les avocats » de la province de Québec, à l’article 6, désignait les avocats actuels, à l’exclusion des anciens avocats. Le 23 décembre de la même année, la Cour d’appel du Québec a avalisé la thèse selon laquelle l’article 98 LC 1867, où il est question de juges « selected from the Bar » (la traduction française non officielle parle de juges « choisis parmi les membres du barreau »), et l’article 6 de la Loi sur la Cour suprême ne devaient pas recevoir la même interprétation.

La réponse à la question de la constitutionnalité, en vertu de l’article 98 LC 1867, de la nomination d’un juge de la Cour d’appel fédérale à la Cour d’appel du Québec pouvait dépendre de celle donnée à plusieurs sous-questions. La Cour d’appel du Québec n’a su me convaincre que sur l’une d’entre celles-ci, mais d’une manière insuffisante à me faire changer d’avis sur celle-là : une telle nomination devait être tenue pour inconstitutionnelle. Suivent donc une concession, puis trois critiques de l’avis de la Cour d’appel que vient de cautionner la Cour suprême et dans lequel je vois justement trois grands ordres de motifs : textuel, historique et pratique.

Concession. Il est vrai que les « Courts of Quebec » au sens de l’article 98 LC 1867 ne sont que la Cour supérieure et la Cour d’appel

Dans mon billet du 24 juin 2014 ainsi que dans la lettre ouverte qu’avec mon collègue le professeur Hugo Cyr je faisais paraître le lendemain dans Le Devoir, j’affirmais que « ni le texte ni le contexte » de l’article 98 LC 1867 « ne restreint son champ d’application aux seuls juges des cours supérieures au sens large – c’est-à-dire des cours supérieures (au sens strict) et d’appel ». Je soutenais ainsi qu’à l’article 98 LC 1867 « juges du Québec » voulait bel et bien dire « juges du Québec », en ayant à l’esprit les membres de tous les tribunaux judiciaires de la province.

Cette interprétation n’est plus celle que je favoriserais. Elle voulait se justifier surtout par le compromis pratique auquel elle devait permettre d’en arriver en préservant la constitutionnalité de la nomination de membres de tribunaux judiciaires de compétence inférieure, dont la Cour du Québec, aux cours de justice de compétence supérieure. Or, puisque l’article « équivalent » – car il s’en distingue aussi par sa vocation transitoire d’origine – relatif aux autres provinces, l’article 97, prévoit expressément ne s’appliquer qu’aux juges nommés par le gouverneur général, je cède désormais devant l’objection de Léonid Sirota selon laquelle il serait problématique que « provincial court judges [be] ineligible for elevation to Superior Courts in common law provinces even if they are not in Québec ». Et sur le plan historique il est vrai que, à l’époque, de trop nombreux juges des juridictions québécoises de compétence inférieure, dont les juges de paix et les « commissaires », étaient des non-juristes pour qu’il fût l’intention du constituant de disposer autrement. Je me range donc maintenant derrière l’opinion – qui était aussi celle, non seulement du Procureur général du Canada, mais aussi de la Procureure générale du Québec, selon laquelle, tout comme l’article 97 pour les autres provinces, l’article 98 ne concerne, pour le Québec, que les nominations judiciaires prévues à l’article 96, soit celles des membres des cours « provinciales » de compétence supérieure, soit, à l’heure actuelle, la Cour supérieure et la Cour d’appel (par. 25 de l’avis de la CAQ).

Cette concession faite, il me restait à déterminer si l’on avait su me convaincre du fait que la meilleure interprétation à donner à l’expression « selected from the Bar » est celle qui lui fait dire « choisi par ceux qui ont déjà été admis au barreau aux fins de l’exercice de la profession d’avocat » plutôt que « choisi parmi les membres du barreau qui sont autorisés à exercer la profession d’avocat ».

