York law experts comment on Charter’s 25th anniversary

The jury was out on April 17, 1982, when the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms came into being, wrote The Globe and Mail April 11 in one of a series of stories featuring York-connected experts.

As a primary architect of the 1982 Charter – which has its 25th anniversary next week – Osgoode Hall Law School alumnus and Ontario Chief Justice Roy McMurtry (LLB ’58) said its detractors have "grossly exaggerated" the power that judges have gained to override the will of politicians, wrote the Globe. In reality, he said, the Charter has created a healthy, robust dialogue between the two branches of government: "The extent to which so-called judicial activism has frustrated Parliament has been minimal."

Coupled with the slow starvation of legal-aid programs and the recent demise of the federal Court Challenges Program, which financed test cases and legal interventions, the future looks bleak for Charter challengers, the Globe wrote. "We are stuck with this Charter that looks wonderful on paper, but it’s just that – paper – unless people have the ability to enforce their rights," said Osgoode Professor Bruce Ryder. "Only those who drive a Cadillac get to use the Charter highway." [The comment was also featured as the Globe’s “Quote of the Day”.]

"We have come to think that the courts play a role in true democracy," said Osgoode Professor Allan Hutchinson. "In reality, there is this sapping of democratic energy. People are looking to the courts to rescue them rather than politicians. Politicians love this; it gets them off the hook. It has allowed them to pander to the public, because they’ve got the courts behind them to take care of things. My question is: Why do we have any confidence that the courts have any idea what they are doing, when it comes to significant issues?"

  • While choosing Charter winners and losers is a subjective exercise –- many legal triumphs can be partial or pyrrhic – few would deny that one of the biggest losers has been the trade-union movement, wrote The Globe and Mail in another story April 11. "Labour groups were hammered early," said Allan Hutchinson, a professor at York University’s Osgoode Hall Law School. "The court said they were not really a player, so labour just went away."

Activists who represent the poor and the homeless have also come away pretty much empty-handed, as have racial minorities – with the exception of Aboriginals. "American courts are overwhelmed with all sorts of cases about racial discrimination and schooling," Hutchinson remarked. "I guess that groups of colour are not interested here; they see the courts as very much part of the establishment."

Bruce Ryder, another Osgoode professor, said criminal lawyers have had some modest success arguing against the use of racial profiling by police. Otherwise, he said, it has simply been too difficult to produce hard evidence that shows racial discrimination.

"There are certain kinds of discrimination that the Charter just can’t seem to reach effectively," Ryder said. "It is remarkable how little it has done for racial minorities. It’s almost as if, the larger the social problem, the less likely it is that the Charter will reach it."

The press has done well under the Charter, wrote the Globe. However, the right to free expression has itself received a cold reception in the Supreme Court, said Jamie Cameron, another Osgoode professor. "The court has been unwilling to extend any real protection to different kinds of really provocative discussion," she said.

Some judges more ‘pro-freedom’: study

Some Supreme Court judges are stronger supporters of individual and economic freedoms and equality than their colleagues, claims a new report released by the Canadian Constitution Foundation on April 10, wrote the National Post April 11.

Patrick Monahan, dean of Osgoode Hall Law School at York University, said trends do emerge in the way justices rule. However, he said, researchers should be careful when trying to identify and categorize their decisions. In the 2005 Chaoulli case, in which the Supreme Court struck down Quebec prohibitions on private health insurance, the judges who made up the majority were labelled "pro-freedom" while the dissenters were called "anti-freedom," according to the study.

"Is that pro-freedom? Or anti-freedom?" Monahan asked. "I happen to agree with the result but many people would say, ‘What about the freedom of those who do not have the money to finance health care?’"

  • Bruce Ryder, a law professor at Osgoode, said the findings suggest the court is philosophically conservative in its approach when it comes to protecting individuals from state intrusion, wrote CanWest News Service April 11. "It seems to me that the court has very much, under Beverley McLachlin’s leadership, taken a libertarian approach to the Charter of Rights," said Ryder. But he warned that overall patterns in judging are hard to nail down without studying how the court ruled in other cases not involving individual freedoms.

