April 2014 Centennial for The Court of Appeal of Alberta: Special News Series: An interview with Chief Justice Catherine Fraser. Recapping major decisions; Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms entrenched in Constitution, Canada’s highest law

Chief Justice Catherine Fraser Global Woman of Vision 3:54 Min. by Global News Edmonton, March 3, 2014

Alberta Court of Appeal Chief Justice Fraser:

“Judges have to be able to treat people fairly and equally in the delivery of justice, and we have to meet justice’s highest standard ourselves, and if we are not able to understand the reality of people’s lives, then I question how we as judges can treat people fairly in the decisions that we render.”

… “And one of the most important messages is that, you have power as a judge, use it for good.”

… “I don’t think that my vision has ever changed in the time I was a young child, it’s just a passion for justice, for all, and it’s amazing what can be accomplished if you say I’m going to do something here, and I’m going to try to make a difference.”

2014 03 03 Woman of Vision Alberta Top Judge, Chief Justice Catherine Fraser Global News Title

2014 03 03 Woman of Vision Alberta Top Judge, Chief Justice Catherine Fraser walking with husband and dog

2014 03 03 Global Woman of Vision Alberta Top Judge, Chief Justice Catherine Fraser

2014 03 03 Woman of Vision Alberta Top Judge, Chief Justice Catherine Fraser Canada's Charter

2014 03 03 Woman of Vision Alberta Top Judge, Chief Justice Catherine Fraser Law Books

2014 03 03 Woman of Vision Alberta Top Judge, Chief Justice Catherine Fraser Court of Appeal

2014 04 10 11 Celebration Centennial Alberta Court Appeal Gala 100 years

2014 04 10 11 Celebration Centennial Alberta Court Appeal Gala Judging Canada's Constitution

Court of Appeal series: An interview with Chief Justice Catherine Fraser by Otiena Ellwand, April 3, 2014, Edmonton Journal
As a young person, one of Catherine Fraser’s first jobs was stocking shelves in the women’s section of a department store for $35 a week. She’ll never forget that the young man who worked in the men’s section earned five dollars more than she did. “It brought home to me the differences in how men and women were being treated during that era in our society,” the Chief Justice of Alberta said recently. That brush with inequality is one of the reasons Fraser invested her life in the law. She’s a trailblazer in Alberta and in the rest of Canada for becoming the first female chief justice ever appointed to a provincial court of appeal in this country. “I chose law because I saw it as a vehicle for change,” said Fraser, who was also the youngest chief justice ever appointed in Alberta when she took the position in 1992, at the age of 44.

“I chose law because I was concerned about inequality in society. I wanted to make a difference and I wanted to do something about that, and I have spent most of my adult life trying to achieve that objective. Inequality is injustice, it’s just that simple and we all have an obligation in society to do what we can to ensure equality for all.”

Growing up the granddaughter of immigrants from Lebanon and Ukraine also left a lasting impression on her. “They were always delighted that Canada gave themselves and their children and their dreams a home,” she said. They did their part to contribute to their new community and Fraser felt a duty to do the same. But while she was raised to respect peoples’ differences, such consideration wasn’t always reciprocated. She remembers her mother telling her about having to lose her Ukrainian accent so she could get a job as a school teacher in Alberta. “I think that with that background it also explains part of what has fueled my interest in equality for all,” Fraser said.

In this fourth segment in our series marking the Court of Appeal of Alberta’s centennial, Chief Justice Catherine Fraser answers questions about some of the challenges facing the court in its next 100 years.


Q: What does it mean to be the Chief Justice of Alberta?

A: The Chief Justice of Alberta is the chief justice for the entire province, which means that there is an overall responsibility for the functioning of all the courts in the province. Primarily, the chief justice is responsible for the functioning of the Court of Appeal. The individual who is Chief Justice of Alberta also holds the position of Chief Justice of the Northwest Territories Court of Appeal and the Nunavut Court of Appeal.

Q: What are your most important duties?

A: There are certain key things that the chief justice has to always be concerned about, and first and foremost would be preserving the rule of law and judicial independence, and ensuring that the institutional and operational independence of the courts are maintained.

