The Chief Justice of the Supreme Court of Canada, Beverley McLachlin, P.C. has noted “A strong and independent judiciary guarantees that governments act in accordance with our Constitution. Judges give effect to our laws and give meaning to our rights and duties as Canadians. Courts offer a venue for the peaceful resolution of disputes, and for the reasoned and dispassionate discussion of our most pressing social issues. Every Judge in Canada is committed to performing this important role skilfully and impartially. Canadians should expect no less.” A strong and independent Court system is arguably the most important safeguard that a country can have against the emergence of a dictator or its deterioration into a failed state.
In this edition and future editions of this column, I will outline the basic structure of Canada’s Court system. Today, I will focus on the Federal Court system. Subsequent articles will explain the Court system that has been established in Alberta, which includes Alberta Provincial Court, the Court of Queen’s Bench and the Alberta Court of Appeal.
The Canadian Court system is best described as a hierarchy. At the top of the hierarchy is the Supreme Court of Canada. Underneath the Supreme Court, there is a Federal Court system and 13 other systems, one within each Canadian province and territory. The territorial and provincial Court systems are not a step below the Federal Court system in this hierarchy, both systems sit at the same level, but have jurisdiction over different areas of the law.
The Federal Court system is comprised of the Tax Court of Canada, the Federal Court and the Federal Court of Appeal. The powers of these Courts are primarily derived from Acts passed by the Parliament of Canada, whereas the powers of the Courts that exist within each province are rooted in Canada’s constitution. It is also important to note that the federal government is responsible for appointing the Judges who sit on these federally established Courts.
Federal Court – The Federal Court deals with claims against the Government of Canada, civil claims within federally regulated areas and challenges to decisions made by federally established tribunals. Some examples of federally regulated areas include citizenship, immigration, and labour relations. Federally established tribunals include the Canadian Radio-Television and Telecommunications Commission, better know as the CRTC, the Transportation Safety Board and the National Parole Board.
Tax Court – The Tax Court of Canada, as one might guess, primarily deals with tax issues. Though, this Court also has the authority to deal with some issues surrounding employment insurance.
Federal Court of Appeal – The Federal Court of Appeal hears appeals from both the Federal Court and the Tax Court of Canada. In addition, this Court may also hear appeals from tribunals that were established by the federal government. Once a decision is made in this Court, the only place it can be appealed is to the Supreme Court of Canada.
In the next edition of this column, we will outline the role of Alberta’s Provincial Courts.