1. Introduction

We live in the era of modern globalization, a development that is both dynamic and highly controversial; it engages many actors, factors, and mechanisms, and appears in various fields and forms. As acknowledged by the United Nations General Assembly, globalization is ‘not merely an economic process but [one that] has social, political, environmental, cultural and legal dimensions’.1 It is difficult to dispute Thomas Friedman’s prediction that the general process of globalization will profoundly affect law.2 ‘Globalization of law may be defined as the worldwide progression of transnational legal structures and discourses along the dimensions of extensity, intensity, velocity, and impact.’3 In other words, it includes the globalization of legal institutions and legal instruments at national and international levels.

Transnational judicial conversation amongst courts and judges from across the globe is at the core of this globalization of the judiciaries, which in itself constitutes a significant part of legal globalization. Moreover, the dialogue among courts is part of a wider epistemic dialogue and flow of information that is occurring in many fields.

As in other fields of human activity such as politics, science, sport, art, film, or music, in the judiciary, certain actors—courts and judges—have a global influence, and play starring roles. The Supreme Court of Canada (SCC), and several of its justices, are among the most well-known. The Court’s judgments, legal tests and best practices, are often used as guidance. Indeed, many scholars, not only those from a Canadian background, consider the SCC a global frontrunner in the process of transnational judicial interaction, particularly in regards to the citation of foreign judgments.

There are an impressive number of academic works on the engagement of the SCC mostly with foreign case law.4 This interest is mainly explained by the excellent reputation of the SCC in the global arena.

Slaughter, one of the prominent experts in the field, demonstrates a high respect for the SCC.5 When trying to identify the most influential ‘donor’ or ‘lender’ of judicial precedents in recent years, she names the SCC as a highly influential court, even more so than the US Supreme Court.6 Frederick Schauer, too, agrees that the ‘ideas and constitutionalists of Canada have been disproportionately influential,’ in part because ‘Canada, unlike the United States, is seen as reflecting an emerging international consensus rather than existing as an outlier.’7

According to Gentili and Mak, the SCC ‘has established itself as one of the most progressive constitutional judiciaries worldwide … [and] appears to be at the forefront of judicial globalisation when it comes to its transnational connections with other courts.’8 Their conclusion is based on a quantitative general overview of the SCC’s references to foreign case law from 1982–2014,9 and a quantitative analysis of the trends of SCC citation of foreign case law.10

Other scholars have praised the SCC’s judicial communication and influence in the global arena. In 2008, after conducting an empirical study on the use of foreign judgments by Australian State Supreme Courts over the last 40 years, Russell Smyth discovered that the citation of Canadian cases in Australia had increased to the point where only the citation of New Zealand cases was greater, whereas the citation of American cases had decreased.11 In an empirical study on the citation of overseas authorities in rights litigation in New Zealand, James Allan, Grant Huscroft, and Nessa Lynch revealed that Canadian courts, particularly the SCC, are cited by New Zealand courts far more than those from any other jurisdiction, and twice as often as American cases. In their view, Canadian judges are ‘the most judicially activist in the common law world—the most willing to second guess the decisions of the elected legislatures.’12

Although all these studies and academic conversations are certainly important for better understanding the phenomenon of transnational judicial dialogue and the role of the SCC, most authors seem to equate such dialogue with the citation of foreign case law, and use them interchangeably. Moreover, the existing scholarship does not provide a comprehensive picture of all forms of non-domestic legal sources cited by the SCC in all its judgments within the timeframe of this study. Some studies focus only on one or few fields of law (mainly constitutional);13 most consider only the citation of comparative case law of one particular foreign jurisdiction (US or UK);14 others focus solely on international courts or the use of international law;15 and nearly all the literature regards the Court as a whole.16 Hence, one of the main purposes of this paper is to offer to the existing scholarship comprehensive and empirical quantitative data that includes within the same ‘picture’ all forms of non-domestic legal sources used by this Court. This broader perspective is key for assessing the ‘globalist’ or ‘localist’ approach of a court and its genuine place in the judicial global network.

A significant criticism of the SCC’s role in the transnational judicial arena, and particularly in the citation of foreign case law, is that not all SCC judges contribute or invest the same effort in the process.17 Such a criticism is worth it to be evaluated empirically, and that constitutes another central goal of this paper. By providing an empirical picture of individual judges’ engagement with all forms of non-domestic legal sources, this article aims to contribute to the existing academic conversation by providing a more comprehensive picture from both, an institutional and judge individual perspective. Such a dual perspective can also help for the contextualization and explanation of the results, and the theorization of transnational judicial dialogue. Moreover, without looking at the level of engagement of all forms of non-domestic legal sources, the ‘globalist’ or ‘localist’ approach of a court or a judge cannot be fairly assessed, because it will be incomplete to say the least.

After clarifying the methodology, this article, first, will present quantitative data on the citation of comparative legal sources throughout the years by focusing not only on comparative case law (foreign judgments), but also on primary comparative legal sources such as constitutions, codes, statutes, and regulations of other nations. Second, the focus will shift to presenting quantitative data on the reference of international legal sources of both, primary nature, such as international conventions and treaties, but also secondary sources such as judicial decisions of international or supranational courts.18 Finally, in addition to the quantitative analysis of the citation of non-domestic legal sources from the Court’s perspective, a quantitative analysis will also be performed from an individual judge’s perspective by identifying the most and least proactive judges according to their engagement with non-domestic legal sources. The goal of this section is not to provide clear-cut categories, but rather to suggest a spectrum of individual judges based on the amount of use of these non-domestic citations.

2. Methodology

The key methodological instrument that was used to uncover the quantity of non-domestic legal sources cited by the SCC in all its 1223 judgments issued by the SCC over the 17 years (2000–2016), is the web-based research. In order to include all SCC decisions issued within the 17-year period, judgments were accessed through its official website.19 A year-by-year search of SCC judgments was conducted, with each decision reviewed individually.20 The following elements were sought within each judgment’s contents: field of law, judges who formed the majority and penned the decision, dissenting judges, and all four categories of non-domestic legal sources (foreign case law; foreign constitutions, statutes and regulations; international case law; international treaties).