Q: Why is it important to have diversity in the courts and what more can be done?

A: In order to command the respect of the people that it serves in a democracy, (a justice system) has to be inclusive and that means the system has to work well for everybody and not just those for whom the system already works well.

By the time you get to the point where you’re going to be appointed a judge, it is a privileged background. So it’s important that the individuals that are appointed come from as diverse a background as possible … because at the end of the day, you’re judging people from all walks of life, so it helps to have a bench that consists of individuals who can relate to and understand the people and the problems that they might have in life. Problems that might have affected the way they have dealt with things, problems that may have caused them to get into trouble.

Q: What are some issues the court may have to deal with in the future?

A: Look at the conflict that potentially can arise with all of our privacy interests on the one hand, all the national security stuff on the other. Where is the intersection between all of these? What is privacy? How far does it go? Who gets access to what information and when? What purposes can they use it for? What notion of privacy are we left with as a society? Do we have any anymore? Huge issues, all unresolved, blank canvas. All that will start to be drawn in and filled in (I believe) over the next two decades.

Sustainability issues as well. Sustainability in terms of broad issues that affect all of us: health care, education, the environment, the biosphere generally.

Q: How do you manage your natural human empathy when making decisions on the law?

A: That empathy still exists, it always exists. The law is not disconnected from reality. Of course judges have to apply the law, but what’s the law? The law itself is informed by and shaped by considerations that relate to people. We are not making law for robots, we are making it for people, so the law has to fit with the needs of society.

Q: What are some objectives you’ve set for yourself and the Court of Appeal to achieve over the next few years?

Everything we do in the court is to aid one broad objective and that is to improve the delivery of justice to Albertans and to ensure that Albertans have access to fair and equal justice. (One focus) is to use technology to help people in a way that has not been done before. There are many more self-represented individuals that are appearing both at the trial courts and even the appellate level and we would like to see them have all the tools possible to be able to do the best possible jobs for themselves … and those tools are not paper and pen today, they’re online tools and that’s what people are looking for.

Q: What’s one piece of advice you’d give a young person wishing to pursue a career in law?

A: If you have an interest in people and their problems and you want to make a real difference in society, then I would encourage anyone with that view of life to pursue an interest in law, because law is a vehicle for change. It’s a vehicle for positive change in our society, it’s probably one of the most effective vehicles for change, and also a career in law opens many doors. [Emphasis added]


— Born: in Campbellton, N.B. in 1947

— Moved: to Edmonton with her family, in 1958

— Education: a bachelor of arts and bachelor of laws from the University of Alberta; master of laws from the London School of Economics

— While articling in Edmonton: she taught what is believed to be the first course on Women and the Law in Canada

— Practised: corporate and commercial law in Edmonton

— Appointed: to the Court of Queen’s Bench in 1989

— Appointed: to the Court of Appeal two years later

— March 12, 1992: became the youngest chief justice ever appointed in Alberta at the age of 44

Court of Appeal series: Two upcoming appeals by Edmonton Journal, April 3, 2014
R vs. S.A.
In 2008, a young woman committed an assault on Edmonton Transit property and was banned for six months. She was later ticketed for violating the ban. She challenged it in provincial court arguing that being banned violated her right to liberty under the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms. “Her argument is that by being prevented from using transit, it prevented her from being able to go to school on some days when she didn’t have alternative means of transportation; it prevented her from being able to attend medical appointments,” said Jennifer Koshan, law professor at the University of Calgary. The provincial court found her not guilty of violating the ban. The case was appealed at the Court of Queen’s Bench, which sided with the transit authorities. Now it’s up to the Court of Appeal to decide whether liberty protects a broader set of interests, such as the ability to make fundamental personal decisions, and whether you can attend places where you can carry out those activities.

