On May 13th, the Supreme Court of Canada announced that for the first time in its history, it will hear cases outside of Ottawa. This September, the Supreme Court will travel to Winnipeg, Manitoba to hear two appeals. In doing so, the Supreme Court of Canada follows in the footsteps of high courts in the United Kingdom, Australia, and France, which have all conducted hearings outside of their home cities.
The Supreme Court has long broadcast its hearings online, but this will be the first opportunity for many Manitobans to see a Supreme Court hearing live. In his video announcement, Chief Justice Wagner emphasized the importance of making the Supreme Court accessible to more Canadians, which has been a theme of his tenure as Chief Justice. Since March 2018, the Supreme Court has released short summaries of its decisions. These 1 or 2-page summaries are drafted by communications staff in plain language so that anyone who is interested can learn more about the work of the Supreme Court.
The two hearings will be held at the Manitoba Court of Appeal. The Supreme Court is also planning some outreach events during its time in Manitoba, including meetings with indigenous communities, the francophone community, the legal community, and students.
Interestingly, both appeals that will be heard in Winnipeg involve constitutional issues. The first case is a criminal law appeal originating from Manitoba. It concerns the constitutional right to be tried within a reasonable period of time. The second case is from British Columbia. It raises issues about the constitutional protection of minority language education rights.
It is unclear why the Supreme Court chose these two cases to be heard outside of Ottawa. Their place of origin certainly seems relevant as one appeal comes to the Supreme Court from Manitoba. Perhaps the Supreme Court also chose these appeals because they raise constitutional issues that may generate significant public interest. The criminal law appeal concerns the application of the Supreme Court’s 2016 decision in R. v. Jordan, which set presumptive time limits for how long criminal cases should take. The Jordan decision generated significant media attention when it was released and continues to generate attention when criminal cases are dismissed due to delay.
In any event, one thing seems clear. The Supreme Court is continuing to evolve to ensure it remains relevant and accessible to Canadians. I have only one question – which city is next?
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Debbie Boswell is a member of the Lerners LLP’s Commercial Litigation, Health Law and Appellate Advocacy Practice Groups.