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By Professor Graham Mayeda - Sometimes – Dare I say always? – the best decisions are those that cut through jargon, abstractions and legal niceties to address an injustice. Justice Charron was renowned for doing just this – for pulling out of a “dog’s breakfast” the kernel of the matter and addressing it head on. That’s what I love about her decisions.

Some judges write novels in their judgments. Some, like the indomitable Lord Denning, paint the reader bucolic pictures of village men playing cricket or pathetic portraits of the credulous father Bundy guaranteeing a loan for his son by mortgaging Yew Tree Farm and the pleading landlord Butcher hamstrung by socialist rent control laws.

Not Justice Charron. She stuck to the facts and to common sense. In Multani, she cut through sophistic arguments and reminded us: “With respect, it is of little importance to Gurbaj Singh — who wants to exercise his freedom of religion — whether the absolute prohibition against wearing a kirpan in his school derives from the actual wording of a normative rule or merely from the application of such a rule.” And she was right in that case, although it was the trigger for a revolution in administrative law that led, eventually, to a completely new framework for reviewing Charter-infringing decisions in Doré.

In R. v. Pires, Justice Charron tread into the “procedural quagmire” of rules on the admissibility of wiretap evidence, emerging unsullied with the salutary reminder that “[t]here is no constitutional right to adduce irrelevant or immaterial evidence.”
In R. v. Orbanski, she chastened dissenters by pointing out that the powers to investigate drinking and driving, while not explicit in the Manitoba Highway Traffic Act, were “not carved out of whole cloth from common law principles to suit the occasion”, but were part of the necessary police toolbox to prevent drunk driving. “Get with the program, guys,” was the clear underlying message to her nay-saying colleagues.

Applying good ole’ Northern Ontario common sense, in R. v. Gunning, she reminded gun-shy city-slickers that country-dwellers sometimes have to take safety into their own hands – a shotgun may be needed to eject unwanted, drunk and belligerent intruders from one’s house. In R. v. Paice, she warned us not to criminalize playful wrestling matches under assault provisions. In R. v. Krymowski, she effectively told the accused to give his head a shake: No, Neo-Nazi’s can’t get off a charge of wilful promotion of hatred against Roma by arguing that their hate messages used the word “gypsies”, not Roma.

One case that really got me thinking, though, was R. v. Singh. Justice Charron, writing for the majority, argued that although Singh, charged with second degree murder, had refused to answer police questions, it was o.k. for police to continue questioning him while his lawyer was absent. Singh objected that police should stop questioning at this point, not wearing down an accused’s resistance until he cracks. I kept seeing the scene of Singh’s interrogation on the imaginary TV screen of my mind and asked myself – would that go down in The Wire? Now I don’t know about you, but when I saw McNulty and Bunk getting D’Angelo to write a letter of condolence to the family of Pooh Blanchard, who he’d offed, I was incensed. Could that be legal? Surely not. If only Maurice Levy had been Singh’s lawyer, I’m sure Justice Charron would have decided his case differently. Then again, maybe The Wire isn’t reality? If so, don’t wake me up.

Sometimes, it’s the quirky decisions that really allow a judge to show her character. In London v RSJ Holdings, Justice Charron stood up for democratic transparency. “No,” she told London City Council, “you can’t hold secret hearings, return to a public meeting and in eight minutes starting at 10:22 p.m. introduce, give three readings to and pas 32 by-laws.” Efficiency doesn’t always get you Brownie points – at least, not if you’re undermining democracy. In her understated way, Justice Charron prosaically reminds that “[w]hen a municipal government improperly acts with secrecy, this undermines the democratic legitimacy of its decision. . . .” One can almost see the democratic finger-wagging – or more likely, Justice Charron’s wry, humour-filled smile, delivering this deadpan reminder.

She was a pragmatist, she relied on common sense, she believed in democracy, and she brooked no needless theoretical quibbling. If those weren’t judicial virtues, I don’t know what are. No, I didn’t agree with everything she wrote. But did I respect her judgments? Did I learn from them? You bet!

Student Short Essay Contest

Students are invited to submit a brief essay of no more than 750 words on a judgment(s) delivered by Justice Charron, or on a substantive topic related to one of her areas of expertise. For inspiration and ideas, please see the list of Selected Judgments by Justice Charron.

Essays will be posted on the Symposium website and one student winner will be chosen by the Organizing Committee to receive an exclusive Supreme Court of Canada gift and special recognition during the Symposium cocktail reception on Friday, March 22.

Deadline for submissions: March 8, 2013 by 5:00 pm (EST). Late entries will not be considered.

Please e-mail your submissions to:
*All submissions must be accompanied by your full name and the name of the institution you attend.