Bish vs. Elk Valley Coal Corporation
An employee of Elk Valley Coal Corp. who got into a work-related accident was fired after a drug test revealed he’d used cocaine on his days off. A drug and alcohol policy at the workplace stated that if employees came forward about their addictions and got treated they would not be disciplined. But if they did not disclose their dependency and got into an accident, they would be fired. The union and the employer argued the case before the Alberta Human Rights Tribunal, which sided with the employer, stating that the man had been fired because of his failure to stop using drugs and not as a result of discrimination against an addictions-related disability. The union appealed at the Court of Queen’s Bench, which upheld the tribunal’s decision. Now, the case is headed to the Court of Appeal. “The idea that addictions and addictions-related disabilities should be protected under human rights legislation is, I think, somewhat controversial, but so far the Court of Appeal has agreed that that kind of disability is protected,” Koshan said. The employee was dismissed because of a failed drug test, which makes it difficult for him to put forward a claim of discrimination, Koshan said. “It’s an important opportunity for the Court of Appeal to clarify its approach on these types of issues.” [Emphasis added]

Court of Appeal series: People with a passion for the law by Otiena Ellwand, April 3, 2014, Edmonton Journal
Regardless of their position, the people who work at the Court of Appeal of Alberta are linked by a common thread: their passion for the justice system is infectious. For this third segment in our series marking the Court of Appeal of Alberta’s centennial, we meet the court’s key players.

Justice Jack Watson’s eyes light up when he talks about the rule of law. “The law is an established structure of principles we all live by,” he explains. “Most people obey the law not because they’re afraid of getting arrested or charged or fined. They obey the law because they’ve invested themselves in it. They realize it’s a greater thing that belongs to all of us.” Watson knows the law inside and out. After graduating from high school at 15, he studied law at the University of Saskatchewan and was a Crown prosecutor in Edmonton for 27 years. He was appointed to the Court of Queen’s Bench in 2001, and joined the Court of Appeal five years later. Despite those achievements, he’s easygoing and modest.

Laws are something we all generally accept because they bind everyone, said Watson, and no one gets special treatment. In order to do that, justices work long hours to ensure they’re prepared for court. “We read everything. We’re very determined to make sure everyone gets a fair shake,” he said. There are 19 justices who work at the Court of Appeal, five of whom are supernumerary, which means they don’t sit as frequently as those who are full-time. They hear appeals in panels of three or more. As justices for the top court in the province, they must make decisions based on a finding of law. They keep an eye on the big picture and how the decision may come to affect other cases and people in the province.

One thing Watson is adamant about is deliberative secrecy: judges don’t chat about their cases with other people before, during or after a decision is made. “As a human being, I may get an impression about the case and think, ‘Boy, would I like to say that,’ but that’s not my job. My job is to say what the law does and that’s it.”

Judicial clerks are the public’s first point of contact with the Court of Appeal. Their primary role is to support the court, the justices and their staff, by communicating with the public, maintaining the court record and filing documents. But clerks do much more than sit in the courtroom and keep track of the proceedings. They deal with an overwhelming amount of paperwork. One case contained 99 volumes full of documents for each justice, which explains why clerks have to be accurate, organized and detail-oriented. “We’re not just pushing papers. These are peoples’ lives,” said Margaret Pawlikowski, who’s worked as a clerk for 15 years. Pawlikowski has always been fascinated by the justice system. As a child, she used to watch Magistrate’s Court on television during her lunch hour. She scours the newspaper for stories about court cases, which she cuts out and saves. “There’s nothing more important in society than to have a proper justice system,” she said. “To be a small help in the administration of justice, it fascinates me every day.” One of the keys to being an effective clerk is to concentrate and really listen to what someone is trying to say, Pawlikowski said. “Everybody has a story to tell. When I see how carefully the justices listen and ask good questions, they really are understanding what the argument is, and I’ve learned from that.”

In her native country of Australia, Robyn Cochran taught human rights law. When she moved to Edmonton in 2009, she started working at the Court of Appeal as a full-time orderly, (someone who provides administrative support to the justices), and became a clerk four years ago. “Everything we do on a day-to-day basis, day-in, day-out, is all for that moment in court,” she said. “It’s where all of the hard work we’ve put in to maintaining this court file, in its beautiful chronological fashion, it all comes out in the courtroom. This is where the appeal is happening.”

