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A round-up of the Canadian Bar Review

A quick peek at the latest from legal scholarship on emerging issues in law.

Online learning

In the latest volume of the Canadian Bar Review:

Critical reflections on the revised Ethical Principles for Judges

Five directors of the Canadian Association for Legal Ethics discuss key changes in the recent updates to ethical principles for federally-appointed judges by the Canadian Judicial Council. The revisions address issues such as case management and settlement conferences, technological competence and the use of social media, interactions with self-represented litigants, professional development for judges, confidentiality, and the return of former judges to the practice of law. Overall, the authors conclude the revised principles "very much an exercise of modest reform" – hardly surprising for a conservative body – but welcome. "In particular regarding technological competence, the directors endorse new obligations for judges while cautioning that they must be supported by significant resources to provide judges with appropriate training and guidance on best practices. Noting that the previous version of the ethical principles hadn't been changed in over 20 years, the directors propose that the CJC prioritize developing a process that would allow it to make ongoing incremental changes to those principles.

Beware of taxpayers bearing gifts

"It seems counterintuitive that a donation could be used for tax avoidance. After all, to qualify for a credit, the taxpayer must give something away," writes Elizabeth Bozek of BMO Private Wealth. "However, it is under this veil that taxpayers have entered complex transactions, expecting the smoke and mirrors of their generosity will detract from the purpose behind the transactions, which is usually an inflated donation credit which gives the taxpayers a benefit in excess of their donation." We see this with assets whose value can be easily manipulated (such as art and cultural property) or in transactions involving non-arm's length situations. Donations of digital assets, such as non-fungible tokens, may soon offer a similar opportunity for innovative tax avoiders. Parliament has shown an increased willingness to discourage taxpayers from abusing charitable credits, Bozek writes. Still, it will have to step up its game in responding to loopholes in the Income Tax Act

Revisiting jury instructions on racial prejudice towards Indigenous peoples

Scott Franks at the Toronto Metropolitan University examines the Supreme Court of Canada's assumptions in R v. Barton and R. v. Chouhan, which recommended general and specialized anti-bias instructions in criminal jury trials of Indigenous persons – viewed by some as a step forward. But according to Franks, the empirical research casts doubt on the SCC's faith in a juror's capacity to control racial bias against Indigenous persons. It also suggests that racial bias or prejudice against Indigenous persons operates differently from racial bias or prejudice against other racialized persons. We need to approach specialized jury instructions with caution, he writes. If they "prime, rather than suppress, prejudicial reasoning," that ought to make us question the capacity for jurors to control for racial prejudice. He proposes that we rethink the use of jury instructions and explore reforms on jury diversification instead.

Legal ethics and the promotion of substantive equality

Daniel Del Gobbo of McGill University tackles the Statement of Principles controversy at the Law Society of Ontario, arguing that "the standard conception of lawyers' professional role morality in Canada—the neutral partisan—takes a thin and "bleached out" view of legal ethics." Reading professional discipline caselaw through the lens of critical theory, he concludes that practices of lawyer regulation regarding human rights and equality are underinclusive. The standard conception of lawyers' professional role morality "should be interpreted to include a positive obligation on lawyers to promote substantive equality," Del Gobbo writes. "In some cases, this means embracing the law as a tool of recognition and empowerment for historically marginalized groups, working within legal processes and institutions as they are currently constituted. In other cases, it means challenging the law's role for being complicit in extant hierarchies and reimagining legal processes and institutions for the better, both theoretically and practically."

L’incidence des préjugés inconscients sur le processus de négociation et de médiation

Suzanne Bouclin de l’Université d’Ottawa et Patricia Harewood proposent un article mettant en relief les contours des préjugés inconscients et leurs incidences sur les processus informels de résolution des différends. Notant que le manque de diversité est encore perceptible parmi les professionnels de la médiation, elles examinent également quelques pistes visant l’atténuation des préjugés inconscients dans ce contexte, notamment en ce qui a trait aux pratiques d’embauche, au mentorat et la formation

La Cour suprême du Canada, le Code civil du Québec et les juges de common law

Plusieurs des causes portant sur l’application ou l’interprétation du Code civil du Québec sont entendues par des bancs avec une majorité de juges ayant uniquement une formation de common law, notent Andrew Stobo Sniderman et Mariella Montplaisir-Bazan. Cela fait que la jurisprudence de droit civil est parfois façonnée par des juges sans formation civiliste, surtout que la tendance actuelle « s’éloigne du juge [de common law] passif, qui n’écrit pas, qui ne participe pas » -- ce qui en principe devrait être bien accueilli à un certain égard. « Si une cause de droit civil entendue à la Cour suprême reposait entièrement sur le jugement de trois juges provenant du Québec, l’autorité et la légitimité de la Cour pourraient être questionnées, soutiennent les auteurs. En effet, en quoi un jugement de la Cour suprême aurait-il plus d’autorité qu’une décision unanime de la Cour d’appel du Québec avec un banc de trois ou cinq juges ? » En autant que les juges de common law soit outillés pour comprendre la tradition civiliste, et reconnaître ses différences. Ce qui, fort heureusement, semble être le cas dans les années récentes.