Rethinking the relationship between international and domestic law.

Authorde Mestral, Armand

Despite considerable judicial consideration in recent years, the relationship between international law and domestic law in Canada remains uncertain. While Canadian courts frequently invoke the presumption of conformity to claim that domestic law must be read in light of international law, their interpretations of domestic law often fail to respect the full extent of Canada's international legal obligations. Moreover, Canadian courts rely on an overly restrictive understanding of what it means to implement a treaty in Canada's domestic law, and as a result they tend to give short shrift to the role international treaties can and should play in Canada's legal order.

The authors argue in favour of a number of measures that seek to portray international and domestic law as a unity, held together by an overarching commitment to the rule of law. They argue for a more generous understanding of treaty implementation according to which a ratified treaty would be considered "implemented" if, at the time of ratification, there exists sufficient legislative and regulatory authority capable of enabling Canadian officials to comply with Canada's treaty obligations. They also suggest a variety of means through which federal and provincial legislators could play a more constructive role in the treaty-making process. One option is the development of a Canada Treaties Act that would provide guidance with respect to the specific requirements of treaty negotiation, authorization, and implementation. A less ambitious alternative is the recognition of international law as equal in status to common law. Finally, the authors contend that even in the absence of such steps, Canadian judges and administrative decision makers ought to combine a generous understanding of implementation with a thoroughguing commitment to the presumption of conformity.

Malgre beaucoup d'attention de la part des juristes au cours des demieres annees, au Canada, la relation entre le droit international et le droit domestique demeure incertaine. Tandis que les tribunaux canadians invoquent frequemment la presomption de conformite pour avancer que le droit domestique se doit d'etre analyse a la lumiere du droit international, leurs interpretations du droit domestique ne parvierment pourtant pas a tenir compte dans leur entierete des obligations juridiques internationales du Canada. Qui plus est, les tribunaux canadiens s'appuient sur une comprehension trop restrictive de ce que constitue la mise en oeuvre d'tm traite en droit canadien, ce qui a pour effet de mettre de cote sans menagement le role que les traites internationaux peuvent et devraient jouer dans l'ordre juridique canadien.

Les auteurs argumentent en faveur d'une serie de mesures qui cherchent a presenter le droit international et le droit domestique comme un ensemble, maintenu par un engagement commun envers la suprematie du droit. Ils militent pour une comprehension plus genereuse de la raise en oeuvre des traites, en vertu de laquelle un traite ratifie serait considere <> si, au moment de la ratification, il existe une autorite legislative et reglementaire suffisante, en mesure de permettre aux officiels canadiens d'observer les obligations du Canada issues de traites. Ils suggerent aussi plusieurs moyens a travers lesquels les 1egislateurs federal et provinciaux pourraient jouer un role plus constructif dans le processus d'e1aboration des traites. Une des options presentees est le developpement d'une Loi canadienne sur les traites, qui donnerait certaines directives quant aux exigences specifiques de la negociation, de I'autorisation et de la mise en oeuvre des traites. La reconnaissance du droit international comme ayant le meme statut que le droit commun represente quant a elle une alternative moins ambitieuse. Enfin, les auteurs soutiennent que meme en l'absence de telles mesures, les magistrats canadiens et les decideurs administratifs se doivent de combiner une comprehension genereuse de la mise en oeuvre des traites avec un engagement approfondi envers la presomption de conformite.

Introduction I. Background: Canada and the Challenge of International Law A. The Impact of International Law on Domestic Law-Making B. The Democratic Principle II. The Current Relationship Between Domestic and International Law in Canada A. Customary International Law in Canada B. Treaty Law and Treaty Making in Canada 1. How Does Canada Enter into Treaties? 2. Where Did the Canadian Approach Come From and What Is Currently Driving It? a. Sources of the Dualist Approach b. Legislative Interpretation and the Principle of Conformity c. Treaty Approval III. The Way Forward A. The U.K. Example B. Parliamentary Authorization, Review, Participation, and Oversight 1. The Processes and Structures of Other States 2. Canada in Historical Perspective 3. Canada's New Policy 4. On Democratic Legitimacy 5. On a Canada Treaties Act C. Rethinking Implementation 1. Canadian Implementation Practice 2. Implementation Options and Canadian Constitutional Principles 3. Enhanced Legal Status for Treaties under a Canada Treaties Act 4. An Alternative Approach: The Common Law Status of Treaties D. The Role of Judges and Administrative Decision Makers E. The Role of Provinces Conclusion Introduction

In light of the increased significance of public international law since 1945, the proliferation of international treaties, and the basic obligation of all states to perform their international legal obligations in good faith, states have good reason to seek a measure of congruence between their domestic legal orders and international law. This article argues that Canada has not yet struck the appropriate balance between domestic and international law. Canadian law views the two legal orders as fundamentally distinct and separate from one another. The result is that Canadian domestic law and its institutions have failed to articulate a persuasive account of the relationship between domestic and international law.

In this article we take stock of how this relationship is currently understood in Canada. We also make a series of recommendations that aim to recast the relationship between the two legal orders as a unity. The relationship between domestic and international law, properly understood, enables the two legal orders to complement one another as a unified and coherent set of legal rules and principles. This unity, we suggest, flows from the idea that all law, domestic and international alike, establishes norms and standards to which public bodies and private parties can be held publicly accountable. The unity of domestic and international law, in other words, follows from a shared and overarching commitment to public accountability. (1)

In Part I we provide background to the article's recommendations and outline several considerations relevant to the relationship between domestic and international law in Canada. We consider the impact of international law on Canadian domestic law and the worry that a democratic deficit attends international law-making. Part II analyzes those elements of the relationship between domestic and international law in Canada that pose concerns. In particular, we survey the approaches Canada has adopted to the domestic reception of customary and treaty law. Part III prescribes measures intended to contribute to the unity of domestic and international law. These measures relate to (1) parliamentary participation in treaty making, (2) implementation of international law in Canada, (3) the role of judges and administrative decision makers (e.g., tribunals, agencies, frontline decision makers, ministers), and (4) the role of provinces.

One of our main recommendations is that Canada should adopt a Canada Treaties Act in order to support the participation of legislators in the treaty-making process and to formalize the modes through which treaties may be implemented and received into Canada's domestic law. At the core of our argument is a new and generous approach to treaty implementation. Contrary to prevailing judicial opinion in Canada, we argue that treaties should be viewed as "implemented"--and therefore as capable of producing domestic legal effects--if Canadian law at the time of ratification provides sufficient discretionary or rule-making power to enable public decision makers to comply with Canada's international obligations.

  1. Background: Canada and the Challenge of International Law

    Which institutions in Canada determine the relationship of domestic and international law? In the broadest sense all three branches of government--the executive, the judiciary, and the legislatures--are responsible for the current legal situation. Both the executive, charged with international relations, and the judiciary, charged with the interpretation of law, have been increasingly active throughout the twentieth century. For various reasons, the legislative branch has been largely absent from the making and interpretation of international law. This absence may be the source of much of the uncertainty that currently exists concerning the relationship between domestic and international law in Canada. Parliament and provincial legislatures have passed a host of laws giving effect to international rules, but they have seldom sought to be part of the making of the rules themselves. Instead, presumably with the willing concurrence of their respective governments, they prefer to leave it to the executive branch to negotiate treaties and conduct international affairs, on the assumption that the conduct of international relations is an executive function. But as we shall see below, the constitution of Canada is silent on the matter, the few laws dealing with foreign affairs provide little guidance, and domestic interpretation acts contain only a few provisions on the role of customary international law and treaty law. There is no general legislation governing interpretation of treaties or the place of...

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