Oscar-nominated filmmaker and York archives donor Harry Rasky dead at 78

Oscar-nominated Canadian filmmaker Harry Rasky, whose documentaries shone a light on the work of artists including Marc Chagall, Leonard Cohen and Christopher Plummer, has died, wrote Canadian Press April 10. It quoted the CBC as saying Rasky died Monday at the age of 78. Rasky co-founded the news documentary department at the public broadcaster, where he also worked as a reporter and producer in the 1950s and ’60s. He went on to make some 40 documentaries over his celebrated career and was nominated for two Academy Awards, including best documentary for Homage to Chagall: The Colours of Love in 1977.

Rasky started making donations to the archives of the York University Library in Toronto in 1992 and transferred material as recently as 2005, said library officials. The archives include more than 38 film reels and 116 video cassettes, as well as personal material.

Jewish leader counters ‘bizarre allegation’

Last year, a Quebec lawyer defending an accused war criminal argued that I participated in a conspiracy with Irving Abella, a professor of Jewish history in York’s Faculty of Arts and the spouse of a Supreme Court justice [Rosalie Abella], and Professor Irwin Cotler, then the attorney-general of Canada, to stack the court with judges who are sympathetic to war crimes prosecutions, wrote Ed Morgan, national president of the Canadian Jewish Congress and a law professor at the University of Toronto, in a letter to the National Post April 11. I was honoured to be included with such accomplished co-conspirators. But I can say with authority that despite the fact that we are all Jewish academics, there was not a single kernel of truth to the bizarre allegation.

Dreams of dollars take a back seat

As you read this, I am 24 hours from leaving Kenya, and yet I still find it hard to believe I have been living here, wrote York alumnus Jacob Kojfman (LLB/MBA ‘03) in his column “Kenyan Sabbatical” for the National Post April 11. Four years ago, I was studying for my law exams and wrapping up projects for my MBA. If someone had told me I would be working in the developing world, let alone visiting it, I would have laughed.

The courses I took at law school – corporate law, securities law, debtor and creditor law – and my focus on finance at business school screamed Corporate Canada. And, although I spent three years volunteering while I was in graduate school, I was helping to form the next generation of Alex P. Keatons, not Mother Teresas, all the while counting down the days until the next Harry Rosen sale.

The Post noted that Kojfman has an LLB/ MBA from York’s Schulich School of Business and Osgoode Hall Law School.

Hudson shifts focus from photos to paintings

Throughout his 23-year career as an artist, York alumnus Dan Hudson (BFA ’94) has expressed the everyday and the sublime in a range of mediums including painting, drawing, photography and video, wrote the Banff Crag & Canyon (Alberta)March 10. According to Hudson, that much variety is exactly what they say you are not supposed to do in the art world. “I just kind of do what I want to do and let the cards fall where they may,” he said.

It has been 15 years since Hudson has shown his paintings in a gallery as he has had a highly successful professional career in action photography, with his photos gracing the covers of over 25 national and international magazines. These days Hudson has seen his snowboard photography taper off as he is beginning to concentrate more on his painting, something that has been his game plan since the beginning.

Following his heart

Cpl. Brent Donald Poland (BA ’92) was only on this earth for 37 years. Yet, for the Poland family of Camlachie, Ont., it was all too brief. They lost a loving son, and Lambton County lost one of its own, wrote Sarnia This Week in its editorial of April 11. Cpl. Poland was a very intelligent young man. He was a graduate of history and media arts from York University and Ryerson and only enlisted in the armed forces while in his 30s. He did so because he was following his heart; wanting to make a difference in the lives of people residing in one of the world’s poorest countries.

  • The world became considerably smaller on Monday, wrote Sarnia This Week April 11 in a separate article. That’s when our community was shocked and saddened to hear, for the second time in recent months, that one of our own had been killed in the line of duty in Afghanistan. Cpl. Brent Donald Poland, 37, and five of his fellow soliders succumbed to a powerful roadside bomb about 75 kilometers west of Kandahar on Easter Sunday.

On air

  • Nick Balaskus, lab technician in York’s Department of Astronomy & Physics, Faculty of Science & Engineering, spoke about the latest Canadian report on UFO sightings, on CJNI radio (Halifax) April 10.