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Judicial Committee of the Privy Council

The Judicial Committee of the Privy Council is a board of the British Privy Council. It was formed in 1833. In 1844, it was given jurisdiction over all of Britain’s colonial courts. People who had been judges in high courts in Britain served on the Judicial Committee, along with a sprinkling of judges from the Commonwealth. Their decisions were often criticized for favouring provincial powers over federal authority, especially in fields such as trade and commerce. The Judicial Committee served as the court of final appeal for Canada until 1949, when that role was given to the Supreme Court of Canada.  

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Keegstra Case

Jim Keegstra was a secondary school teacher in rural Alberta who taught anti-Semitic propaganda to his students. He was charged with a hate crime in 1984 and was found guilty in 1985. However, Keegstra launched repeated appeals arguing that the Criminal Code violated his constitutionally guaranteed freedom of expression. The landmark case (R. v. Keegstra) tested the balance between the right to freedom of speech outlined in the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms and the law’s limits on hate speech stipulated in the Criminal Code. The case came before the Supreme Court of Canada in 1990 and 1996. The Court ultimately ruled against Keegstra by deciding that Canada’s hate laws imposed a “reasonable limit” on a person’s freedom of expression.

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Supreme Court of Canada

The Supreme Court of Canada is the court of last resort for all legal issues in Canada, including those of federal and provincial jurisdiction. From humble beginnings as an opaque body subject to being overruled by the British Privy Council, the court now has the final judicial say on a broad range of contentious legal and social issues, ranging from the availability of abortion to the constitutionality of capital punishment and assisted suicide.