Critique no 1. « From the Bar » comme voulant dire « ayant déjà été admis au barreau » : réfutation de l’argument de texte

L’argument de texte se résume comme suit. Parce que, dans la Loi sur la Cour suprême, l’expression « parmi les avocats » de l’article 6 relatif à la nomination des juges provenant du Québec se distingue, surtout dans la version anglaise, de l’expression « is or has been […] a barrister or advocate » de l’article 5 relatif à la nomination des juges provenant des autres provinces, il faudrait conclure que, à défaut de pouvoir se distinguer d’une expression équivalente à « is or has been » à l’article 97 LC 1867 relatif à la nomination des juges des cours supérieures des autres provinces, l’expression « selected from the Bar » de l’article 98 relatif à la nomination des juges des cours supérieures du Québec veut forcément dire « choisis parmi les membres actuels ou anciens ». Bref, la Cour d’appel est d’avis que, en principe, une expression telle que « parmi les avocats de… » ou « parmi les membres du barreau de… » veut aussi renvoyer aux anciens avocats ou membres du barreau. Ce ne serait donc qu’exceptionnellement qu’une telle expression pourrait ne vouloir dire que ce qu’elle dit. En plus d’être hautement contre-intuitif, cet « argument » n’en est pas un. Il est arbitraire. Il érige le particulier et contigent en général et nécessaire. Qui plus est, il est anachronique, car cette logique textuelle de la Loi sur la Cour suprême ne remonte qu’à 1886.

Critique no 2. « From the Bar » comme voulant dire « ayant déjà été admis au barreau » : réfutation de l’argument historique

Quant à l’argument d’ordre historique, il veut que des objectifs de nature différente président à l’article 6 de la Loi sur la Cour suprême et à l’article 98 LC 1867. De l’avis de la Cour d’appel du Québec, lors des débats sur le projet de fédération, les « représentants du Bas-Canada auraient pu craindre qu’en accordant un pouvoir de nomination aussi important au gouverneur général, la pratique de nommer des juges d’origine étrangère, ou dénués de connaissance en droit privé local, reprendrait de plus belle. Mais, à une exception près, ce ne fut pas le cas » (par. 50 de l’avis de la CAQ). S’il fallait en croire la Cour d’appel, « l’article 98 [de la LC 1867] s’inscri[rait] dans un contexte précis et bien différent de celui qui entoura la création de la Cour suprême » (par. 52). Rien n’est plus faux.

En effet, dès lors qu’il fut proposé que le gouverneur général soit chargé de la nomination des juges des « cours supérieures » des provinces, les élites du Bas-Canada se sont inquiétées. C’est en réponse aux questions des députés que, le 21 février 1865, le solliciteur général du Canada-Uni, Sir Hector-Louis Langevin, intervient en assemblée pour dire que, « dans la constitution proposée, il y a un article qui porte que les juges des cours du Bas-Canada seront choisis parmi les membres du barreau de cette section […] ». Il se trompe toutefois en avançant que « [c]ette exception n’a été faite que pour le Bas-Canada ». Avant la résolution no 35 des 72 Résolutions de Québec d’octobre 1864, qui prévoyait que « [l]es juges des cours du Bas-Canada seront choisis parmi les membres du barreau du Bas-Canada », se trouvait la résolution no 34, qui prévoyait que, « [j]usqu’à ce qu’on ait consolidé les lois du Haut-Canada, du Nouveau-Brunswick, de la Nouvelle-Écosse, de Terre-Neuve et de l’Île-du-Prince-Édouard, les juges de ces provinces qui seront nommés par le gouverneur général seront pris dans les barreaux respectifs ». On y reconnaît aisément les futurs articles 97 et 98 LC 1867. Or la disposition concernant les provinces autres que le Québec fait dans les deux cas allusion à l’uniformisation prévue du droit des autres provinces (résolution n29.33, futur article 94 LC 1867) et se présente donc comme disposition de droit transitoire. C’est à bon droit que la Procureure générale du Québec a voulu rappeler à la Cour suprême que, « [d]e fait, dès la Conférence de Québec, certains Pères de la Confédération ont manifesté le souhait d’avoir un système de droit uniforme et un seul barreau pour tout le Canada. La réalisation d’un tel objectif était, toutefois, impossible étant donné la position du Bas-Canada » (par. 50 du mémoire de la PGQ devant la CSC). Si l’adoption de l’article 96 LC 1867 a généré peu de débats, c’est que l’article 98 venait en limiter les risques, non pas que la question avait perdu de son importance. Compris notamment à la lumière des conditions de nomination à la Cour supérieure et à la Cour du Banc de la Reine (ancêtre de la Cour d’appel du Québec comme cour permanente) qui étaient prévues dans les lois du Canada-Uni qui devaient être transitoirement reconduites, cet article 98 était tenu pour clair. De distinguer les enjeux de l’article 98 de la LC 1867 de ceux des dispositions qui, dans l’histoire de la Cour suprême, ont assuré à celle-ci un contingent de juges québécois relève de la fabrication.

