Admittedly, when I heard about the move by lawyers to challenge Ontario over the constitutional validity of cutting the Toronto council wards in the midst of an election cycle, I had my doubts about its success.
That’s why the ruling by Justice Edward Belobaba was a bit of a bombshell — especially with its catchy wording (s. 77’s reference to crickets had everyone talking) and no-nonsense language that cut straight to the heart of the matter.
“The Province has clearly crossed the line,” said the ruling.
“Here, the law changing the City’s electoral districts was enacted in the middle of the City’s election. This mid-stream legislative intervention not only interfered with the candidate’s freedom of expression, it undermined an otherwise fair and equitable election process,” it added.
But the battle isn’t over yet. At press time, the province had said it was appealing and also seeking a stay of Belobaba’s decision, alongside introducing a new bill and invoking the notwithstanding clause in s. 33 of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms to override eligible Charter protections.
The city has countered by voting to pursue further legal challenges. Rocco Achampong, a lawyer who was part of the effort to stop the province, says lawyers are “going to have a lot to do” for the next four years. He was one of 20 counsel named in Belobaba’s decision, acting on behalf of different groups.
“The rule of law must be defended at all costs,” he says.
But it’s unlikely to change before Oct. 22, says one scholar. “I don’t see much room of further challenge of this in the courts,” says Carissima Mathen.
For lawyers and judges, it’s a fascinating time to see how various levels of the courts will interpret the matter, as well as how the showdown will resolve. One silver lining? Issues around the law have never been more topical — or more pressing.