The Supreme Court, as explained by the Chief Justice of Canada

English closed captions available.

M-E: Good morning, Mr. Chief Justice.

RW: Good morning, Dean Sylvestre.

M-E: It’s a pleasure to welcome you, always a pleasure to see you again here at the Faculty of Law of the University of Ottawa.

RW: It’s always a small pleasure when I come back here.

M-E: You’re a bit at home here.

RW: Absolutely, absolutely.

M-E: Mr. Chief Justice, can you explain to us what the Supreme Court is and what your role is in this institution?

RW: In a few words, the Supreme Court is the court of last resort in Canada. It is the court that hears cases of all kinds – civil, commercial, criminal – as a last resort. The Supreme Court is therefore located in Ottawa, in a magnificent building that is part of our heritage, our national heritage, since it was conceived and designed by a Quebec architect named Ernest Cormier. This building has the distinction of having furniture that was designed by the same architect. So it’s a building that exudes serenity, I would say. Transparency. And that’s typical of the kind of work we have to do.

So, the files that we hear are files that come from all the provinces of the country, from all the regions. Obviously, we hear cases on permission, since we receive about 400 to 600 requests for appeal per year. We cannot hear all of these cases, so we hear the public interest cases that require a response from the highest court in the country. So we file between 60 and 80 decisions a year, in all areas of law.

We are nine judges, three of whom must be from Quebec, in order to respect the notion of bijuralism that is unique to Canada and to the Supreme Court. This is a bilingual court, so everything that is said and written at the Supreme Court of Canada is written in the country’s two official languages, French and English. A tradition that must be maintained and protected.

M-E: What about your role as Chief Justice of this court?

RW: As Chief Justice, I am one of nine – I have no more legal authority than my colleagues. However, as Chief Justice, by law I also chair the Canadian Judicial Council, which is the body that brings together the 41 chief justices and associate chief justices of the federal judiciary across the country. I also chair the National Judicial Institute, which is the organization that provides training to all federal judges across the country, and now even to provincial judges. As Chairperson of the Canadian Judicial Council, of course, this is the organization that oversees the training of federal judges and also deals with the discipline of federal judges when there is a disciplinary complaint against one of these judges.

Also, as Chief Justice, I chair the Order of Canada Advisory Committee, which makes recommendations to the Governor General for the awarding of the Order of Canada, an honour unique to Canada. These are additional duties besides, of course, sitting on court files.

The building that houses the Supreme Court of Canada “exudes serenity and transparency”. This is how the Chief Justice of Canada, the Honorable Richard Wagner, describes the environment in which Canada’s highest court sits. As a bilingual and bijuridical institution, the Supreme Court of Canada plays a fundamental role in Canadian society.

Are you familiar with the Supreme Court of Canada? How many judges sit on the bench? How many applications does the Supreme Court of Canada process each year? How do its decisions impact your life? In a brief exchange with Dean Marie-Eve Sylvestre, the Right Honorable Richard Wagner answers these questions and explains in a simple and accessible way the mandate and role of the Supreme Court of Canada. He also offers information about his own role as Chief Justice of Canada.

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