La lutte pour la « représentation du droit québécois » au sein de la composition de la Cour suprême du Canada s’est inscrite dans le prolongement direct de celle qui, de longue haleine, avait mené aux acquis que visait à préserver l’article 98 LC 1867. Dès 1865, la possibilité projetée (par la résolution no 29.34) que, au sein de la fédération des colonies, le nouveau parlement fédéral puisse créer une « cour générale d’appel » inquiète par exemple le député Henri-Elzéar Taschereau : « Nous avons la garantie que nous aurons nos tribunaux locaux, que nos juges seront pris parmi les membres du barreau du Bas-Canada, et que nos lois civiles seront maintenues; mais pourquoi établir une cour d’appel fédérale dans laquelle il y aura appel des décisions rendues par tous nos juges […]? » (par. 104 du mémoire de la PGQ devant la CSC). Après l’entrée en vigueur de la LC 1867, la création d’une telle cour sera d’abord proposée en 1869, puis en 1870, avant de devenir réalité en 1875, par une loi constitutive prévoyant que deux de ses six juges « seront pris parmi les juges de la Cour supérieure ou de la Cour du Banc de la Reine, ou parmi les avocats de la province de Québec » (Acte de la Cour suprême et de l’Échiquier, SC 1875, c. 11, art. 4). Il est évident que, en l’étendant à ce nouvel échelon de la hiérarchie judiciaire, c’est la logique de l’article 98 LC 1867 qui est reprise ici. Il ne fait selon moi aucun doute que la Procureure générale du Québec était dans le vrai en affirmant qu’il « ressort des débats entourant la création de la Cour suprême que c’est la crainte que la garantie dont bénéficiait [sic] les cours supérieures du Québec en vertu de l’article 98 LC 1867 soit contrecarrée par l’établissement d’un nouveau tribunal d’appel qui a incité les représentants du Québec à exiger une représentation de juges du Québec au sein de la Cour suprême. […] Avec égards, la Cour d’appel insiste à tort sur le fait que l’article 6 de la Loi sur la Cour suprême consacre un compromis historique qui serait limité à la création de la Cour suprême » (par. 111-112 de l’avis de la CAQ).

