Osgoode dean releases annual review of Canada’s top court

An increasingly divided Supreme Court of Canada is rendering fewer decisions and taking longer to produce them, a leading court watcher has concluded, wrote The Globe and Mail April 18.

The court has also embraced a fiscally cautious approach to just about every Charter of Rights case that could end up costing public money, according to an analysis by Patrick Monahan, dean of York University’s Osgoode Hall Law School.

"Pragmatic is a good way of describing them," Monahan said in an interview. "They are looking at consequences." He said that the court turned away nine of the 12 Charter cases it heard last year, including all five freedom-of-expression claims.

The court issued 58 rulings last year – the lowest total since 1975. Only half were unanimous, making 2007 the most divided year for the court since the mid-1990s, Monahan said.

"Relative to where they were two or three years ago, there is not as much consensus today, and they seem to be less unanimous and show greater tendency to write concurring judgments," he said. "I think it is indicative of some sort of transition or evolution in their thinking."

Monahan said that five judges – Chief Justice Beverley McLachlin, Justice Michel Bastarache, Madam Justice Marie Deschamps, Madam Justice Louise Charron and Justice Marshal Rothstein – emerged as a bloc that seemed very leery of making decisions that cost government money.

He also said that the court appears to be tuning into a raging debate over the cost and complexity of the court system itself. "I don’t think that it is simply pandering to some political agenda," he said. "I think there are real concerns in government and in the legal profession about costs and delays: Can the system be sustained in its current form?"

The cautious group of five "wants to take great care in the way they approach their decisions and consider the implications for government," Monahan said. The analysis will be released today [April 18] at Osgoode Professional Development’s annual Constitutional Cases Conference in downtown Toronto. "In future cases, you’re going to have delay, increased costs and lack of certainty for governments and other litigants."

  • The court released 58 judgments in 2007 – the lowest number since 1975, according to an analysis by Patrick Monahan, dean of York’s Osgoode Hall Law School, wrote the Toronto Star April 18. He’ll present his findings today at an annual review of the court’s constitutional cases.

The five men and four women on the country’s highest court saw eye-to-eye only about 62 per cent of the time last year. In the eight years since Chief Justice Beverley McLachlin was named to head the court, its judges have issued unanimous rulings in about 75 per cent of cases.

"If you compare that to the United States Supreme Court, which is unanimous in 40 to 45 per cent of cases, there’s a greater degree of consensus in our court – but relative to previous performance, there is less unanimity than there was," Monahan said in an interview.

"I think the fact there are more dissenting judgments, it’s taking longer (to write them) and the judgments are longer does suggest there might be a slight rebalancing occurring and I think the rebalancing might be a somewhat more cautious approach on some Charter issues," said Monahan. However, he added, "it’s not as if this is a fundamental shift or a fundamental change, it’s at the margins."

  • An analysis of 2007 Supreme Court cases suggests the nine judges were more sharply divided in their decisions and most of them sided with police, wrote The Canadian Press April 18. According to the analysis by Patrick Monahan, dean of York’s Osgoode Hall Law School, 2007 was a time of greater conflict among the top judges who took longer to write decisions and turned out fewer than in the past.

The sad story of ‘Muddy’ Rivers

Former Toronto cop Terrence Rivers, nicknamed Muddy by colleagues who knew him pre-derailment, is on his way upriver to begin the remainder of an almost nine-year stretch for the attempted murder of a female officer with the OPP’s Kawartha Lakes detachment, wrote columnist Mark Bonokoski in the Pembroke Daily Observer April 18.

Throughout his trial, Rivers was represented by Oshawa lawyer Brian Scott (LLB ’80), which means nothing to observers but everything regarding the perception of Terry Rivers’ guilt and intent on the day hell broke loose in his apartment.

Scott, like Rivers, is an ex-cop. He was on the Peel regional police for 10 years, throughout his years of study at York’s Osgoode Hall Law School and right up until being called to the bar in 1982. And he would never have defended Terry Rivers if he thought he was a potential cop killer, wrote Bonokoski.

Spain’s first majority female cabinet includes a former Osgoode visiting researcher

As the US electorate continues to ask whether it is prepared for a female commander-in-chief, Spain watched its new defence minister, Carme Chacon, inspect her troops this week, a maternity blouse doing little to obscure the fact that she is seven months pregnant, wrote The Globe and Mail April 15.

Over the weekend, Spanish Prime Minister Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero named the country’s first majority female cabinet, with nine of 17 ministries headed by women. Among his appointments was 37-year-old Chacon, the government’s former minister for housing and a constitutional law professor, who did graduate research at York’s Osgoode Hall Law School in the 1990s and is expecting her first child. Chacon has pledged to boost the number of women in Spain’s armed forces, which first allowed female members in 1988 and is part of the NATO engagement in Afghanistan.

Transit idea is the spark that Hamilton needs, York student writes

As a Hamiltonian who is graduating with an honours degree in urban planning/geography from York University, I think the proposal is a great idea, wrote Adam Dembe in a letter to the Hamilton Spectator April 18 about a plan to replace car traffic with light rail lines in that city. I am finishing my final research paper on Transit Oriented Development (TOD), the broader term associated with the proposed rapid transit system. I believe this idea is the spark Hamilton needs to rejuvenate its central business district.