Fortunately, the text of SCC judgments now contains several of the above elements under the subheadings ‘Cases Cited,’ ‘Statutes and Regulations Cited,’ and ‘Treaties and Other International Instruments’. Nonetheless, the ‘Cases Cited’ sections of all 1,223 decisions had to be reviewed on a case-by-case basis to identify all citations of foreign and international courts. Regrettably, the judgments of other nations and of international courts referred in these decisions are still mixed with Canadian case law in the ‘Cases Cited’ sections. Hence, to find them, all 24,509 cases (19,492 in majority decisions and 5,017 in dissents) cited during the 17-year period had to be checked individually. Then all non-Canadian cases had to be identified, matched with the appropriate jurisdiction (foreign national court or international), and then divided according to their domestic jurisdictions (highest court or lower court).

When researching foreign citations, the ‘Statutes and Regulations Cited’ sections of all 1,223 SCC judgments had to be checked manually due to the lack of separation of comparative laws from Canadian statutes and regulations. To find the comparative statutes and regulations, all 5,647 statutes and regulations used by the SCC had to be reviewed, identified, matched with the appropriate jurisdiction (nation state), and divided according to jurisdiction.

The only category of non-domestic legal sources that allowed for a more straightforward identification procedure was that of international treaties, which the SCC labels as ‘Treaties and Other International Instruments.’ However, even this simpler approach was not always possible. Previously, international treaties were included under the category, ‘Statutes and Regulations’; it was only in 2005 that the SCC distinguished them under a separate subheading in a case penned by Justice Ian Binnie (the subheading was then titled ‘International Documents’).21 This practice of separating international treaties is still followed, which helps not only the reader of SCC judgments but also the Court itself to be more self-reflective of the citation of international legal instruments as a distinct category of legal sources.

The collection of quantitative data relating to individual judges also required important methodological choices. First, all judges that served on the SCC between January 1, 2000 and December 31, 2016 had to be identified. Twenty-one individual judges were found to have served or are serving on the Court, of which eight were current and 13 were former judges. The next step was to look at all 1,223 decisions of the SCC to determine which judge penned or contributed to each decision, with additional notes made regarding which judges penned decisions that cited non-domestic legal sources. Notes were kept on the types of non-domestic legal sources cited, and in which fields of law.

SCC judgments also contain information about cases cited by dissenting judges. Considering that the central focus of this paper is to show the quantity of non-domestic legal sources on the Court’s judgments, it was decided to include the data on dissenting judges. The inclusion of dissenting opinions paints a broader picture of the engagement of individual judges with foreign legal sources. Moreover, such a choice allows for a more accurate count of the number of references of foreign legal sources by the SCC. In addition, occasionally dissenting judgments inspired by non-domestic legal sources prompt the Court change its previous practice and embrace transnational or international standards.

3. Quantitative data on the citation of non-domestic legal sources from the perspective of the SCC as an institution

As mentioned above, this article represents a quantitative analysis of the 1,223 SCC judgments delivered between January 1, 2000 and December 31, 2016. The goal is to identify to what extent within this 17-year period, the SCC cited all form of non-domestic legal sources.

It is anticipated that foreign precedents of other nations (or what will be referred to here as ‘comparative case law’), as the most natural form of court globalization for many scholars,22 will be nearly the only legal foreign source to deal with. The data of this research, including the content of the SCC judgments themselves,23 conversely show that in addition to comparative case law, the Court has also cited three other forms of non-domestic legal sources on a constant basis; namely: constitutions, statutes and regulations of other nations; case law of international or supranational courts; and international treaties. Hence, to provide the full picture of the reference of non-domestic legal sources by the SCC, and as a response to academic calls,24 all four types of non-domestic legal sources found within the text of SCC judgments have been included here.

In this paper, non-domestic legal sources are categorized into two groups: comparative legal sources, comprised of comparative case law (foreign judgments) and comparative law (constitutions, codes, statutes and regulations of other nations); and international legal sources, comprised of international case law and international treaties. By focusing on all forms of non-domestic legal sources, this empirical study can provide, at least quantitatively, a much broader picture of the ‘globalist’ character of the SCC, which certainly extends beyond the borrowing of precedents among courts.

3.1. Comparative legal sources

Comparative legal sources are formal legal acts of the legislative, executive and judicial branches of other countries. To gain a better understanding of the variety of legal sources used by the SCC in its transnational judicial dialogue, and based on how the Court itself distinguishes and categorizes legal sources, the quantitative data have been separated into two subcategories: ‘comparative case law’ and ‘comparative law.’ Comparative case law refers to all judicial decisions enacted by national courts outside Canada (foreign judgments); whereas comparative law includes everything else, particularly formal legal acts (e.g., constitutions, codes, statutes and regulations) passed by the legislative and executive branches of foreign countries.

3.1.1. Comparative case law (foreign judgments)

The present research shows that of the 1,223 judgments delivered by the SCC between 2000 and 2016, the SCC cited in total 1,791 decisions from the courts of other nations. 1,360 foreign decisions were cited in majority and unanimous judgments, whereas 431 times in the dissenting reasoning. This is a significant number even when compared to the 24,509 cases cited by the Court in total during the relevant 17 years, of which 22,592 were Canadian cases and 126 international or supranational.25 This means that for every 12 to 13 Canadian cases sited in its judgments, the SCC referred one precedent from another nation.

It is very important to note that the SCC cited foreign judgments constantly throughout the 17 years of this study; indeed, there was no single year in which the SCC failed to cite a foreign precedent in its decisions. Figure 1 demonstrates that the SCC has not simply cited 1,791 foreign precedents, but in fact has referred a good number of them throughout the analyzed 17-year period constantly, with an average of 105 foreign precedents per year (25 in dissenting judgments). However, Figure 1 illustrates noticeable fluctuations. From the 146, 162 and 202 comparative cases per year cited respectively in 2000, 2001 and 2002, there is a sharp decrease in 2015 and 2016 when the Court fell below its 17-year average, citing only 81 and 45 foreign judgments. Considering that in 2016, the SCC cited only 29 foreign precedents in unanimous and majority decisions (and 16 in dissenting), this year constitutes the lowest year not only in the entire studied period, but also in all history of the SCC since the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms entered into force.26

Figure 1 

Citation of comparative case law by the SCC.

