Judgmental Judges

By: Alice Woolley

PDF Version: Judgmental Judges

Case Commented On: Abdulaali v Salih, 2017 ONSC 1609 (CanLII)

Introduction

Judges exercise considerable power, and discharge a crucial public function. They identify, interpret and even create the rules that govern us. They decide what happened. And they determine the legal consequences of what happened.

But judges also exercise a defined and limited public function, and in doing so they are human, not superhuman. Judges determine and apply the law, but they do not decide questions of morality outside the law; they do not decide what it means to be a good person except as the law defines goodness. They do not – except in the specific ways the law asks them to – decide matters of public policy. Nor do they have any particular qualification to do those things. Judges know what happened only through the evidence in their courtroom. Even though some judges may be men or women of moral wisdom, there is no particular correlation between having that wisdom and holding judicial office. Judges have no democratic mandate to decide questions of public policy.

Yet obviously the lines between these things can be hard to draw. The law deals with – and decides – questions of morality. It deals with – and decides – questions of public policy. Deciding a case can require a judge to make a moral or policy determination. And even when it doesn’t, sometimes only judges can see problems of policy or morality clearly, and may be uniquely positioned to raise awareness of problems that society ought to address.

So at what point, if any, does a judge’s pronouncements on matters of morality or policy exceed his office? Does a judge have an ethical obligation to try and restrain his decision to the legal matter before him, addressing questions of morality or policy only as necessary for adjudicating the case? And can a judge commit misconduct if he exceeds his mandate in that respect?

These questions were raised for me by a March 13, 2017 written endorsement of a consent order by Justice Alex Pazaratz, in which he castigated the parties and Legal Aid Ontario for “squandering scarce judicial and community resources” (at para 26).   Continue reading

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Posted in Ethics and the Legal Profession | Leave a comment

Order In the Skyways: A Comment on the Regulation of Drones

By: Lisa Silver

PDF Version: Order In the Skyways: A Comment on the Regulation of Drones

Case Commented On: R v Shah, 2017 ABQB 144 (CanLII)

The increasing popularity of drones is attracting the attention of the regulatory process as municipalities, such as Calgary, attempt to control the use of drones in public areas through the bylaw process (see section 24(c) of the City of Calgary Parks and Pathways Bylaw 20M2003). In fact, the issue has become so pressing that the federal government recently announced immediate action through the Interim Order Respecting the Use of Model Aircraft by amending the Aeronautics Act RSC 1985, c. A-2 to more specifically address the “significant risk” the operation of drones have “to aviation safety or the safety of the public.” However, regulation in this nascent area of recreation has not been without difficulties. The extent to which the regulatory regime can effectively and fairly maintain order in the skyways may appear a simple task but as with any statutory process, “the proof is in the pudding” or as in the recent summary conviction appeal against conviction in R v Shah, 2017 ABQB 144 the “proof,” involving the appropriate application of the standard of proof, was lacking.

The Appellant in this case, ably represented both at trial and on appeal by our very own Student Legal Assistance, was flying a recreational remote controlled drone during the evening hours of January 16, 2016 when he was charged under section 602.45 of the Canadian Aviation Regulations SOR 96/433 enacted under the Aeronautics Act. The section states that: “No person shall fly a model aircraft or a kite or launch a model rocket or a rocket of a type used in a fireworks display into cloud or in a manner that is or is likely to be hazardous to aviation safety.” Continue reading

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Posted in Criminal | Leave a comment

Alberta Law Reform Institute Recommends Reform to Trustee Act with Clear, Simple, and Comprehensible Legislation

By: Robyn Mitchell

PDF Version: Alberta Law Reform Institute Recommends Reform to Trustee Act with Clear, Simple, and Comprehensible Legislation

Matter Commented On: Alberta Law Reform Institute, Final Report No. 109, A New Trustee Act for Alberta

The Alberta Law Reform Institute has just released Final Report No. 109, A New Trustee Act for Alberta. The Report sets out ALRI’s final recommendations for new trustee legislation in Alberta. Using the Uniform Law Conference of Canada’s Uniform Trustee Act 2012 as a starting point, ALRI then tailored its recommendations to reflect Alberta’s trusts law and practice.