Or la prise en compte de l’histoire fondait un argument bien plus fort, que la Cour d’appel n’a fait qu’évoquer (par. 61 de l’avis de la CAQ), mais que le Procureur général du Canada avait brillamment exposé (par. 65 à 84 du mémoire du PGC devant la CAQ). Cet argument est que la catégorie de « membre du barreau » d’une province est définie, non pas par la loi constitutionnelle, mais par la loi ordinaire provinciale et les règlements des différents barreaux provinciaux, de sorte que, dans l’histoire – et encore aujourd’hui d’une province à l’autre – les juges, ou certains d’entre eux, ont pu conserver, tel quel ou modifié, leur statut de membre du barreau après leur nomination. Partant, en 1867, l’expression « selected from the Bar » aurait été appelée à couvrir les juges des cours de compétence inférieure qui continuaient d’appartenir au barreau de la province. Relevons en passant que ce n’est que depuis 1967, et ce, par inadvertance apparemment, que, avec l’abolition du statut de membre honoraire, la loi québécoise relative au barreau prive les juges de toute appartenance à cet ordre professionnel (par. 82-84 du mémoire du PGC devant la CAQ). Dans leur mémoire devant la Cour d’appel, les procureurs des Cris soutenaient ainsi « qu’au moment de la rédaction de l’article 98 de la Loi constitutionnelle de 1867, les juges étaient considérés comme étant toujours des membres du Barreau du Bas-Canada » (par. 63 du mémoire du Grand conseil des Cris et du Gouvernement de la Nation crie devant la CAQ). Faisant encore un pas de plus, ils, ainsi que le Procureur général du Canada, ont réussi à convaincre la Cour d’appel du Québec de ce que, à l’article 98 LC 1867, « from the Bar » voulait dire « ayant déjà été admis à l’exercice de la profession d’avocat par le barreau ». L’argument a presque réussi à me convaincre.

Or, en 1867, « selected from the Bar », à l’article 98 LC 1867, devait manifestement être compris à la lumière des conditions de nomination à la Cour supérieure et à la Cour du Banc de la Reine du Bas-Canada, conditions qui étaient prévues dans les lois du Canada-Uni, dont l’article 129 LC 1867 prévoyait, de façon transitoire, le maintien en vigueur. Et il se trouve que ces conditions opposaient, comme catégories de candidats, celle des membres du barreau à celle de juges de tribunaux précisément indiqués. Cela exclut donc une catégorie de juges d’autres juridictions ayant conservé une forme ou une autre d’appartenance au barreau qui, au Bas-Canada, n’a été constitué par la loi qu’en 1849 (Acte pour l’incorporation du Barreau du Bas-Canada, S.C. (1849) 12 Vict., c. 46). En effet, l’article 4 de l’Acte pour amender les lois relatives aux cours de juridiction civile en première instance dans le Bas-Canada (SC (1849) 12 Vict., c. 38), qui porte création de la Cour supérieure – nom qui provient sans doute, comme le suggère Donald Fyson, des anciens « superior terms » de la Cour du banc du roi (ou de la reine) – prévoyait « qu’aucune personne ne sera nommée juge de la dite cour supérieure, à moins qu’immédiatement avant nomination elle ne soit juge de l’une des dites cours du banc de la reine, ou juge de circuit ou de district, ou avocat de dix ans de pratique au moins au barreau du Bas-Canada ». La mention de juge de district m’intrigue, car à ma connaissance les Cours de District (et les Cours de Division) avaient été abolies en 1843 (SC 7 Vict., c. 16, 18 et 19). Quant à l’Acte pour établir une cour ayant juridiction en appel et en matières criminelles pour le Bas-Canada (S.C. (1849) 12 Vict., c. 37), qui portait création de la Cour du Banc de la Reine du Bas-Canada en tant que cour d’appel permanente, son article 2 prévoyait que « personne ne sera nommé juge-en-chef ou juge puisné comme susdit, à moins d’avoir été, lors de sa nomination, juge de l’une des diverses cours du banc de la Reine dans le Bas-Canada, ou juge de la cour supérieure, ou juge de circuit, ou à moins d’avoir été avocat pratiquant pendant au moins dix ans au barreau du Bas-Canada […] ». Ici, malgré une rédaction moins habile, « avoir été avocat » devait aussi se vérifier au moment de la nomination, et « pendant » voulait dire « depuis ». La version anglaise parle d’ailleurs d’un « Advocate of at least ten years’ standing at the Bar of Lower-Canada ».