The data here show that the SCC cited foreign judgments in 393 of its 1,223 decisions for an average of approximately 32.1 percent of all judgments (Figure 2). In other words, nearly one-third of all SCC decisions cite precedents of other nations, making for an average of approximately 23 decisions that cite comparative case law per year (Table 2).

Figure 2 

Percentage of SCC decisions citing comparative case law (2000–2016).

The citation of comparative case law is even higher, if the number of judgments in which the SCC did not mention any case law at all is taken into account. As seen in Figure 2, of the 1,223 judgments delivered, 175 decisions (14.3% of all cases or an average of approximately 10 decisions per year) were made without the citation of any case law at all (including Canadian cases). In the remaining 1,048 SCC decisions that referred a case law, the Court cited precedents of foreign nations in 393 judgements; in other words in 37.5% of all its decisions. In 651 decisions the Court cited only Canadian case law, whereas in 4 decisions, the SCC besides domestic jurisprudence, has referred to judgments of international courts (without referring any judgments of foreign nations).27

Many interesting findings regarding the use of non-domestic legal sources can be found in dissenting decisions (Table 1). Of the 1,223 SCC judgments issued in 2000–2016, 299 are accompanied by dissenting opinions (approximately 25%). Of these 299 dissents, 127, or 42.4%, included engagement with non-domestic legal sources. This percentage is higher than the approximately 32.1% of unanimous or majority decisions citing foreign judgments. In addition, the density of use of non-domestic legal sources is higher in dissenting than in majority and unanimous decisions. In 229 dissents, the dissenting judges used 468 non-domestic legal sources, with an average of about 1.5 sources per dissent. Meanwhile, the 1,223 decisions cited 1,360, with an average of about 1.1 non-domestic sources per judgment. This data indicates that in dissenting decisions, judges look more often to international and comparative legal sources. In their internal debate over the best possible solution, it seems that judges look for inspiration beyond Canadian borders. This data is significant because a dissenting decision may pave the way for a change of practice in the SCC. As one SCC judge said to an interviewer, ‘A dissenting decision … is the law of tomorrow.’28

Table 1

Data about citation of non-domestic legal sources in dissenting judgments.

Total nr. of Year SCC Decisions per Year Caseswith Dissenting Dissenting Decisions Containing Non-Domestic Legal Sources Non-Domestic Legal Sources per Year in Dissenting Decisions

2000 69 19 9 41
2001 94 16 5 10
2002 86 22 15 56
2003 75 16 7 18
2004 82 20 9 42
2005 86 22 7 12
2006 59 15 4 18
2007 54 20 11 68
2008 72 17 6 19
2009 62 22 8 28
2010 67 15 8 33
2011 66 13 4 19
2012 75 18 5 11
2013 73 21 7 20
2014 78 13 7 49
2015 69 13 6 8
2016 56 17 9 16
Total 1223 299 127 468
Average 71.9

Table 2

SCC decisions citing judgments of foreign nations.

Year Total Number of SCC Decisions per Year Number of SCC Decisions Citing Foreign Judgments Law per Year Percentage of SCC Decisions Citing Foreign Judgments per Year

2000 69 25 36.2%
2001 94 30 31.9%
2002 86 38 44.1%
2003 75 21 28%
2004 82 24 29.2%
2005 86 19 22%
2006 59 22 37.2%
2007 54 28 51.8%
2008 72 25 34.7%
2009 62 21 33.8%
2010 67 18 26.8%
2011 66 14 21.2%
2012 75 19 25.3%
2013 73 32 43.8%
2014 78 17 21.7%
2015 69 22 31.8%
2016 56 18 32.1%
Total 1223 393
Average 71.9 23.1 32.1%

Overall, the number of SCC decisions that cited foreign judgments was not consistent over the 17 years (Table 2). SCC judgments cited foreign precedents most frequently in 2001, 2002, and 2013 (30, 38, and 32 judgments respectively). The lowest number was cited in 2010, 2011, 2014, and 2016 (18, 14, 17 and 18 judgments respectively). Except for 2013, in which the SCC cited foreign case law in 32 of its judgments, it seems that the last years, the number of SCC judgments with foreign case law has been decreased and is below the average (23 per year).29

The next goal of this empirical paper is the identification of the foreign courts upon which the SCC relies. This is important for pinpointing the foreign courts with which the SCC is in horizontal conversation,30 and from which it borrows precedents. Research showed that the SCC cited precedents from courts of 14 different nations from all continents, except South America, including: the US, UK, Australia, New Zealand, South Africa, France, Israel, Ireland, Hong Kong, Belgium, Germany, the Netherlands, India and Switzerland (Figure 3). Not all of these nations’ courts were consulted uniformly, however. Four of them, namely the UK (798 precedents), US (746 precedents), Australia (125 precedents) and New Zealand (47 precedents) accounted for more than 95 percent of the entire number of comparative citations.31 Figure 3 provides a simple visualization of the foreign countries that the SCC refers to most regularly.

Figure 3 

Foreign nations from which the SCC cites judgments.

What foreign courts does the SCC refer to? Upon first consideration, it is reasonable to think that the SCC would cite only its counterparts, the highest courts of other nations. In fact, this research data shows that the SCC has cited precedents not only from the highest courts of the above states, but has also heavily referred precedents from lower apex courts. As shown in Figure 4, the 1,791 comparative precedents that the SCC cited in the 17-year period of this study, more than half of them (980 precedents, or 54.7% of all citations) were cases from ordinary lower courts.32

Figure 4 

Percentage of citation of comparative case law from highest and lower Courts.