The current Trustee Act is out of date. While there have been some changes over the years, some provisions of the Act remain unchanged since trustee legislation was first enacted in 1893 in what is now Alberta. There has never been a complete review of the entire Trustee Act. Continue reading

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The Harsh Consequences of Ignoring the Dower Act

By: Jonnette Watson Hamilton

PDF Version: The Harsh Consequences of Ignoring the Dower Act

Case Commented On: Joncas v Joncas, 2017 ABCA 50 (CanLII)

If you are a married Albertan with a piece of real property registered in your name alone, and you have resided on that property since the date of your marriage, then you cannot sell, mortgage, lease for more than three years, or otherwise dispose of that property without the written and acknowledged consent of your spouse. The Dower Act, RSA 2000, c D-15, sections 1(d), 2, 4 and 5 say the property is a “homestead” and you need consent to dispose of it. The purpose of the 100-year-old Dower Act is to provide a home for a widow/er — a right to a life estate on the death of the married person who owned the homestead (Senstad v Makus, [1978] 2 SCR 44 at 51, 1977 CanLII 201 (SCC)). And there would not necessarily be a home for the widow/er if the married person could unilaterally sell or otherwise dispose of the homestead, and so they cannot. The purpose of the Dower Act and the way it achieves its purpose was commendable one hundred years ago, when married women could not acquire land by homesteading, there was no social welfare safety net, divorce was far less common, life expectancies were much shorter, and families were far less complex. Today, however, things are different and the Dower Act can come into conflict with the Matrimonial Property Act, RSA 2000, c M-8 on the breakdown of a marriage. The Matrimonial Property Act is all about the fair distribution of matrimonial property between spouses or ex-spouses, but its fairness considerations are absent from the Dower Act. The potential for financially disastrous consequences is high when a married person with a homestead, whose marriage has broken down, is unaware of the requirements of the Dower Act and the harshness of the consequences of ignoring those requirements. Joncas v Joncas is an excellent example of the conflict and a cautionary tale. Continue reading

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Municipal Government Board Rules on Development Impacts to the G8 Legacy Wildlife Underpass in the Bow Valley

By: Shaun Fluker

PDF Version: Municipal Government Board Rules on Development Impacts to the G8 Legacy Wildlife Underpass in the Bow Valley

Case Commented On: Town of Canmore v M.D. of Bighorn No. 8, 2017 ABMGB 10

Say again? The Municipal Government Board created by the Municipal Government Act, RSA 2000, c M-26 to adjudicate on municipal affairs such as linear property assessment, annexation, subdivision, and inter-municipal disputes has ruled on a significant wildlife issue in the Bow Valley? And not just any wildlife issue – a dispute concerning the functionality of the G8 Legacy Wildlife Underpass – a key wildlife connectivity feature located just east of Canmore and built with funds provided from the G8 Economic Summit hosted in Kananaskis during June 2002. How can this be? Well really, it should not be. There is a longstanding and seemingly bitter municipal dispute ongoing between the MD of Bighorn and Canmore over urban development in the Bow Valley, and the Board has just ruled in favour of proposed development by the MD of Bighorn for the hamlet of Dead Man’s Flats. However, the dispute between the MD of Bighorn and Canmore over development is just smoke and mirrors for what is really at stake here – the integrity of the G8 Legacy Wildlife Underpass as a highly used connectivity feature that allows wildlife to avoid crossing the highway while moving through the human-congested Bow Valley. With all due respect to the members of the Municipal Government Board who heard this matter and deliberated on the issues, I think the Board accepted pie-in-the-sky solutions to a serious and escalating land use problem in the Bow Valley. In my humble opinion the Board ought to have declined jurisdiction to hear this dispute. For reasons set out below, I suggest the Lieutenant Governor in Council should refer this to the Natural Resources Conservation Board pursuant to section 4(f) of the Natural Resources Conservation Act, RSA 2000, c N-3.  Continue reading

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Posted in Municipal Law, Protection of Spaces | 1 Comment