Au-dessous de la Cour supérieure venait en effet la Cour de Circuit, alors héritière de la compétence de l’ancienne Cour du Banc de la Reine « en termes inférieurs ». En 1857, l’article 13 de l’Acte pour amender les actes de judicature du Bas Canada (SC (1857) 20 Vict., c. 44) abolit la charge de juge de circuit et prévoit que la Cour de Circuit sera tenue par les juges de la Cour supérieure qui « auront tous les pouvoirs et les devoirs accordés et attribués à tout juge de circuit à l’époque à laquelle la présente section sera mise à effet ». Cela ne veut aucunement dire que la Cour de circuit, dont la compétence est large mais d’attribution, devient pour autant une cour de compétence supérieure, quoiqu’elle dispose d’un pouvoir de surveillance et de contrôle. Mais la doctrine et la jurisprudence canadiennes semblent unanimes à voir une cour de compétence supérieure dans la nouvelle forme que prend cette juridiction, qui sera abolie en 1952, alors que sa compétence sera attribuée à la Cour (provinciale inférieure) de magistrat, et ce, en vertu d’une loi de 1945 (S.Q. 9 Geo VI, c. 19). Au tournant du XXe siècle, des lois québécoises visant à remplacer la Cour de circuit par la Cour de magistrat dans la région de Montréal auront été désavouées par le gouverneur général. Quoi qu’il en soit du statut de cette nouvelle Cour de Circuit dans la hiérarchie judiciaire, nonobstant le fait qu’elle abolit la charge de juge de circuit, la loi de 1857 prévoit de manière transitoire, à son article 10, que « les nouveaux juges de la cour [supérieure] et tous les juges qui y seront nommés à l’avenir seront choisis parmi les juges de circuit d’alors et les avocats de dix années de pratique au moins dans le barreau du Bas-Canada […] ». La catégorie des juges de district disparaît, et celle des juges de circuit est appelée à le faire.

À l’occasion de la refonte de 1861, l’Acte concernant la Cour supérieure (S.R.B.-C. 1861, c. 78) est mis à jour, et son nouvel article 7, relatif aux conditions de nomination, se lit comme suit : « Le juge en chef et les juges de la cour supérieure, en office lors de la mise à effet de la section neuf de l’acte 20 V. c. 44, continuent à l’être en vertu de la commission qu’ils avaient alors; les nouveaux juges de la cour ont été choisis parmi les juges de circuit d’alors, et les avocats de dix années de pratique au moins au barreau du Bas Canada;– et tous les juges qui seront nommés à l’avenir seront choisis parmi les dits avocats ayant pratiqué pendant le même nombre d’années. » Désormais, seuls les avocats en exercice depuis dix ans au Barreau du Bas-Canada seront éligibles à la charge de juge de la Cour supérieure du Bas-Canada. Quant à l’Acte concernant la Cour du Banc de la Reine (S.R.B.-C. 1861, c. 77), son nouvel article 2 se lit comme suit : « Nul ne sera nommé juge-en-chef ou juge puisné, à moins d’avoir été, lors de sa nomination, juge de la Cour supérieure du Bas Canada, ou à moins d’avoir été avocat pratiquant pendant au moins dix ans au barreau du Bas Canada. » La formulation est la même qu’en 1849, à cette exception près que les catégories de candidats formées des juges des anciennes et diverses cours du banc de la Reine du Bas-Canada et des juges de circuit sont abolies. En 1864, une cour d’appel intermédiaire devant prendre place entre la Cour supérieure et la Cour du Banc de la Reine est créée : la Cour de révision, qui sera abolie en 1920 (S.Q. (1920) 10 Geo. V, c. 79). L’article 20 de sa loi constitutive (S.C. (1864) 27-28 Vict., c. 39) prévoit cependant qu’elle se composera de « trois juges de la cour supérieur à Montréal ou à Québec », de sorte que cette réorganisation judiciaire est sans conséquence sur les conditions de nomination aux tribunaux auxquels s’appliquera bientôt l’article 98 LC 1867. Nous y voilà : la thèse selon laquelle l’expression « from the Bar », à cet article, serait alors comprise comme voulant dire « détenant une forme ou une autre de statut de membre du barreau (dont celui que pourrait avoir le membre d’un tribunal non désigné par les lois du Canada-Uni relatives aux conditions de nomination à la Cour supérieure et à la Cour du Banc de la Reine du Bas-Canada) » se révèle des plus improbables. Cette thèse ne peut aucunement militer en faveur de celle selon laquelle, de nos jours, l’expression qui nous occupe devrait vouloir dire « ayant déjà été admis à l’exercice de la profession d’avocat par le barreau ».