Table 3 shows that the SCC has referred to decisions of lower courts from nine different nations, the most frequently cited being: UK courts (491), US (411), and Australia (55). Looking at these numbers, another argument that can be made is that the SCC is also open to transnational judicial dialogue with lower courts.33 Sceptics may argue that in its efforts to validate decisions already made (i.e., the ‘cherry picking’ process), the SCC will look everywhere it can.34 Regardless of the reasoning behind the citation of lower courts by the SCC, however, both scenarios prove the openness of the SCC to new ideas and solutions from abroad, which in turn opens the Court to legal globalization.

Table 3

SCC comparative case-law & the lower courts of other nations.

Lower Courts 2000 2001 2002 2003 2004 2005 2006 2007 2008 2009 2010 2011 2012 2013 2014 2015 2016 TOTAL

UK 38 39 56 27 42 20 24 36 34 37 15 22 13 21 22 22 23 491
US 58 33 52 8 34 22 37 15 18 15 29 13 26 28 21 2 411
Australia 2 13 7 1 6 6 2 1 3 1 3 3 5 2 55
N. Zealand 2 1 1 1 2 1 8
Belgium 5 2 7
France 1 3 4
Hong Kong 1 1 2
Ireland 1 1
Israel 1 1

In looking at SCC counterparts, or the apex courts of other nations cited by the Court, the data revealed that the SCC mentioned precedents from 13 different nations. Of these, the two most cited highest foreign courts are: The Supreme Court of the United States (SCOTUS) with 336 cases, and the House of Lords (now known as the Supreme Court of the UK) with 307 cases (Table 4).35

Table 4

SCC comparative case law & the highest courts of other nations.

HIGHEST COURTS 2000 2001 2002 2003 2004 2005 2006 2007 2008 2009 2010 2011 2012 2013 2014 2015 2016 TOTAL

SCOTUS 25 49 34 15 32 7 12 24 19 24 21 14 6 21 13 15 5 336
House of Lords/SCUK 14 19 21 19 14 12 9 22 34 21 21 21 8 26 25 10 11 307
Australia 3 4 10 1 3 2 6 8 3 4 9 8 4 4 69
New Zealand 3 13 2 1 4 1 2 2 1 2 7 1 39
South Africa 2 2 2 1 5 2 1 2 17
France 1 1 11 3 16
Israel 1 1 4 3 9
Ireland 1 2 2 2 7
Germany 1 2 3
Netherland 1 2 3
Hong Kong 1 1 2
India 2 2
Switzerland 1 1

Other highest foreign courts frequently cited by the SCC include the Australian apex court with 69 precedents; the New Zealand apex court with 39 precedents; the South African apex court with 17 precedents; France’s apex court with 16 precedents and the apex of Israel with 9 precedents.

3.1.2. Comparative law (laws of other nations)

As stated above, the second form of comparative legal sources cited by the SCC is formal legal acts passed by the legislative and executive branches of other foreign countries, such as constitutions, codes, statutes and regulations. Table 5 reveals that, during the 17 years of this study, the SCC cited such legal sources of other nations a total of 242 times. This is a significant number even within the 5,647 statutes and regulations cited by the SCC during the study period (including Canadian statutes and regulations and international treaties). Approximately 4.3% of all statutes and regulations quoted by the SCC in its decision making are comparative ones; or, put more simply, the SCC cites one primary source from another nation for approximately every 23 Canadian statutes and regulations.

Table 5

Citation of foreign constitutions, codes, statutes and regulations by the SCC per year.

COUNTRIES 2000 2001 2002 2003 2004 2005 2006 2007 2008 2009 2010 2011 2012 2013 2014 2015 2016 TOTAL

UK 3 7 10 1 3 8 4 12 1 2 5 6 3 7 9 6 12 99
US 1 4 4 3 3 2 14 6 2 4 4 6 3 5 5 1 2 69
Australia 2 3 1 2 1 1 5 3 5 4 2 8 3 40
New Zealand 1 1 3 1 1 1 1 1 1 11
France 3 3 1 1 8
South Africa 1 1 1 1 4
Ireland 1 1 2
Belgium 1 1
India 1 1
Rwanda 1 1
Romania 1 1
Germany 1 1
Spain 1 1
Portugal 1 1
Italy 1 1
Sweden 1 1
TOTAL 4 16 18 6 11 13 19 27 7 6 16 16 12 15 23 12 21 242

Another interesting finding is that the SCC has cited comparative law every year for the last 17 years (2000–2016). Table 5 illustrates that the SCC used a good number of foreign constitutions, statutes and regulations steadily throughout the analyzed years, with an average of 14 to 15 comparative law citations per year. The number of comparative law references per year ranged from four in 2000 (the lowest) to 27 in 2007.

Which countries’ laws does the SCC cite in its decisions? The present research shows that, just as with the citation of comparative precedents, the SCC has cited the constitutions, codes, statutes and regulations of other countries from all continents, except South America; in total 16 different foreign countries, including the UK, US, Australia, New Zealand, France, South Africa, Ireland, Belgium, Germany, India, Rwanda, Romania, Spain, Portugal, Italy and Sweden (Table 5). The comparative laws of the five countries referred the most are: the UK (99 times), the US (69), Australia (40), New Zealand (11) and France (8). It is interesting to note that the SCC has cited UK and US laws in every single year of the 17 years researched here, followed by Australia law (cited in 14 years). In addition, as with foreign precedents, the most cited comparative statutes and regulations were from the UK.

Table 5 reveals that the number of countries from which the Court referenced constitutions, codes, statutes and regulations is higher (16) than the number (14) from which it examined court judgments.36

Three notes observations follow: First, there are a number of countries to which the SCC refers for both comparative law and comparative case law (the UK, US, Australia, New Zealand, France, South Africa, Ireland, Belgium, India, and Germany). Second, the SCC has referred to several nations only for court decisions (Israel, Hong Kong, the Netherlands and Switzerland). Third, the SCC has cited a number of nations simply as references for their laws rather than their courts’ precedents (Rwanda, Romania, Spain, Portugal, Italy and Sweden).

Table 6 shows that the SCC has cited comparative law in 106 decisions, making an average of 6 to 7 decisions per year. The number of SCC decisions citing comparative law has remained constant, ranging between four percent of cases in 2003 (3 decisions) the lowest, and 20.4 percent in 2007 (11 decisions) the highest. This means that nearly one tenth of all SCC decisions cite laws of other nations, an average that was also maintained through 2016.

