Fifteen years ago, in Babcock v. Canada (A.G.), the Supreme Court of Canada held that section 39 of the Canada Evidence Act, which deprives judges of the power to inspect and order the production of Cabinet confidences in litigation, did not offend the rule of law and the provisions of the Constitution. The aim of this article is to revisit this controversial ruling and challenge the Supreme Court's reasoning. The first part seeks to demonstrate that the Supreme Court adopted a very thin conception of the rule of law in its jurisprudence, a conception which is of limited use as a normative framework to assess the legality of statutory provisions. To that end, the author turns to the thicker theory of law as justification which insists upon the requirements of fairness, transparency, and accountability. Pursuant to the theory of law as justification, an executive decision to exclude relevant evidence in litigation must comply with two requirements: it must be made following a fair decision-making process; and it must be subject to meaningful judicial review. The second part seeks to demonstrate that section 39 does not comply with these requirements. The decision-making process established by Parliament under section 39 is procedurally unfair, in violation of paragraph 2(e) of the Canadian Bill of Rights, because: the identity of the final decision-maker--a minister or the Clerk of the Privy Council--gives rise to a reasonable apprehension of bias; and the decision-maker is not required to properly justify his or her decision to exclude relevant evidence. In addition, section 39 infringes the core, or inherent, jurisdiction and powers of provincial superior courts, in violation of section 96 of the Constitution Act, 1867, as it unduly limits their authority to: control the admissibility of evidence in litigation; and review the legality of executive action. As a result of these flaws, the author argues that section 39 is an unlawful privative clause, a form of legal black hole, which offends the rule of law and the provisions of the Constitution.
Il y a quinze ans, dans Babcock c. Canada (Procureur general), la Cour supreme du Canada a conclu que l'article 39 de la Loi sur la preuve au Canada, qui prive les juges du pouvoir d'examiner les renseignements confidentiels du Cabinet et d'en ordonner la production dans le cadre d'un litige, ne constituait pas une atteinte a la primaute du droit ni aux dispositions de la Constitution. Cet article a pour but de reconsiderer cette decision controversee et de contester le raisonnement de la Cour supreme. La premiere partie cherche a demontrer que la Cour supreme a adopte une conception tres etroite de la primaute du droit dans sa jurisprudence, une conception ayant une portee fort limitee comme cadre normatif pour evaluer la legalite des dispositions legislatives. Pour ce faire, l'auteur fait appel a la theorie plus large du droit comme justification, qui insiste sur les exigences de l'equite, de la transparence et de la responsabilite. Conformement a cette theorie, une decision de l'executif d'exclure des elements de preuve pertinents dans le cadre d'un litige doit etre conforme a deux criteres: elle doit etre prise selon un processus equitable; et elle doit etre soumise a un controle judiciaire significatif. La deuxieme partie cherche a demontrer que l'article 39 ne satisfait pas a ces criteres. Le processus decisionnel etabli par le Parlement a l'article 39 est inequitable sur le plan procedural, violant ainsi le paragraphe 2e) de la Declaration canadienne des droits, puisque l'identite de la personne qui prend la decision finale--un ministre ou le greffier du Conseil prive--souleve une crainte raisonnable de partialite. De plus, cette personne n'est pas tenue de motiver adequatement sa decision d'exclure les elements de preuve pertinents. Par ailleurs, l'article 39 porte atteinte a la competence et aux pouvoirs inherents des cours superieures provinciales, violant ainsi l'article 96 de la Loi constitutionnelle de 1867, puisqu'il limite indument leur capacite de controler: l'admissibilite de la preuve dans le cadre d'un litige; et la legalite des actions de l'executif. Pour ces motifs, l'auteur soutient que l'article 39 est une clause privative illicite, une forme de trou noir juridique qui enfreint tant la primaute du droit que la Constitution.
