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Charter dialogue


“Collateral Thoughts” is part of a special issue edited by Professor James Allan, who invited and challenged a group of scholars to select and discuss a favourite law review article. I chose “The Charter Dialogue Between Courts and Legislatures” because it is the most influential article to date in the Charter of Rights and Freedom’s relatively short history (since 1982). I call this reflection “Collateral Thoughts” because my interest is less in the merits of dialogue theory than in its remarkable impact, at home in Canada as well as abroad, in the broader reaches of comparative constitutionalism and constitutional theory. In the main, this reflection asks how and why “dialogue” became a runaway concept, and considers what that tells us about the nature and formation of constitutional theory. It shows that Dialogue was fundamentally connected to Canada’s catharsis of rights, in 1982 and in the early years of Charter interpretation. That is why its claim that the legitimacy battles which define American judicial review are irrelevant – because Canada’s system of rights protection is based on “dialogue” – was so explosive. Not only did this article command attention in Canada, the concept of dialogue would be “reified”, castigated and deeply analyzed by scholars and Commonwealth jurisdictions who wondered whether weaker or weak-form judicial review was institutionally possible. Much like other theories in the US constitutional tradition, Dialogue responded to controversy by theorizing and attempting to legitimize review. Despite failing in its objective to eliminate legitimacy concerns about review, Dialogue catalyzed a national and international movement in constitutional thought.