Table 6

SCC decisions citing foreign constitutions, codes, statutes and regulations per year.

YEAR Total Number of SCC Decisions per Year Number of SCC Decisions Citing Comparative Law per Year Number of SCC Decisions Citing Comparative Law per Year in Percentage

2000 69 4 5.8%
2001 94 6 6.4%
2002 86 7 8.1%
2003 75 3 4%
2004 82 6 7.3%
2005 86 6 7%
2006 59 6 10.2%
2007 54 11 20.4%
2008 72 5 6.9%
2009 62 6 9.7%
2010 67 6 9%
2011 66 8 12.1%
2012 75 7 9%
2013 73 6 8.2%
2014 78 9 11.6%
2015 69 5 7.2%
2016 56 5 8.9%
TOTAL 1223 106 Average/Year 9%

3.1.3. Field of law

In what fields of law is the SCC citing such comparative legal sources? The results outlined in Figure 5 revealed that the SCC cites foreign precedents not only in constitutional and international law cases as would be expected,37 but also in other 50 different fields of both public and private law.38 The 10 fields of law that have generated the highest number of foreign precedents are: constitutional law, torts, criminal law, insurance, intellectual property, civil procedure, administrative law, evidence, courts and labour law, ranging from 341 precedents (cited in constitutional law cases) to 52 precedents (cited in labour law cases).

Figure 5 

Top 10 fields with the highest number of citation of foreign case law.

The next question is: How many Court decisions citing comparative law correspond to each field of law? The results of this investigation revealed that not all fields attracted the same number of SCC judgments with comparative case law. The top three fields with the highest number of SCC judgments are: constitutional law, with 102 decisions (21.6%); criminal law, with 94 decisions (20%); and torts, with 36 decisions (7.6%). These numbers show that the current general perception that SCC judgments cite comparative case law only on constitutional cases is inaccurate. It is true that constitutional law judgments attract the largest number of foreign decisions, yet these cases constitute only about one fifth (21.6%) of all SCC judgments that cite foreign precedents. Besides criminal law and torts mentioned above (which together with constitutional law count for about 50%), the rest, in other words about 50% of SCC decisions who cite foreign judgments belong to other fields of law, such as administrative law and civil procedure (31 respectively); intellectual property (20); courts (19); insurance (17); evidence and contract law (13 respectively); international law (12).

Another important question is: In what fields does the SCC cite the laws of other nations? This research shows that the SCC has cited comparative laws in 32 different fields of law, of both public and private sphere.39 As can be seen in Table 7, the top three fields of law that have attracted the reference of comparative law are: constitutional law (124 times), criminal law (61 times), and intellectual property (27 times).

Table 7

Top 10 fields of law with the highest number of citation of foreign constitutions, codes, statutes and regulations.

FIELDS OF LAW Total Number of Citations of Comparative Law per Field of Law Percentage from the Total Number of Citations of Comparative Law

Constitutional Law 124 36%
Criminal Law 61 18%
Intellectual Property 27 8%
Administrative Law 22 6.5%
Evidence 14 4%
Civil Procedure 13 3.8%
Labour Law 13 3.8%
Torts 9 2.6%
International Law (Public & Private) 9 2.6%
Immigration Law 5 1.4%
Other (22 Fields of Law) 48 13.9%

But how are the comparative legal sources spread over the SCC decisions? Same as above, Table 8 shows that the top three fields of law which attract the most SCC decisions relying on comparative legal sources are: constitutional law (38 decisions, 25%), criminal law (26 decisions, 17%), and intellectual property (14 decisions, 9%).

Table 8

SCC decisions with foreign constitutions, codes, statutes and regulations & their fields of law.

FIELDS OF LAW Total Number of SCC Decisions with Comparative Law per Field of Law Percentage from the Total Number of Decisions per Field of Law

Constitutional Law 38 25%
Criminal Law 26 17.1%
Intellectual Property 14 9.2%
Administrative Law 11 7.2%
Civil Procedure 8 5.3%
Torts 8 5.3%
International Law (Public & Private) 7 4.6%
Evidence 6 3.9%
Immigration Law 3 2%
Courts 3 2%
Other (22 Fields of Law) 28 18.5%

3.2. Quantitative data on the citation of international legal sources

After comparative legal sources, the next essential category of non-domestic legal sources is international legal sources. Based on the categorization of sources and the way in which the SCC itself has classified these international legal sources, they can be divided into the subcategories of ‘international case law’ and ‘international treaties’.

3.2.1. Citation of international case law

International Case Law: — Although the reference of case law from international and supranational courts is far below the citation of courts of other nations, the SCC have cited such precedents in 54 different decisions over the 17 years of this research (Table 9). Simply put, the SCC cites the precedents of international courts in 3.2 percent of its total number of decisions per year. Despite the lower numbers compared to foreign judgments, the citation of international and supranational judgments were spread in 13 of the 17 years of this study.

Table 9

Citation of international case law by the SCC.

YEAR Total Nr of SCC Decisions Number of SCC Decisions Citing International/Supranational Case Law Total International/Supranational Case Law per Year

2000 69 0 0
2001 94 5 11
2002 86 4 7
2003 75 2 3
2004 82 4 4
2005 86 3 15
2006 59 0 0
2007 54 7 11
2008 72 2 5
2009 62 3 10
2010 67 5 11
2011 66 3 5
2012 75 0 0
2013 73 5 10
2014 78 5 23
2015 69 6 11
2016 56 0 0
TOTAL 1223 54 126
AVERAGE PER YEAR 71.9 3.2 7.4

This research shows that from 2000 to 2016, the Court cited 126 decisions of international and supranational courts, which are found in 54 different judgments of the SCC. In other words, the SCC cites on average 7.4 international/supranational precedents per year. As Table 9 shows, not all years exhibit the same extent of citation. The SCC cited the most international court precedents in 2005 and 2014, at 15 and 23 international precedents, respectively. In 2000, 2006, 2012 and 2016, the SCC did not cite any international or supranational case law at all.