Introduction I. Defining the Rule of Law A. The Supreme Court of Canada's Conception of die Rule of Law 1. Rule of Law as Rule by Law 2. Rule by Law as a Normative Framework B. An Alternative Conception of the Rule of Law 1. Rule of Law as Justification a. Fundamental Legal Principles b. Judicial Review c. Onus of justification 2. Justification as a Normative Framework a. Law as Justification and the Canadian Legal Order b. Law as Justification and PII under the Common Law c. Law as Justification and PII under Statute Law II. Assessing the Legality of Section 39 of the CEA A. Section 39 Is Procedurally Unfair 1. The Decision-Maker Is Not Independent and Impartial a. Requirements of die Rule Against Bias b. Consistency of Section 39 with die Rule Against Bias c. Consequences of the Violation of the Rule Against Bias 2. The Decision-Maker Is Not Required to Give Reasons a. Requirements of the Duty to Give Reasons b. Consistency of Section 39 Certificates with die Duty to Give Reasons c. Consequences of the Violation of the Duty to Give Reasons B. Section 39 Violates the Core Jurisdiction and Powers of Superior Courts 1. Superior Courts Cannot Control the Admissibility of Evidence a. Progressive Interpretation of the Constitution b. Longstanding Judicial Power to Overrule PII Claims c. Constitutional Nature of the Judicial Power to Overrule PII Claims 2. Superior Courts Cannot Meaningfully Review the Legality of Executive Action a. Judicial Review of Executive Mistakes b. Judicial Review of Executive Abuses of Power c. Cabinet Immunity as a Legal Black Hole Conclusion Introduction
Canada is the only Westminster jurisdiction to have enacted a near-absolute immunity for Cabinet confidences. Parliament entrenched executive supremacy over the disclosure of Cabinet confidences at the behest of Prime Minister Pierre Elliott Trudeau's Liberal government, which did not trust the courts to properly protect its political secrets. To ensure the highest level of protection to Cabinet confidences, Parliament adopted a broad and robust statutory scheme, the scope of which went beyond the protection afforded to this type of information under constitutional conventions and the common law. In doing so, Parliament has effectively removed from the courts the power to inspect and order the production of Cabinet confidences, making it extremely difficult to challenge Cabinet immunity claims. Indeed, litigants and judges do not have access to the information required to determine whether such claims are made reasonably and in good faith by the executive branch. (1)
The question at the heart of this article is whether this special statutory regime is constitutional. Under the common law, which applies at the provincial level in Canada, the courts' power to inspect and order the production of Cabinet confidences is now considered a constitutional imperative. In Carey v. Ontario, the Supreme Court of Canada (SCC) concluded that it would be "contrary to the constitutional relationship that ought to prevail between the executive and the courts in this country" to deprive the judiciary of this power. (2) Despite this statement, courts have held that Parliament could, pursuant to the doctrine of parliamentary sovereignty, provide a near-absolute statutory immunity to the government over Cabinet confidences. Consequently, courts have ruled that this kind of immunity does not violate the Constitution. (3) The courts' position on this issue appears conceptually inconsistent: it is either constitutional to deprive the judiciary of the power to inspect and order the production of Cabinet confidences, or it is not, as the common law and statute law must both comply with the same constitutional rules.
In its seminal 2002 decision on Cabinet immunity under statute law, Babcock v. Canada (A.G.), the SCC did not address this inconsistency. In nine paragraphs, at the very end of its reasons, the SCC held that executive supremacy over Cabinet immunity did not violate the unwritten principles of the rule of law, the separation of powers, and judicial independence. (4) Based on historical considerations, and the fact that a weak form of judicial review is possible, the SCC further stated that the statutory regime did not fundamentally alter the relationship between the executive and the judicial branches of the state. It thus confirmed that the near-absolute nature of Cabinet immunity at the federal level is not only legal, but also legitimate. The SCC reached its conclusion by embracing a very thin conception of the rule of law and a very narrow interpretation of the separation of powers. In doing so, the SCC disregarded the wisdom of Carey and the common law legacy of Cabinet immunity.
The objective of this article is to show that the near-absolute statutory immunity granted to Cabinet confidences violates the rule of law and the provisions of the Constitution. I will focus on section 39 of the Canada Evidence Act (CEA), (5) which deprives judges of the power to inspect and order the production of Cabinet confidences in litigation. The article is divided into two parts. In Part 1, I will demonstrate that the SCC's very thin conception of the rule of law is of limited use as a normative framework to assess the legality of section 39. To that end, I will turn to the thicker theory of law as justification. In Part 2, I will demonstrate that section 39 breaches the requirements of procedural fairness (6) and intrudes upon the core, or inherent, jurisdiction and powers of provincial superior courts. (7) I will argue that to comply with the rule of law and...