At the age of 60, Elliott Query joined the Court of Appeal in Edmonton as an orderly, after serving in the Canadian Armed Forces and working in the auto and construction industries. He admits he didn’t know much about the judicial system when he first started, but he’s since become intrigued by the court process and inspired by the people who work there. “It kind of grabs onto you and the more you learn, the more you want to learn,” he said. As an orderly, he makes the justices lives a little bit easier. He takes care of their mail and their court attire, fetches them books and documents, sets up the courtroom, and when the case is finished, he helps destroy any unnecessary copies of the case. A big part of the job is also dealing with people who come to the court’s reception desk on the fifth floor of the Law Courts building. Query frequently deals with people who are distraught and upset. A young woman once came to the front desk practically in tears, fretting about a meeting she had with a Crown prosecutor. She didn’t know where to go or what he looked like. Query calmed her down, explained what to expect and told her she had time to relax and get a cup of coffee. While he has taken the court’s paralegal course, Query can’t dispense legal advice. However, offering simple assistance can help settle people and make the court process go more smoothly for them, he said. He makes a point of being empathetic, understanding and respectful, a cue he’s taken from all the others who work at the Court of Appeal. “I see them treating a man with a fancy suit and a fancy tie the same as the person who just walked off the corner street,” he said, adding that he’s inspired by their “real dedication to providing justice for all Albertans.”

During the 10 years Bobbi Jo McDevitt worked as a divorce lawyer, she never once had to go to the Court of Appeal on behalf of her clients. “I never had occasion to and it always intimidated me,” she said. Now she works for the Court of Appeal as its case management officer in Edmonton, a position that was created in 2007. McDevitt tracks and manages appeals so they move through the system efficiently, and makes sure rules are followed. She reviews every notice of appeal that gets filed and does a bit of vetting at the initial stage. McDevitt also deals with any complaints that may arise and she’s involved in drafting court policy and procedures. The case management officer is on the front lines, as a liaison between multiple parties, said McDevitt. “We’re dealing with the justices, the judicial assistants, the clerks, the lawyers, the self-represented litigants, the Legal Education Society.” Another one of her important tasks is dealing with the Speak to List. Three times a year, any party involved in an appeal can come to court and talk to the case management officer about where they are in the appeal process, if they’re having any problems or if they’re lagging behind. It’s an opportunity to check in with these individuals, said McDevitt. Before her position was established, a justice handled all of those duties.

Danielle Umrysh started working as a clerk at the Court of Queen’s Bench in 1981. For many people who work in the court system, their favourite part is the work done in the courtroom. Not for Umrysh. “It’s like reading a book for some people. They listen to the stories, some of them are horrific stories and it’s like a book, they close it and they don’t think about it, whereas it scares me and I lose sleep,” she said. “I’d rather be at the counter filing the documents for the public.” In 1996, she became the Court of Appeal’s deputy registrar in Edmonton. She oversees and manages 13 staff members, including seven clerks, two full-time and three part-time orderlies and a team lead. She’s also responsible for any documents or recordings related to the court file. These are kept at the court building for three years so they are easily accessible, then they go to Alberta Records Centre for seven years and then to the Provincial Archives of Alberta where they are stored permanently.

The legal counsels work directly with the justices, assisting them with research and preparing for appeal hearings. Typically, a justice has a legal counsel assigned to them, but the legal counsels may also work with more than one justice. Altogether, there are 10 to 12 legal counsels in Edmonton and Calgary. Each legal counsel holds a law degree and they are usually members of the Law Society of Alberta.

Quick Facts

— In the last five years, between 625 and 660 appeals have been filed each year.

— In the last five years, 35 to 40 per cent of those appeals were abandoned while the remaining appeals were heard by a panel. [Emphasis added]

Series Dates
Our six-part series on the Court of Appeal in Alberta continues.