La Procureure générale du Québec était du reste fondée de souligner que, dans les premières décennies qui ont suivi l’entrée en vigueur de la LC 1867, le Parlement fédéral n’a pas jugé utile de modifier les conditions de nomination des juges de la Cour supérieure et de la Cour du Banc de la Reine du Québec qui étaient posées par les lois du Canada-Uni (par. 77 du mémoire de la PGQ devant la CSC). Avec les autres dispositions des lois du Canada-Uni dont le contenu relevait maintenant de la compétence du Parlement fédéral, celles qui nous intéressent ici n’ont été abrogées qu’à la faveur de la refonte de 1886 (Acte concernant les statuts révisés du Canada, SC (1886) 49 Vic. c. 4). Qui plus est, elles n’ont été remplacées par le législateur fédéral qu’en 1912 (Loi modifiant la Loi des juges, S.C. (1912) 2 Geo. V, c. 29, art. 9). Qu’on me comprenne bien : je ne suis pas en train de dire que ces conditions « préconfédératives » de nomination aux cours de compétence supérieure du Québec ont été constitutionnalisées dans le détail par l’article 98 LC 1867. Je suis plutôt en train de dire que c’est à leur lumière que s’éclaire d’abord le sens de l’expression « from the Bar » qu’on trouve à ce dernier article. Et les paragraphes qui précèdent ne laissent guère douter du fait que c’est la Procureure générale du Québec qui avait raison en soutenant que, « au moment de la Confédération, les conditions de nomination aux tribunaux supérieurs du Québec étaient bien établies. Seuls les membres du Barreau du Bas-Canada et des tribunaux supérieurs de la province pouvaient y accéder » (par. 71 du mémoire de la PGQ devant la CSC). La Cour d’appel du Québec reconnaît elle-même dans son avis que, « pendant la période préconfédérative, seuls les juristes qui depuis dix ans étaient avocats en exercice, ou qui étaient juges de la Cour supérieure, de district ou de comté, pouvaient devenir juges à la Cour du Banc de la Reine » (par. 72 de l’avis de la CAQ).

Relevons au passage que, si, de la part de la Cour d’appel, d’interpréter l’article 98 LC 1867 à la lumière des lois du Canada-Uni qui en constituaient le contexte historique s’imposait et n’aurait pas été une erreur, en revanche, d’interpréter ce même article constitutionnel à la lumière des dispositions de la loi ordinaire postérieure à l’entrée en vigueur de la LC 1867, dispositions dont cet article qui nous occupe fonde les conditions de validité, en était une (par. 58-67 de l’avis de la CAQ). Je partage donc aisément l’opinion de la Procureure générale du Québec selon laquelle, « contrairement à ce qu’avance l’avis de la Cour d’appel, une loi fédérale ne peut servir à interpréter une disposition constitutionnelle dont le rôle est d’encadrer le pouvoir du gouvernement fédéral sur une institution provinciale » (par. 97 du mémoire de la PGQ devant la CSC). Il n’agit ici d’une notion élémentaire et universelle de droit constitutionnel. Encore là, contrairement à la reconstruction à laquelle la Cour d’appel se livre à l’invitation du Procureur général du Canada (par. 88-99 du mémoire du PGC devant la CAQ), l’histoire de la loi fédérale relative aux conditions de nomination aux cours de compétence supérieure n’est pas de continuité mais de rupture. Ce n’est que depuis 1976 que, outre les avocats de la province, d’anciens avocats de la province devenus juges de la cour provinciale ou de la Cour suprême du Yukon ou des Territoires du Nord-Ouest peuvent être nommés aux cours de compétence supérieure de cette même province (Loi modifiant la Loi sur les juges et d’autres dispositions concernant la magistrature, SC 1976-1977, c. 25, art. 1). Quant aux avocats de la province qui sont devenus juges des cours fédérales, ils ne le peuvent que depuis une modification apportée à la loi en 1996, de manière à inclure les anciens avocats de la province « ayant exercé à temps plein des fonctions de nature judiciaire à l’égard d’un poste occupé en vertu d’une loi fédérale ou provinciale » (Loi modifiant la Loi sur la Cour fédérale, la Loi sur les juges et la Loi sur la Cour canadienne de l’impôt, LC 1996, c. 22, art. 2).