Since the redesign of Hamilton’s downtown core by E.G. Faludi many years ago, the city has lost its way. Faludi wanted Hamilton to become modern by tearing down everything and creating great arterial roads for express one-way traffic. But his grand vision only resulted in accommodating the automobile and the eventual loss of community. It seems Hamiltonians have forgotten how vibrant our core used to be.

Human rights ruling was appropriate

A recent Record editorial criticized the Ontario Human Rights Commission for exercising its mandate to advance human rights in Ontario by expressing "serious concerns about the content of a number of articles concerning Muslims that have been published by Maclean’s magazine and other media outlets."

Your dismissal of the commission’s concerns ignores the scurrilous content of these articles, wrote Osgoode graduates Naseem Mithoowani (LLB ’07), Khurrum Awan (LLB ’07), and Muneeza Sheikh (BA ’04, LLB ’07) in a letter to the Waterloo Region Record April 18 about the decision on their complaint about writer Mark Steyn’s article "The Future Belongs to Islam", which alleges that "enough" Muslims share the goals of terrorists and that Muslims wish to impose Islamic law on entire Western societies through a "bloody" takeover.

The commission properly recognized that these articles and others like them raise "important human rights issues for the affected communities and those concerned with an appropriate balance of freedom of expression and equality,” wrote the three alumni.

The commission’s statement is appropriate in light of the lack of avenues available to redress racism in media…. By taking a brave stance against the systemic Islamophobia of Maclean’s, the commission has provided hope to minorities who are on the receiving end of the media stick, far too often.

Neo-conservative forces behind film’s cancellation

Re: The cancellation of Occupation 101 at the University of Windsor. The documentary presents the Palestinian perspective on the current conflict in the Middle East, wrote York student Kole Kilibarda in a letter to the Windsor Star April 18. If the perspective of one of the sides to the conflict is considered inflammatory, then there can’t be any hope for peace.

Sadly, the cancellation of this event comes on the heels of increasing pressures by pro-Israel and neo-conservative forces to shut down any pro-Palestinian activism on campuses. As people of good conscience we must refuse to permit the chill that has hit US campuses, caused by a climate of increasing racism targeting Muslim and Arab students.

Bringing in the laughs

At the helm of the Kempenfelt Community Players’ production of You Can’t Take it With You is director and York alumna Candy Pryce (BFA ’86), wrote the Barrie Examiner April 18. She is known in local theatre circles as a professional actor/director and the face of South Simcoe Theatre’s box office.

The Cookstown theatre company is where Pryce first became a fan of community theatre. A graduate of York University with a BFA in theatre performance, she worked as a professional actor for a number of years before moving to Barrie to raise her two children.

Surprise Mom! I’m a Miss Canada candidate

York alumna Alexandria Wiemer (BA ’07) was always full of surprises, wrote the Sudbury Star April 18. Graduating high school, Wiemer had her family convinced she would be attending Sudbury, Ont.’s Laurentian University. When the master of ceremonies announced she was headed to York University, it was the first her parents had heard of it.

In similar fashion, Wiemer neglected to inform her parents she had applied to the 2008 Miss Universe Canada competition. When she found out she made it to the final show, it was time to surprise the parents once again. "They were completely floored," Wiemer said. "I wanted to keep it as a surprise."

Dancer has chutzpah but needs time to grow

It’s the wise emerging artist who suppresses her earliest work as her art develops, wrote the Toronto Star April 18. Not Tracey Norman (BFA ’03), who has found it fitting to mount a retrospective of her dances from 2004, a year after her graduation from York University, up until now.

But give her points for chutzpah. It is a performer’s maxim, after all, that you cannot grow without exposing your work to a live audience. Trouble is, the scripts are terribly jejune, and most of the dances look like student work. That impression is reinforced by the participation of five dancers who graduated from York’s Faculty of Fine Arts between 2003 and 2007.

Playing with a full paint box

It’s like class is in session in Musical Theory 101 when Josh Laing (BFA ’01) holds forth about his trio Chameleon Project, wrote The Toronto Sun April 18. But what can sound cold and academic when reduced to description, is anything but in execution.

Laing says the concept for Chameleon Project emerged from the free jazz workshops he organized while studying and teaching in York University’s Faculty of Fine Arts. "I learned a lot of these techniques and I thought, ‘As much as they apply to non-tonal music, you can really apply this to tonal music with a beat and make it happen in terms of live electronic music.’ "

A case of who lost the least

The University of Alberta battled through bad markets to win the third annual Financial Post MBA Portfolio Management Competition, beating out 15 other teams from across Canada, though none actually managed to make money for their hypothetical investor Mrs. Oldmoney, wrote the National Post April 18 . The team from the Schulich School of Business at York University took second spot after starting in ninth place.

On air

  • Brian Shifman, executive director of York-based Smart Commute North Toronto-Vaughan, spoke about alternatives to TTC transportation in the event of a strike, on Global TV April 17.