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Law Judicial Power

The Supreme Court on Trial

Judicial Activism or Democratic Dialogue

by (author) Kent Roach

Irwin Law Inc.
Initial publish date
Oct 2001
Judicial Power, Judicial Branch, Courts
  • Paperback / softback

    Publish Date
    Oct 2001
    List Price

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The Supreme Court of Canada has been accused of allowing criminals to go free; of permitting tobacco companies to advertise; of being too sympathetic to Aboriginal people; and of usurping democracy on abortion and gay rights. Some critics claim that the nine unelected judges on Canada's highest Court have used the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms to impose their own views on public policy over those of elected governments. This book joins the crucial debate about the Charter, the Court, and Canadian democracy by asking important and timely questions: What is judicial activism? Is the Charter making us like America where the politics of the judges can determine the outcome of a national election? Can judges simply read their own political preferences into the Charter? Does the Court have the last word over democratically elected legislatures? Are our judges captives of special interests? What can Canadians and their governments do if they think the Court has got it wrong?
In a clear, engaging, and thought-provoking manner, author Kent Roach strips away the rhetoric that has characterized much of the debate over judicial activism. As counsel who has appeared before the Court in several of its most important Charter cases, he provides unique insights into the work of the Court. As a leading professor of Constitutional and Criminal Law, he offers an informed assessment of the Court's decisions and their impact on our legal and political system. In short, The Supreme Court on Trial makes an important contribution to understanding the role of the Court and the Charter in our democracy.

About the author

Kent Roach is a professor of law and the Prichard-Wilson Chair of Law and Public Policy at the University of Toronto Faculty of Law. He is a graduate of the University of Toronto and of Yale University, and a former law clerk to Justice Bertha Wilson of the Supreme Court of Canada. Professor Roach has been editor-in-chief of the Criminal Law Quarterly since 1998. In 2002, he was elected a Fellow of the Royal Society of Canada and in 2013 he was one of four academics awarded a Pierre Elliott Trudeau Fellowship. He is the author of twelve books, including Constitutional Remedies in Canada (winner of the Walter Owen Prize); Due Process and Victims’ Rights (shortlisted for the Donner Prize); The Supreme Court on Trial (shortlisted for the Donner Prize); Brian Dickson: A Judge’s Journey (winner of the Dafoe Prize; co-authored with Robert J. Sharpe); and The 9/11 Effect: Comparative Counter-Terrorism (winner of the David Mundell Medal). He is the co-editor of several collections of essays and published casebooks, including most recently Comparative Counter-Terrorism Law, which arose from his role as General Reporter on Counter-Terrorism Law for the XIX International Congress on Comparative Law held in 2014. With Justice Robert Sharpe, he is the co-author of The Charter of Rights and Freedoms volume in Irwin Law’s Essentials of Canadian Law series. False Security: The Radicalization of Canada’s Terror Law, co-authored with Craig Forcese, was published by Irwin Law in 2015. He has also written over 200 articles and chapters published in Australia, China, Hong Kong, India, Israel, Italy, Kenya, Singapore, South Africa, Sweden, the United Kingdom, and the United States, as well as in Canada. Professor Roach has served as research director for the Inquiry into Pediatric Forensic Pathology in Ontario (the Goudge Inquiry) and for the Commission of Inquiry into the Investigation of the Bombing of Air India Flight 182. In both capacities, he edited multiple volumes of research studies. He served on the research advisory committee for the inquiry into the rendition of Maher Arar and the Ipperwash Inquiry into the killing of Dudley George. He was a special advisor to the Truth and Reconciliation Commission on Residential Schools. Professor Roach has represented Aboriginal and civil liberties groups in many interventions before the courts, including Gladue, Wells, Ipeelee, and Anderson on sentencing Aboriginal offenders; Latimer on mandatory minimum sentences; Stillman, Dunedin Construction, Downtown East Side Sex Workers, and Ward on Charter remedies; Golden on strip searches; Khawaja on the definition of terrorism; and Corbiere and Sauvé on voting rights. He is the faculty lead for the Asper Centre for Constitutional Rights.

Kent Roach's profile page


  • Short-listed, Donner Prize

Editorial Reviews

"[The courts'] dilemma has been how to reconcile their new role as active guardians of fundamental values with the democratic values and traditions of Canadian society.... ...An excellent and sophisticated guide to this continuing challenge is offered by Kent Roach in The Supreme Court on Trial: Judicial Activism or Democratic Dialogue (Irwin Law, 2001).... Roach puts forward a balanced approach that insists that activism is less about whether judges rely on political preferences at all and more about the sources of such values and the extent to which they rely on them."

Allan Hutchinson, "Charting a New Course," The Globe and Mail, April 14, 2007

Other titles by Kent Roach