Critique no 3. « From the Bar » comme voulant dire « ayant déjà été admis au barreau » : réfutation (partielle) de l’argument pratique

La Cour d’appel du Québec et, à sa suite, la Cour suprême du Canada faisaient face à une réalité pratique qu’elles ont pu tenir pour contraignante : « Ce ne sont pas tous les juges de toutes les cours supérieures canadiennes, en première instance ou en appel, qui ont accédé à la magistrature en provenance directe du barreau d’une province, loin de là. […] Beaucoup ont été nommés à une cour supérieure après avoir exercé une fonction judiciaire dans un tribunal visé par le paragraphe 14 de l’article 92 de la Loi constitutionnelle de 1867 » (par. 59 de l’avis de la CAQ). Dans son billet du 26 juin 2014, Léonid Sirota donnait l’exemple de la juge Abella, qui, en 1992, avait été nommée à la Cour d’appel de l’Ontario alors qu’elle était juge de la Cour provinciale de cette même province. Concernant le Québec, la Procureure générale de cette province a dû concéder que, « depuis 1867, les juges des cours supérieures sont régulièrement choisis [non seulement] parmi les membres du Barreau, mais également parmi les membres des tribunaux judiciaires du Québec » (par. 81 du mémoire de la PGQ devant la CSC). Bref, il était devenu pratiquement impossible de reconnaître l’inconstitutionnalité d’un aussi grand nombre de nominations judiciaires, sur une période du reste aussi longue.

Toutefois, il en va autrement de la nomination, à une cour visée par l’article 97 ou par l’article 98 LC 1867, d’un juge fédéral ou territorial. Dans son billet du 14 juillet 2014, Paul Daly donnait l’exemple du juge Robertson qui, en 2000, avait été nommé juge de la Cour d’appel du Nouveau-Brunswick alors qu’il était juge de la Cour d’appel de la cour martiale du Canada. Or le fait que la nomination d’un juge fédéral à une cour visée par les articles 97 ou 98 LC 1867 fût inusité devait normalement tomber à pic, compte tenu de l’avis de la Cour suprême du 21 mars 2014 relatif aux articles 5 et 6 de sa loi constitutive. Regrettablement, la Cour suprême ne l’a pas entendu de cette oreille.