— April 4: Chief Justice Catherine Fraser

— April 10: Demystifying/understanding the court

— April 11: The changing face of the court

2014 04 26 Alberta Law Day The Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms

Court of Appeal series: Four cases that changed Alberta, Recapping major decisions on the Court of Appeal’s centenary by Otiena Ellwand, March 27, 2014, Edmonton Journal
The Court of Appeal of Alberta is known for making bold decisions that have had a significant effect on laws that change the lives of all Canadians. “It punched above its weight,” said Eric Adams, law professor at the University of Alberta. “The Alberta Court of Appeal had not only a tremendous impact on Canadian constitutional law, but an impact above and beyond what you might expect given Alberta’s population and size.” … After the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms came into effect in 1982 (as the introduction to Canada’s repatriated Constitution) the Court of Appeal helped shape it into the powerful tool it is.

If the government doesn’t obey the law, who will? That’s a question that arose in 1918 when the Court of Appeal of Alberta (then called the Alberta Supreme Court, Appellate Division) and the federal government butted heads over a case, resulting in a standoff at the Sarcee Barracks in Calgary.

Three years after Canada entered the First World War, the federal government passed the Military Service Act to deal with a soldier shortage. Some men were protected from conscription, including farmers and other Canadians in vital occupations. But a year later, when the government became even more desperate for troops, cabinet withdrew that protection and many of the people who had previously been exempt were drafted. One of them was a 21-year-old Alberta farmer named Norman Lewis, who stood up against the government and claimed he was being detained by the military against his will. His lawyer, R.B. Bennett, who would later become the 11th prime minister of Canada, argued that because the law had been changed by cabinet alone and not passed by Parliament, it was invalid.

“I don’t know whether or not I would have done that at 21,” said Mary MacDonald, the registrar for the Court of Appeal. “That’s a brave thing to do, but then I guess if you’re confronted with being conscripted and going off to war, you may have additional gumption.”

In 1918, four out of five justices ruled in Lewis’s favour, saying the government had acted unlawfully, and ordered that he be released from military service. But the military and the government wouldn’t give up that easily. The military defied the court order and attempted to block Lewis’s release by setting up machine guns at the entrance of the barracks. The government tried to move those who had been illegally drafted out of the province, where they would no longer be under the Alberta court’s jurisdiction.

The one justice who had dissented, Chief Justice Horace Harvey, refused to let the federal government defy the court. He sent the sheriff to retrieve the men, resulting in a standoff. Eventually, the military relented and the government honoured the court’s decision until it could be resolved by the Supreme Court of Canada.

“At the end of the day, we don’t have armies to enforce our decisions; what we have is respect by Canadian citizens for the rule of law and the recognition that the government has to abide by that,” Chief Justice Catherine Fraser said recently about the case. “Because if it is not prepared to abide by the law, why should any of the rest of us?” The SCC ended up ruling in the federal government’s favour, but by that point, the war was almost over. However, what the decision by the Alberta court proved was that even in precarious circumstances like war, no one — not even the government — is above the law.

Sunday has become one of the most important days of the week to do business in Alberta. “Not only do we do about 25 per cent of our weekly sales on Sunday, but this is also a good day for marketing our business, as a lot of new customers come from new areas to check out Whyte Avenue,” said Louise Dirks, the owner of gravitypope, a boutique shoe shop in Edmonton. “And sometimes, depending on the weather and the time of year, our Sunday sales, in six hours of being open, can surpass our Saturday sales.”

Had gravitypope existed before 1982, under the Lord’s Day Act it wouldn’t have been allowed to do business on Sunday. That year, a drugstore in Calgary was charged for selling goods on Sunday. At the trial court, Big M Drug Mart argued that the Christian-based law, which had been in effect since 1905, infringed on its rights under the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms. The trial court agreed that it was unconstitutional for one religion to dictate the rules of all society, so it acquitted the drugstore. “It’s an early case of the court actually giving some meaning to the charter and being bold enough to actually strike down legislation because its purpose and effect were contrary to freedom of religion,” said Mona Duckett, a criminal defence attorney and partner at Dawson Stevens Duckett & Shaigec Barristers, in Edmonton. But the case didn’t stop there. It was appealed at the Court of Appeal and the Supreme Court of Canada, which both sided with the drugstore, in the end profoundly influencing national public policy by allowing Sunday to become an important money-making day across Canada. “Freedom of religion protected the freedom not to be compelled to observe somebody else’s religious holidays,” Koshan said. “I think we saw a huge change and shift in the commercial landscape as a result.”

