In the Reference re Genetic Non-Discrimination Act (Reference) the Supreme Court of Canada divided three ways, reproducing the divisions from the Reference re Assisted Human Reproduction Act (AHRA), decided a decade earlier. AHRA did not provide a majority statement of the rule for determining what constitutes a valid exercise of the section 91(27) criminal law power. Neither did the Reference. As a consequence, uncertainty in this area of the law persists. This article suggests arguments that, if adopted, would resolve this uncertainty. Part I summarizes the Reference, including the three sets of reasons written by Karakatsanis J., Moldaver J. and Kasirer J., respectively. Part II is organized around three spatial metaphors: the relationship of parts to the whole, breadth, and line-drawing. Part II begins by addressing an apparent disagreement in the federalism jurisprudence and in the Reference about the proper order for pith and substance analyses, when a part of an act is at issue. I argue that in some cases it is necessary to interpret an act as a whole before assessing its parts. Part II then turns to disagreements in the Court about the breadth of the criminal law power. I argue that Karakatsanis J.’s expansive interpretation places in jeopardy federalism principles and that Kasirer J.’s criticisms of that interpretation were justified. Part II concludes by examining a disagreement between Kasirer and Karakatsanis JJ. about whether the test for validity under the criminal law power should include a line-drawing exercise. I argue that this relatively narrow disagreement reveals a deeper debate about the appropriate role of courts in adjudicating disputes about the criminal law power. I conclude that Kasirer J.’s position flows from an understanding of the judicial role that is consistent with the broader federalism jurisprudence.
Kong, Hoi L..
"Reference Re Genetic Non-Discrimination Act: How to Make Space for Some Certainty."
The Supreme Court Law Review: Osgoode’s Annual Constitutional Cases Conference
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