Post-World War I/The Quiet Revolution (1920-1970) – Through the Lenses of Legal Interpretation and International Law
E. Mendes (ed.), Celebrating 150 Years of Caselaw by the Supreme Court of Canada, Toronto: LexisNexis, 2017, p.79
16 Pages Posted: 12 May 2017 Last revised: 29 Oct 2017
Date Written: May 10, 2017
The first theme is legal interpretation. What appears to be a mere matter of methodology in the discipline has ramifications in all areas of substantive law, through the impact of the Constitution, and by means of a generous approach to the whole corpus of law in this country. A significant case in the 1930s changed the paradigm according to which courts give meaning to the written law found in constitutional documents, and this change eventually extended to all legislative texts. The decision by the Judicial Committee of the Privy Council in Edward v. Canada (Attorney General), with what later became known as the metaphor of the “living tree”, marked the end of an era of strict legal construction and the beginning of a new model to ascertain the intention of the constituting authority in the Constitution Act, 1867, and also later in the Constitution Act, 1982 and the Canadian Charter.
The second theme is interlegality, or the rules concerning the interaction between international law and domestic law, including the conclusion of treaties and the use by courts of non-national normativity. Again, it was in the 1930s when the courts of highest instance for Canada laid down the foundations for understanding the dynamic at play in this regard in the so-called Labour Conventions case. Indeed, given the principle of the separation of powers, as well as the federal structure of our country, the Privy Council had to find an equilibrium not only among the branches of governments, but also between the two levels (or orders) of constitutional authorities. In the end, this case recognized the plenitude of power of the federal government for the conclusion of international treaties, while holding that dualism meant that the (federal) Crown could make treaties, but that Parliament and the provincial legislatures needed to give legal effect to such conventions by means of statutes. The domestic implementation of treaty obligations had to be in line, rigorously, with the division of legislative powers under the Constitution.
This articulation of interlegality has remained the applicable scheme to this day, although one feature has been challenged at the political level. Indeed, during the Quiet Revolution in the 1960s, the province of Quebec started to claim its own jus tractatus. Thus the second section of this chapter ends with a look at the “Gérin-Lajoie” statement.
Finally, the conclusion will examine the significance of these historical developments for contemporary public law in Canada.
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