Le droit n’est pas censé permettre que soit fait indirectement ce qu’il interdit de faire directement. La Cour suprême du Canada vient pourtant de permettre, en le faisant transiter par la Cour supérieure ou par la Cour d’appel du Québec, au gouverneur en conseil de nommer à cette même Cour suprême du Canada, à titre de juge du Québec, un (ancien) juge fédéral, ce dont elle nous avait dit que, en vertu de l’article 6 de la Loi sur la Cour suprême (constitutionnalisé par l’al. 41d) LC 1982), c’était impossible de faire directement. Contrairement à la formule sommaire des motifs oraux juge Wagner, il ne devait pas faire de toute, non seulement que « [l]es articles 98 LC 1867 et 6 de la Loi sur la Cour suprême sont deux dispositions constitutionnelles participant à la protection du système civiliste dans le cadre des nominations judiciaires par le gouverneur général » (seul ou en conseil), de sorte qu’il importait « de concilier leur interprétation de manière à assurer la cohérence de la structure constitutionnelle canadienne » (par. 113 du mémoire de la PGQ devant la CSC), mais aussi, et plus particulièrement, qu’il était capital de s’assurer que l’interprétation jurisprudentielle de l’article 98 LC 1867 ne permette pas de faire indirectement ce que celle de l’article 6 de la Loi sur la Cour suprême ne permet pas de faire directement. Or l’interprétation de l’article 98 LC 1867 que vient d’avaliser la Cour suprême du Canada « pourrait miner significativement la confiance du public envers le système judiciaire canadien » (par. 125 du mémoire de la PGQ devant la CSC). On est certes autorisé à penser que la Cour suprême vient de désavouer son avis dans « l’affaire du juge Nadon ». On l’est encore davantage de craindre que c’est ce que pensera le grand public.

La solution proposée par la Procureure générale du Québec devant la Cour suprême était d’interpréter « from the Bar of that province », à l’article 98 LC 1867, comme voulant dire « parmi les membres actuels du Barreau du Québec ou ceux des tribunaux judiciaires québécois ». Une telle solution aurait d’ailleurs pu et dû être appliquée (mutatis mutandis, évidemment) à l’interprétation de l’article 97 LC 1867. Une telle solution aurait représenté un bien meilleur compromis entre le droit et les faits.

Reste à voir, comme l’a relevé Léonid Sirota, si, par le truchement de son nouveau Code de déontologie des avocats, le Barreau du Québec n’a pas lui-même renoncé à la protection de l’avis rendu par la Cour suprême dans l’affaire Nadon. En effet, parmi les charges de juge, le nouvel article 139.1 du Code tient pour incompatible avec l’exercice de la profession d’avocat la seule « fonction de juge suivant la Loi sur les tribunaux judiciaires (chapitre T-16) et de juge municipal à titre permanent et à temps complet », ce qui exclut notamment celle de juge d’une cour fédérale.

This Time It’s Different

Today, the Supreme Court heard Québec’s appeal in l’Affaire Mainville ― and, after deliberating for less than an hour, dismissed it from the bench. Speaking for the Court, Justice Wagner endorsed the reasons of the Québec Court of Appeal in Renvoi sur l’article 98 de la Loi constitutionnelle de 1867 (Dans l’affaire du), 2014 QCCA 2365 (an English version of these reasons is available here). Justice Wagner added that the arguments made by Québec, as well as Rocco Galati and the Constitutional Rights Centre, to the effect that the case was indistinguishable from l’Affaire Nadon, so that judges of the federal courts must be barred not only from Québec’s seats on the Supreme Court, but also from Québec’s Court of Appeal and Superior Court “cannot stand” (my translation). The governing constitutional provisions are simply too different.

This is what I argued from the beginning. The Court of Appeal’s decision was correct, and Québec’s arguments to the contrary, feeble. Paul Wells’ tweet that the challenge to Justice Mainville’s appointment was “laughed out of court” is not much of an exaggeration. It is not every day that a constitutional case is decided from the bench. (Indeed, I wonder when, if ever, that had last happened.) Given this dénouement, and also my copious amount of blogging on this matter, there is not much more left to say.

I will conclude by referring to some comments made by Sébastien Grammond, who argued on behalf of the Canadian Association of Provincial Court Judges and was his usual stellar self. He said that Québec’s attempts to “protect” its judiciary from lawyers who had passed through the federal courts, as though they were “the dark side of the force,” reflected a “crispation identitaire,” which would lead people to compare who is and who is not enough of a Québécois ― something that would, in a schoolyard, considered to be bullying. Prof. Grammond is quite right, and the fact that the bullies’ ranks have included Québec’s best writer on legal affairs is proof of just how bad things were. I hope that the Supreme Court’s unequivocal dismissal of the challenge to Justice Mainville’s appointment will put an end to this collective cramp.