Another important task of this research was to identify the international and supranational courts upon which the SCC has relied. The SCC cited precedents from most well reputed international courts with global jurisdiction, as well as international and supranational regional courts from across the globe. In other words, all the above numbers arguably demonstrate that the SCC is in a vertical and diagonal dialogue with international and supranational courts. By vertical dialogue, I define the interaction between national courts and/or judges (in this case of the SCC) with supranational or international courts and judges. Diagonal dialogue occurs between a national constitutional court and a regional or supranational court, but the state of that specific constitutional court is not a member of that particular international or supranational organization. The best example of this model is the conversation between the SCC and the European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR) or the Court of Justice of the European Union (CJEU).

As Table 10 shows, the SCC cited precedents of 14 different international and supranational courts (and quasi courts); the top three being, the European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR), the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia (ICTY), the International Court of Justice (ICJ). Another court with supranational character is the UK Privy Council, which was cited 34 times by the SCC. If included, this Court becomes the second most cited supranational Court, after the ECtHR. The reasons behind the citation of the Privy Council are not difficult to comprehend, stemming from the roots of Canadian juridical and historical tradition.40

Table 10

International/supranational courts cited by the SCC.

INT/NL COURTS 2000 2001 2002 2003 2004 2005 2006 2007 2008 2009 2010 2011 2012 2013 2014 2015 2016 TOTAL

ECtHR41 8 4 1 3 4 7 2 3 9 41 (32.5%)
ICTY42 1 6 1 3 2 13 (10.3%)
ICJ43 1 1 1 7 10 (7.9%)
CJEU44 2 6 8 (6.3%)
ICTR45 5 5 (3.9%)
ICC46 4 4 (3.2%)
IACHR47 4 4 (3.2%)
PCA48 1 1 2 (1.5%)
ECHR49 1 1 (0.8%)
PCIJ50 1 1(0.8%)
CEU51 1 1 (0.8%)
EPO52 1 1(0.8%)
UNHRC53 1 1 (0.8%)
JCPC54 3 1 3 2 1 4 5 6 3 3 2 1 34 (27%)

Besides the horizontal dialogue with foreign counterparts demonstrated in the above sections, Table 10 shows that the SCC participates also in a vertical and diagonal dialogue. Vertical dialogue consists of interaction with international courts and judges of international organizations of which Canada is a member (such as the ICJ); and diagonal dialogue takes place with regional or supranational courts of international organizations of which Canada is not a member and whose jurisprudence is not binding, for example the ECtHR. In fact, as Table 10 shows the most influential international court to the SCC is by far the ECtHR. This court has been cited 41 times (of 126 international/supranational precedents that SCC referred), comprising one third of the total number of all international citations. The reference of ECtHR case law can be explained by the Court’s global reputation in the realm of human rights.55 Some scholars consider it a ‘sort of world court of human rights,’56 that has surpassed by far the SCOTUS in terms of global influence.57 Another reason could be quantitative. The ECtHR has produced more decisions than all the other international or transnational courts.58 For instance, statistics show that in 2016 alone, the ECtHR issued 38,505 decisions and had a backlog of 79,750 cases.59 Arguably, with this volume of decisions, any court, including the SCC, can find cases and legal issues of interest. Thus, despite the fact that Canada is not a signatory of the European Convention of Human Rights, and that the judgments of ECtHR have only persuasive authority, those judgments have served as a significant point of reference,60 since 1986 when it all started.61 Other reasons why the SCC looks to the jurisprudence of the ECtHR may include common ground between the European Convention on Human Rights and the Canadian Charter, as well as their accessibility in English and French.

3.2.2. Citation of international treaties

International treaties, or simply ‘international law’ are the key form of international legal sources as defined by Article 38 of the Statute of International Court of Justice. International law includes international conventions, customs and the general principles of law recognized by civilized nations.62 In fact, the SCC has been classifying these distinctions separately in its judgments, and generally analyzes them in clear divided sections.63 However, as mentioned above, there are scholars, including those of Canadian origin, who are skeptical and critical of the SCC engagement with international law.64

With the above understanding of international treaties and the academic controversies in mind, one of the most important findings of this research was that the SCC referred international treaties during all 17 years of the study. The research data revealed that the SCC applied treaties from various global and regional international organizations, including bilateral treaties with other nations, a total 336 times. This number is even higher than the number of times that the SCC cited comparative statutes and regulations (242 times),65 and is significant even in the context of the 5,647 statutes and regulations mentioned by the Court during the 17-year research period. This means that for every 16 domestic statutes and regulations, the SCC cites one international treaty.

As Table 11 shows, the citation of international treaties by the SCC fluctuates from year to year, ranging from a maximum of 50 international treaties cited in 2002 to a low of 9 international treaties in 2008 and 2009. On average, the SCC referred international treaties approximately 20 times per year. However, in 2016 the SCC reached only half this average, citing only 11 international treaties.

Table 11

Citation of international treaties by the SCC.

YEAR Total Nr of SCC Decisions per Year Decisions Citing International Treaties Percentage of Decisions Citing International Treaties Total Nr of Citation of International Treaties per Year

2000 69 7 10.1% 11
2001 94 8 8.5% 45
2002 86 11 12.7% 50
2003 75 5 6.6% 10
2004 82 5 6.1% 20
2005 86 9 10.5% 18
2006 59 8 13.6% 14
2007 54 6 11.1% 13
2008 72 5 7% 9
2009 62 3 4.8% 9
2010 67 6 9% 14
2011 66 4 6% 11
2012 75 11 14.7% 15
2013 73 3 4.1% 16
2014 78 5 6.4% 37
2015 69 10 14.5% 33
2016 56 4 7.1% 11
AVERAGE 72 6.5 9% 19.8
TOTAL 1223 110 336

Another way to look at the extent international treaty citation by the SCC is to observe the number of SCC judgments per year that involve international instruments. Over the research period, the SCC cited international treaties in 110 different decisions. This means that the SCC cited international treaties for an average of 6 to 7 decisions per year, or one in every 10 decisions. Just as with the number of treaties, the number of SCC decisions that cited international treaties varied between years. The highest number of SCC decisions citing international treaties were recorded in 2002, 2012 and 2015, at approximately 12.7, 14.7 and 14.5 percent of the total decisions per year, respectively. The lowest numbers were recorded in 2009, 2011, 2013 and 2016, with only 3 to 4 decisions per year.

