The legal profession is not the most diverse of profession. For the longest time it was reserved for white cis men with enough financial mean to survive legal training. It has slowly opened its door to white cis women (although there are still issues, especially in the private sector). It is still very white and cis-hetero normative however. There are probably many causes for the homogeneity of the legal profession (financial barrier to access the profession, hiring biases in large firms, the image of the profession, etc). The Law Society of Upper Canada (LSUC) is at least currently considering ways to increase diversity in the profession. While the LSUC is far from having control over all the factors affecting diversity, it does have the power to accredit law schools, and law schools are often viewed as the true gatekeepers of the profession. This power is, however, rarely used as new law schools are a rare thing. Trinity Western University (TWU), a private university that caters to evangelical Christians, is the most recent university so seek accreditation. TWU has an infamous covenant that all students are required to sign. This covenant forbids sexual intimacy except between married heterosexual couples. This unsurprisingly shocked many people including benchers (the decision-makers of the LSUC). Accrediting TWU seemed, at the very least, to go against diversifying the legal profession. The LSUC ultimately rejected TWU accreditation because of its discriminatory covenant. A law suit ensued, pitting equality against freedom of religion. Days before Toronto Pride, the Ontario Court of Appeal (ONCA) upheld the decision of the LSUC. In this post, I shortly expose additional background on the case. I then explore the decision’s treatment of the LSUC’s decision making power. I finish by looking at the ONCA’s approach to the balancing of rights.
For those who are unaware, the Toronto Pride Parade was on 3 July this year. Usually the parade is pretty uneventful for the erudite. It can be a fun and colourful event (and has some significance when it’s your first), but it’s pretty repetitive (especially the one in Toronto). Same floats, same corporations pretending to care, same organisations, etc. This year, however, something pretty significant happened during pride. No, I’m not talking about Prime Minister Trudeau’s participation in the parade (I couldn’t care less about that in all honesty). Nor I am talking about the 34 years too late apology by the police for the Toronto bathhouse raids in the 80s (what about reparation?). I’m talking about the Black Lives Matter (BLM) protest during the parade. The group, composed largely of black queer people – supported by other people of colour and indigenous people (POCIP) – stopped the parade for 25 min to make demands to Pride Toronto. The demands were mostly more inclusion of POCIP in pride. One, however, shocked a great many people: the removal of the police as participants in pride events. The executive director of pride accepted the demands, only to backtrack in part the next day. We will see how things progress, but I doubt BLM will simply give up (thankfully).
It is the time of the year when people get their rainbow flags out and celebrate sexual diversity. This weekend will be pride in Toronto with all the glitter and the shirtless men it entails. There is a lot of debate surrounding the political aspect of pride, or lack thereof, but that’s not what I want to talk about. I don’t mind pride as it is: a giant queer festival (I have issues with it on some level but I will not explore them here). I usually just let myself get carried by the atmosphere and let the politics behind for a time. Nevertheless, I thought it was a good time to see were we, Canada, were on trans issues (legally speaking). Two years ago, I lamented the foreseeable death of Bill C-279 in a post. The bill was revived at the beginning of the current session of Parliament, but sabotaged in committee with a slew of bathroom panic arguments. Now it will likely die (again), only to be brought back if the next government, after the fall election, actually values the lives of trans people. From that point, let’s see what has happened and will happen for trans rights in Canada.
This winter the Supreme Court (SCC) handed down a decision in the Carter case on the constitutionality of prohibiting assisted dying. This judgement is part of a series first started in PHS Community Services Society (safe drug injection sites) and continued in Bedford (sex work) on the expansion of the right to life, liberty and security of the person. When the Court of Appeal handed its decision upholding the assisted dying ban, I commented on this blog on how, even if the plaintiffs won at the Supreme Court (which they did, unsurprisingly for people who follow constitutional law and/or the issue), the result would be limited to being permitted to exercise a right instead of truly recognizing the equality of the group claiming this right. This post is in part of follow up on my initial thoughts and represents some of my reflections on the advancement of the right to life, liberty and security (section 7 of the Charter), and the fall of the right to equality/non-discrimination (section 15 of the Charter).
Sometime I am very proud of being Canadian, especially when we claim the moral high ground while blatantly disregarding basic international law norms. Do as I say, not as I do. For those who didn’t catch the sarcasm, this post does not talk about nationalistic pride. Instead it will explore briefly a major failure of our refugee and immigration system. This failure, I fear, is far from being the only one; it just so happens that we were made aware of it unlike most removed refugee claimants’ cases. The case I am referring to is the one of Adel Benhmuda and his family. Originally from Libya, he claimed refugee status in Canada in 2000, an application that was rejected by the Immigration and Refugee Board (IRB) in 2003. The government began removal procedure in 2008. Adel applied for a Pre-removal risk assessment, a procedure supposed to ensure that the removee will not be at risk of torture, cruel or unusual treatment, or death. The application was dismissed by an immigration officer and he was removed to Libya where he was detained upon arrival. He was subsequently tortured. He managed to smuggle his family out and claimed refugee status in Malta. Status was granted and Adel is now trying to come back to Canada.
Carter and the right to end one’s life
Last week the British Columbia Court of Appeal decided to allow the Attorney General’s appeal to the constitutional challenge of the assisted suicide prohibition: the Carter case. This case featured two persons named Gloria Taylor and Lee Carter. Both suffered from intractable and progressive diseases, and wished to have the option of physician assisted suicide when their life would become intolerable (they both passed away before the appeal was rendered). However, s 241(b) of the Criminal Code makes aiding or abetting a person to commit suicide a crime. Ms. Carter and Taylor challenged the constitutionality of the section alleging a violation of their right to life, liberty and security of the person, and of their right to equality. One of the major hurdles they faced was that a similar issue involving the same section of the Code was challenged on similar grounds and had been decided by the Supreme Court of Canada in the past. In Rodriguez, the plaintiff lost her appeal to the Supreme Court by a close 5 to 4 vote. Nevertheless, the trial judge, Justice Smith, found that she was not bound by the Supreme Court ruling because this case raised three new grounds: (1) the right to life was not at stake in Rodriguez; (2) two principle of fundamental justice did not exist at the time of Rodriguez, overbroadness and gross disproportionality; (3) the majority did not consider s 15 (equality) in its entirety in addition to the fact that recent Supreme Court decisions changed the applicable test. She found in the plaintiffs’ favour and declared the section unconstitutional with a grace period of one year for the government.