Author:Robert J. Sharpe - Kent Roach
Profession:Court of Appeal for Ontario - Faculty of Law, University of Toronto

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The amendment of the Canadian constitution in 1982 to include the Charter of Rights and Freedoms brought about a fundamental change in Canadian law and politics.1The Charter significantly increased the law-making power of Canadian courts. Decisions on many important public issues, formerly within the exclusive authority of Parliament and the provincial legislatures, are now subject to judicial review. Charter litigation has become an important tool used by interest groups to advance their political ends. Canadian courts now play a central role in deciding how the law should deal with such intractable issues as abortion,2mandatory retirement,3the legitimacy of laws restricting pornography4and hate propaganda,5the definition of what may properly constitute a criminal offence,6and the treatment accorded minorities such as gays and lesbians.7

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The Charter has unquestionably had a profound impact upon the role of the judiciary. The courts are now empowered to deal with issues that range far beyond what was seen as appropriate to the judicial function before 1982. In the pre-1982 era, to most Canadians the Supreme Court of Canada was a remote institution that had little, if any, real impact upon their lives. Since entrenchment, however, the Supreme Court has been recognized by the Canadian public as a seat of great power and influence. It has become the institution to which citizens may turn for protection of their fundamental rights and freedoms.

Media attention to legal issues has increased significantly, which is undoubtedly attributable in large part to the Charter. Decisions of the courts are routinely front-page news. The Supreme Court of Canada has developed a media-relations policy to ensure that its judgments are adequately reported, and the Canadian Judicial Council has suggested that provincial superior and appellate courts do the same.8Some judges have taken the view that they should become more visible and vocal. Interviews and profiles of judges in the daily news media are not uncommon as reporters try to demystify the judicial process and explain it in terms the ordinary citizen can understand. Judges contribute to scholarly journals, discussing their changed role under the Charter.9This book attempts to provide an accessible account of the Charter of Rights and Freedoms for law students and lawyers as well as nonspecialist readers interested in acquiring a basic understanding of the Canadian legal system and the...

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