The next important question is: How many different international treaties cites the SCC, and what types of international treaties mentions the most? This research shows that the SCC has consulted 191 different international treaties not only those of global jurisdiction, but also regional and bilateral. This list of international treaties reveals that the SCC has cited international instruments from almost all the continents.66

Table 12 illustrates the top 10 most influential and often cited international legal documents. The top 3 most cited are: the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (cited 22 times); the Convention for the Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms [the European Convention on Human Rights] (15 times); and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (13 times). In total, these key international legal documents have been cited 107 times, accounting for almost one third of all 336 times that international treaties were used in the 17 years of this study.

Table 12

Top 10 international treaties cited by the SCC.

International Treaties Number of Times Cited

International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights 22
Convention for the Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms[The European Convention on Human Rights] 15
Universal Declaration of Human Rights 13
Convention on the Rights of the Child 12
Vienna Convention on the Law of Treaties 10
International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights 9
Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees 9
Berlin Convention for the Protection of Literary and Artistic Works 6
North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) 6
Convention (No. 87) Concerning Freedom of Association and Protection of the Right to Organize 5
(Other 181 International Treaties) 229
TOTAL 336

By consulting this list of the most cited international treaties, as well as the full 191 international documents cited by the SCC over the research period, it can be observed that the SCC has also cited international treaties that Canada has neither ratified nor is a member of their international organizations. The most notable instance constitutes also the second most cited international document by the SCC: the European Convention of Human Rights, which is the key supranational document of the European legal order on human rights. This document can be also considered as the ‘constitution’ of the ECtHR, which was also the most cited international court by the SCC.67 This shows that the SCC, in its effort to ensure justice, goes well beyond the formal legal sources of international jurisdiction of which Canada is part. This strengthens the argument that the SCC’s process of transnational judicial conversation and general globalization of the Court is influenced not just by formal legal documents of which Canada is part, but also through comparative and international documents with persuasive force. Such engagement shows the openness of the SCC towards the use of international law, as well as its movement from a dualist legal system towards a monist one on international law.68 This is helped by the fact that international covenants and human rights treaties weighed heavily in the drafting of the Canadian Charter.69

3.2.3. Field of law

As with the comparative legal sources, one of the most significant ambitions of this study was to discover how the citation of international legal sources was distributed among the SCC decisions in different fields of law.

According to Figure 6, the SCC has cited international precedents in 13 different fields of law of both public and private law. The three fields of law that attracted the highest number of international judgments are: constitutional law (78 times), immigration law (44), and criminal law (36).70 Looking at the citation of international judgments, from the perspective of the SCC decisions citing such precedents according to field of law, constitutional law decisions constitute the most often decisions which involve international judgments (41%), followed by immigration law, administrative law and criminal law, at approximately 8% each.

Figure 6 

SCC decisions citing international judgment according to fields of Law.

Besides international judgments, international treaties also are referred in many fields of law. More specifically, Figure 7 reveals that the SCC referred international treaties in 30 different fields of law, of both public and private realms.71

Figure 7 

SCC decisions citing international treaties and their fields of law.

4. Quantitative data based on individual judges

For a better understanding of the citation of non-domestic legal sources of a comparative and international nature by the SCC, it is important to go beyond the Court as an institution and look also at the roles of individual judges. In addition to the SCC as an institution, individual judges of this Court are key actors in the process of transnational judicial networks.72 They participate and contribute not only through the use of extra-judicial mechanisms, but also through legal ones by deciding whether and to what extent to engage with comparative and/or international legal sources. The key aim of this section is to find out whether and to what extent individual judges cite non-domestic legal sources (comparative or international) in their decision-making.

Immediately, it is important to acknowledge that all 21 judges of the SCC (13 former and 8 current)73 have cited some form of non-domestic legal sources in their decision writing and reasoning processes. This means that every current and former judge of the SCC has contributed, with his or her engagement with non-domestic legal sources, to the global profile of this Court. However, as noted above, it seems that not all the judges contributed the same amount or referred the same amount of non-domestic legal sources.74 A few were exceptional, having cited such legal sources several times more than the others.75 Yet, all these claims relate only to the citation of foreign judgments and do not rely on comprehensive empirical data that includes also the other three forms of non-domestic legal sources (comparative law, international case law and international treaties). Hence, this research seeks the full picture regarding the extent of citation of all forms of non-domestic legal sources by individual former and current justices of the SCC.

As Table 13 shows, the judge who referred the most formal non-domestic legal sources in the SCC is Justice Binnie. He cited these foreign sources 497 times during his 11 years and 10 months of service in the Court (within the 17-year timeframe of this study). The SCC judge with the second-highest citation of non-domestic legal sources was former Chief Justice McLachlin. She is the only judge to serve the entire 17 years included in this study, and during this period of time she cited non-domestic legal sources 393 times. The third most notable judge was Justice LeBel. During his 14 years and 11 months of service (within the timeframe of this study), he cited non-domestic legal sources 371 times. The judges with the lowest citation of non-domestic legal sources are all current judges: Justice Wagner (now CJ), Justice Gascon, and Justice Brown. During his 4 years and 3 months in the Court, Justice Wagner has cited non-domestic legal sources 30 times. Justice Gascon has cited 22 non-domestic legal sources within a timeframe of 2 years and 7 months, and Justice Brown has cited non-domestic legal sources 20 times in the 16 months that he has served in the Court.

Table 13

Data about the total number of citation of non-domestic legal sources by individual judges of the SCC (2000–2016).

