Academic journal article McGill Law Journal

Building a Law of Human Rights: Roncarelli V. Duplessis in Canadian Constitutional Culture

Academic journal article McGill Law Journal

Building a Law of Human Rights: Roncarelli V. Duplessis in Canadian Constitutional Culture

Article excerpt

This article reveals how audiences, especially in anglophone Canada, initially received and interpreted Roncarelli v. Duplessis as a case, above all, about human rights. Ignoring the judgment's myriad complexities, commentators eagerly situated the case within the Supreme Court of Canada's "implied bill of rights" jurisprudence then taking shape. Part of the reason for the emphasis on Roncarelli's rights can be traced to the manner in which Frank Scott and Louis Stein argued the case, and the language of rights employed by Justice Ivan Rand's iconic judgment.

But Roncarelli's meaning also took shape in press accounts and editorials, radio broadcasts, case comments, and law school lectures. Exploring these often-neglected sources, this article exposes the role of constitutional culture in creating jurisprudential meaning. In turn, it also calls for greater recognition of the pre-Charter Supreme Court of Canada in contributing to Canada's intellectual history of rights.

Cet artiele montre comment le public, notamment celui du Canada anglais, a initialement recu et interprete l'arret Roncarelli c. Duplessis comine etant une affaire ayant trait avant tout aux droits de la personne. Laissant de cote les innombrables complexites du jugement, les commentateurs se sont empresses de situer l'arret dans la jurisprudence de la Cour supreme du Canada qui se formait a l'epoque sur la << charte des droits implicite >>. L'accent mis sur les droits de Roncarelli s'explique en partie par l'approche adoptee par Frank Scott et Louis Stein pour plaider la cause ainsi que par le langage utilise par le juge Ivan Rand dans son jugement embtematique.

Toutefois, la signification de l'arret Roncarelli s'est aussi formee a travers des eomptes rendus de presse et des editoriaux, des emissions de radio, des commentaires d'arret et des cours dans les facultes de droit. En explorant ces sources trop souvent negligees, cet article expose le role de la culture constitutionnelle dans l'interpretation jurisprudentielle. De plus, il lance un appel pour une plus grande reconnaissance de la contribution de la Cour supreme du Canada a l'histoire intellectuelle des droits au Canada avant l'avenement de la Charte canadienne des droits et libertes.



  I. Roncarelli at the Supreme Court of Canada

 II. Roncarelli in Living Rooms

III. Roncarelli in Classrooms



A few months after his momentous victory as co-counsel in Roncarelli v. Duplessis, (1) Frank Scott spoke to an audience of lawyers at the midwinter meeting of the Canadian Bar Association. "I find it interesting to observe how in the field of constitutional law," Scott began, "certain parts of the total structure seem to become floodlighted and to stand out from the rest at particular periods of time." (2) It was true that in the past, "[m]ost of the great cases in Canadian constitutional law ... have turned on questions of jurisdiction under sections 91 and 92 of the BNA Act, and these we have always with us," but, he continued, a "short look backward over the past dozen years" revealed courts and legislatures grappling with a new set of constitutional issues and concerns. (3) "Constitutionally speaking," Scott declared, "the 1950s was predominantly the decade of human rights." (4)

To prove his point, Scott turned his audience's attention to a series of cases already on their way to being regarded as the '"golden' moments of the civil liberties decade": (5) Boucher v. R., (6) Saumur v. Quebec (City of), (7) Switzman v. Elbling, (8) and Roncarelli. Collectively, these cases--or, rather, certain judgments within them--had become famous for their articulation of a constitutional theory known as the "implied bill of rights". (9) Although judges on the Supreme Court of Canada never used that expression to describe their jurisprudential efforts, a legion of admirers adopted and promulgated the phrase in the years that followed. …

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