Additional Contest Details

  • All students attending a Canadian law school are eligible to participate.
  • In submitting your short essay, you are consenting to its publication on the Symposium website, along with your full name and the name of the institution you attend.
  • In judging submissions, primary consideration will be given to:
    • Originality, creativity and insight;
    • Essays that demonstrate clear understanding of, and engagement with, the case/issue at hand; and
    • Overall quality of presentation (structure, clarity, tone, logic, depth etc.). 
  • Financial assistance may be available to support travel and accommodation costs to attend the Symposium if the winner of the Short Essay Competition lives outside of Ottawa.
Please direct all questions to the Organizing Committee:

Select Judgments by Justice Charron

1. R v B (L) (1997), 35 OR (3d) 35 (Ont CA).
Criminal Law– Evidence

2. R v Couture, 2007 SCC 28; [2007] SCR 517.
Criminal Law – Evidence; Spousal Incompetency

3. R v K (A) (1999), 137 CCC (3d) 225, 176 DLR (4th) 665 (Ont CA).
Criminal Law– Challenge to prospective jurors for cause under s. 638 (1)(b) of the Criminal Code

4. M v H  (1996), 31 OR (3d) 417; 142 DLR (4th) (Ont CA).
Family Law – Spousal Support under s. 29(a) of the Family Law Act

5. R v. Krymowski, 2005 SCC 7; [2005] 1 SCR.
Criminal Law – Hate Speech

6. R v Khelawon, 2006 SCC 57.
Criminal Law– Evidence; Hearsay

7. Double N Earthmovers Ltd v City of Edmonton Sureway Construction of Alberta, 2007 SCC 3; 1 SCR 116.
Contract Law – Bids submitted to the City; Bid Compliance

8. R v McNeil, 2009 SCC 3; 1 SCR 66.
Criminal Law - Whether criminal investigation files relating to third party attract reasonable expectation of privacy (O’Connor regime)

9. Miazga v Kvello Estate, 2009 SCC 51.
Tort Law – Malicious Prosecution

10. R v Grant, 2009 SCC 32.
Criminal Law – Evidence; Constitutional Law - s. 9; s. 10; s. 24(2)

11. R v Suberu, 2009 SCC 33.
Criminal Law-Constitutional Law - s. 9 and s. 10 of the Charter

12. R v Sinclair (R v Willier and R v McCrimmon), 2010 SCC 35.
Criminal Law-Constitutional Law-Right to Counsel under s. 10(b) of the Charter
13. R v Briscoe, 2010 SCC 13.
Criminal – Aiders and Abetters 

14. Radius Credit Union Ltd v Royal Bank, 2010 SCC 48.
Personal Property Security

15. Bank of Montreal v Innovation Credit Union, 2010 SCC 47.
Corporate and Commercial Insolvency

16. R v A (J), 2011 SCC 17.
Criminal Law– Fresh Evidence-Post-trial Procedure

17. Canada (Information Commissioner) v Canada (Minister of National Defence), 2011 SCC 25.
Public Law - Privacy and Freedom of Information under the Access to Information Act

18.  R v Campbell, 2011 SCC 32.
Criminal Law-Constitutional Law - s. 8

19. R v Nixon, 2011 SCC 34.
Criminal Law - Abuse of Process; Constitutional Law - s. 7

20. Multani v Commission scolaire Marguerite-Bourgeoys, 2006 SCC 6.
Administrative Law-Constitutional Law – Freedom of Expression under s.2(a) of the Charter

Student Corner

Student Short Essay Contest
Students are invited to submit a brief essay of no more than 750 words on a judgment(s) delivered by Justice Charron, or on a substantive topic related to one of her areas of expertise. For inspiration and ideas, please see the list of Selected Judgments by Justice Charron. Read more...

Select Judgments by Justice Charron


Conference Details and Accommodation


A block of rooms has been reserved at the Novotel Ottawa, 33 Nicholas Street, Ottawa, ON K1N 9M7 613.230.3033

Please quote booking code 12457 when making your reservation.

Registration Form - Symposium Honouring the Contributions of Justice Louise Charron

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Symposium: Celebrating the Contributions of Justice Louise Charron, March 22-23, 2013 Sidebar

Justice Louise Charron

(Photo credit: Philippe Landreville, photographer, Supreme Court of Canada Collection. Copyright Supreme Court of Canada.)

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The University of Ottawa, Faculty of Law

The Shirley Greenberg Chair of Women and the Legal Profession

The Canadian Institute for the Administration of Justice

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Association des juristes d'expression française de l'Ontario

Symposium: Celebrating the Contributions of Justice Louise Charron, March 22-23, 2013

Marking the recent retirement of Justice Louise Charron from the Supreme Court of Canada, A Symposium Celebrating the Contributions of Justice Louise Charron will bring together judges, lawyers, scholars and law students to present academic research and analyses inspired by Justice Charron’s remarkable career, and to celebrate her countless contributions to the Canadian legal landscape.  The University of Ottawa is thrilled to host this event in honour of Justice Charron, the first Franco-Ontarian Supreme Court justice and a graduate and former professor in our French Common Law program.  We are also delighted to welcome as our keynote speaker Justice Rosalie Abella of the Supreme Court of Canada, a longtime friend and colleague of Justice Charron.


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Last updated: 2009.12.15