A legal battle between the federal government and the Edmonton Journal that was fought all the way up to the Supreme Court of Canada in the 1980s helped the courts define a section of the charter and protect citizens from unreasonable search and seizure.

In 1982, three days after the charter became law, government officials entered and searched the newspaper’s office. They seized business files and books from the publisher’s office under suspicion that the Journal was violating federal legislation by engaging in unfair trading and anti-competitive business practices. Government officials were allowed to search not only the newspaper’s office in Edmonton, but any of the Southam chain’s locations across Canada. The Journal sought a court order to stop the search. The matter ended up before the Court of Appeal, which ruled that the search was unreasonable and a violation of privacy and property rights under the charter. It also found that the warrant government officials had used was not authorized by a judge and therefore was invalid. The Supreme Court of Canada upheld the Court of Appeal’s decision.

“Hunter vs. Southam remains the root of all search and seizure law in Canada to this day,” Allan Lefever, the Journal’s lead counsel on the case, said in 2003. “It has the broadest application for anyone in this country accused or suspected of a criminal offence.” “For every one of us, this is recognition that we have a right to be left alone by the government in terms of our privacy, and any government step which is intrusive on our privacy requires justification by an independent and a judicial authorizer,” defence attorney Duckett added.

Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms: Recognizes and protects citizens’ fundamental rights and freedoms, including the right to equality, freedom of expression and Aboriginal peoples’ rights. The charter came into effect as part of the Constitution Act 1982, which came about as a result of the repatriation of the Canadian Constitution. The charter is entrenched in the Constitution, which is considered Canada’s highest law. Any new law has to be consistent with the charter.

Court of Appeal of Alberta: The court of last resort for Albertans. It deals with appeals from the provincial court, the Court of Queen’s Bench and several administrative tribunals. A panel of justices will make a finding of law, which then applies to the case being appealed and to similar cases throughout the province.

Supreme Court of Canada: The top court in the country. If a person were to appeal a decision made by the Court of Appeal of Alberta, that appeal would have to go to the Supreme Court of Canada in Ottawa. The court deals with appeals that have to do with an important question of law or issues of national importance.

Our six-part series on the Court of Appeal in Alberta continues.

March 21: Q&A overview
Today: Four important cases
April 3: People of the court
April 4: Chief Justice Catherine Fraser
April 10: Demystifying/understanding the court
April 11: The changing face of the court

IN ASSOCIATION WITH the Court of Appeal of Alberta and the Legal Education Society of Alberta, with funding by the Alberta Law Foundation.
This content was developed by the Edmonton Journal and the Calgary Herald’s editorial departments as a result of the sponsors’ interest in the subject. No creative control was exercised by the sponsors beyond approving the broad subject. [Emphasis added]

2014 03 27 Court of Appeal of Alberta 100 years

WATCH: understanding the Court of Appeal of Alberta (with video) 1:13 Min. by Edmonton Journal, March 20, 2014
The Edmonton Journal and the Calgary Herald have created a six-part series running March 21 to April 11 to help Albertans understand what the Court of Appeal of Alberta is, and how its decisions affect the day-to-day lives of all who live in this province. Chief Justice Catherine Fraser explains what the court is. … To mark the court’s centennial, which occurs this month, we’re taking a closer look at exactly what the Court of Appeal does, at the people who work within it, and at how the decisions made at the court have dramatically shaped Alberta’s history.

Words to guide you

A Judge: Is appointed by the provincial government and presides over matters in the Provincial Court of Alberta (which is one of the lower courts).

A Justice: Is appointed by the federal government and presides over matters at the Court of Queen’s Bench (another lower court) or at the Court of Appeal.

Appellant: The person or party that files or initiates an appeal because they disagree with a lower court’s decision. They could have been the plaintiff or the defendant in the lower court.

Respondent: The person or party against which an appeal is filed. The respondent argues against the appeal.

Rule of law: An established structure of principles by which we all live. These laws define our rules and rights and are generally accepted by everyone in society. No one is above the law.

Q & A

To understand the nuts and bolts of the Court of Appeal, we consulted Mary MacDonald, the court’s new registrar and a former criminal defence attorney; Andrew Foster, the senior legal counsel to the court’s Chief Justice; and David Mittelstadt, the author of a forthcoming book on the history of the court.

Q: What is the Court of Appeal of Alberta?

A: The Court of Appeal is the court of last resort for Albertans. It makes a finding of law that applies not only to the case being appealed, but also to similar cases throughout the province. It sits in Calgary and Edmonton (one week a month in each city), for 10 months of the year. Most often, the Court of Appeal sits as a panel of three justices, but it can also sit as a panel of five justices (or in rare occasions, even more) when a particularly serious or important legal matter is on the table and the court would benefit from having more opinions.

Q: Which cases go to the Court of Appeal?

A: If a plaintiff or defendant in a case is not satisfied with the decision made by one of the lower courts — either the Provincial Court of Alberta or the Court of Queen’s Bench — he or she may appeal it. Some appeals are heard first at the Court of Queen’s Bench, but may be appealed again at the province’s highest court — the Court of Appeal. Some matters, such as those regarding decisions made by certain tribunals, boards and professional bodies are appealed directly to the Court of Appeal.

Q: How does the Court of Appeal affect every Albertan?

A: It upholds the rule of law. This ensures that nobody is above the law. When the Court of Appeal has made a decision, the trial courts have to follow it, so you get a uniformity of law no matter whether you’re in Pincher Creek or Fort Chipewyan.

Q: How does an appeal move through the Court of Appeal?

A: First, someone files a notice of appeal. Next, the appellant files his or her factum (their argument), and relevant materials and authorities (case law). The appeal is then scheduled to be heard by a panel. On the day of the appeal, the appellant and respondent have 45 minutes each to argue their case. The panel may render judgment that day or reserve judgment. The length of the entire process will vary, depending on how quickly the trial record and transcripts are ready, whether the filing deadlines are amended by consent, and by how much time a judgment is reserved.

Q: In what situation would an appeal from Alberta go on to the Supreme Court of Canada?

A: The cases that the Supreme Court of Canada (in Ottawa) tends to hear deal with issues of national importance or an important question of law. That court can hear disputes in every area of law, but it must agree to hear an appeal first. When the Supreme Court justices make their finding, the law applies to all Canadians.

Q: Why does this year mark the Court of Appeal of Alberta’s centennial?

A: In 1914, the Supreme Court of Alberta (which was a trial court that dealt with serious criminal and civil matters) established a rotating appeal court. A panel of judges was assigned to hear appeals for a year and then another group would switch in. The Supreme Court of Alberta was not the only court that existed at the time — there was also the District Court, which tended to hear less serious matters and served rural areas of Alberta. In 1979, the Supreme Court of Alberta split into two separate courts. Its trial division amalgamated with the District Court to form the Court of Queen’s Bench, while its appellate division became the Court of Appeal.

Q: Where is the Court of Appeal located?

A: The Court of Appeal sits in Edmonton at the Law Courts building at 1A Sir Winston Churchill Square and in Calgary at the TransCanada Pipelines Tower. [Emphasis added]

2014 03 20 Understanding The Court of Appeal of Alberta

Transcript of above clip:

The Court of Appeal is the top court in the province of Alberta. It’s essentially the court of last resort for more than 99% of the cases we hear because so few cases that we hear are appealed to the Supreme Court of Canada.

And we have two roles: an error-correcting role and a law-making role. And many of our cases would be error-correcting, but a lot of them are also law-making. And when we’re involved in a law-making case, when we make a decision, we settle the law for more than four million Albertans. So obviously the case in front of us is extremely important, but it’s not a debate between two sides. We’re not picking winners and losers, we’re actually settling the law for more than four million Albertans and that is why we have to be concerned about the implications of everything that’s being argued in front of us.

And sometimes the issue that the lawyers think is the important one, is not the issue that we see is critical. And that’s why sometimes we have to broaden the scope of what it is that’s being argued in front of us and address broader issues of law than the ones put to us by the lawyers. [Emphasis added]

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