Judges Total Number of Times Citing Non-Domestic Legal Sources Period Served(within my timeframe) Time Served in Months

Binnie 497 (01.01.2000–20.10.2011) 142
Chief Justice McLachlin 393 (07.01.2000–31.12.2016) (Current) 204
LeBel 371 (07.01.2000–30.11.2014) 179
Abella 248 (30.08.2004–31.12.2016) (Current) 148
Bastarache 190 (01.01.2000–30.06.2008) 102
Cromwell 183 (22.12.2008–31.08.2016) 92
Deschamps 180 (07.08.2002–07.08.2012) 120
Rothstein 126 (01.03.2006–30.08.2015) 114
Charron 123 (30.08.2004–30.08.2011) 84
Iacobucci 115 (01.01.2000–30.06.2004) 54
Fish 111 (05.08.2003–31.08.2013) 121
Arbour 97 (01.01.2000–30.06.2004) 54
Major 96 (01.01.2000–25.12.2005) 72
L’Heureux-Dubé 72 (01.01.2000–01.07.2002) 30
Gonthier 65 (01.01.2000–31.07.2003) 43
Moldaver 55 (21.10.2011–31.12.2016) (Current) 62
Coté 53 (01.12.2014–31.12.2016) (Current) 25
Karakatsanis 38 (21-10-2011–31.12.2016) (Current) 62
Wagner 30 (05-10-2012–31.12.2016) (Current) 51
Gascon 22 (09-06-2014–31.12.2016) (Current) 31
Brown 20 (31.08.2015–31.12.2016) (Current) 16

However, as Table 13 shows, a fair critique of the above numbers is that not all former and current judges have served the same amount of time within the Court, and therefore it is difficult to evaluate by numbers alone. To create a better and fairer picture of the citation of non-domestic legal sources by each individual judge requires the calculation of average citation per month, done so by dividing the number of times that each judge cited non-domestic legal sources by the number of months served in the Court during the research period.

Table 14 classifies the judges according to this average; the judge with the highest citation of non-domestic legal sources per month was still Justice Binnie, with an average of 3.5 foreign sources per month. The second and third rankings fell to Justice Dube, with an average of 2.4 foreign sources per month; and Justice Iacobucci, with 2.129 sources per month. Former Chief Justice McLachlin, who was the second highest judge in terms of total number of citation, fell to seventh place under this more accurate system with her average of 1.92 non-domestic sources per month. The three judges with the lowest averages of citation per month are Justice Gascon with 0.7 sources per month, Justice Karakatsanis with 0.61 sources per month and Justice (now CJ) Wagner with 0.58 sources per month.

Table 14

Classification of SCC judges according to the average of citation per month of non-domestic legal sources (2000–2016).

Judges Average of Citation per Month Number of Times Citing Non-Domestic Legal Sources

Binnie 3.5 497
L’Heureux-Dubé 2.4 72
Iacobucci 2.129 115
Coté 2.12 53
LeBel 2.07 371
Cromwell 1.98 182
Chief Justice McLachlin 1.92 393
Bastarache 1.86 190
Arbour 1.79 97
Abella 1.67 233
Gonthier 1.51 42
Deschamps 1.5 180
Charron 1.46 123
Major 1.33 96
Brown 1.25 20
Rothstein 1.1 125
Fish 0.91 109
Moldaver 0.88 55
Gascon 0.7 22
Karakatsanis 0.61 38
Wagner 0.58 29

It is interesting to note that the three judges with the lowest average of non-domestic legal source citation are all current judges, while the top three were all former judges. Perhaps even more intriguing is that nearly all the other current SCC judges rank on the bottom half of the total classification list; the only two current judges to appear on the top half of the list are Justice Coté, who scored fourth and is the first from all the current judges, and former Chief Justice McLachlin, who as stated above scored seventh.

By comparing the average numbers of the current judges to those of the former ones, it seems that the SCC is moving from a court with a high citation of non-domestic legal sources towards one that arguably is more sceptical about global legal sources. Someone can argue that these numbers can explain why the SCC appears to have become less ‘globalist,’ and is perhaps a fair explanation. When the SCC is comprised of judges who are sceptical towards the reference of non-domestic legal sources, no doubt the entire institution and its decision-making processes will become more so as well.

The significance of this shift is even more evident when looking at Table 14, comparing the averages per month of the top three judges (all former judges with an average of approximately 2.6 non-domestic legal sources per year) with the three bottom judges (all current judges with an average of 0.6 sources per month). The difference is still 4–5 times more citation of non-domestic legal sources, by the former judges.

Even when looking at Table 15, which compares the 13 former judges with the 8 current ones, the data shows that the former judges have cited on average 1.8 sources per month (2226 non-domestic legal sources in total) while the current judges average 1.2 sources per month (859 sources in total). This comparative picture shows that the current judges cite non-domestic legal sources on average 1.5 times less than the former judges.

Table 15

Comparing current justices with former justices on the citation of non-domestic legal sources.

CURRENT JUDGES Nr of Times Citing Non-Domestic Legal Sources Average of Citation per Month

Coté 53 2.12
Chief Justice McLachlin 393 1.92
Abella 248 1.67
Brown 20 1.25
Moldaver 55 0.88
Gascon 22 0.7
Karakatsanis 38 0.61
Wagner 30 0.58
TOTAL 859 1.21
FORMER JUDGES Nr of Times Citing Non-Domestic Legal Sources Average of Citation per Month

Binnie 497 3.5
Iacobucci 115 2.129
Cromwell 183 1.98
LeBel 371 2.07
L’Heureux-Dubé 72 2.4
Bastarache 190 1.86
Charron 123 1.46
Major 96 1.33
Arbour 97 1.79
Deschamps 180 1.5
Gonthier 65 1.46
Rothstein 126 1.1
Fish 111 0.91
TOTAL 2226 1.8

The picture becomes even more troubling considering that one of the most ‘globalist’ judge, former Chief Justice McLachlin, who has cited non-domestic legal sources almost same as all the other current justices combined,76 retired on December 2017.77 Without her, the average of citation per month of the current Court would drop significantly to an average of 1.1 foreign legal sources per month, approximately two times less than the average of all former judges.

This becomes even more worrisome in the context of the special role that the Chief Justice has on the transnational judicial dialogue and on the global reputation of the Court. The Chief Justice represents the Court in the global arena and is the most important actor in its communications with other foreign courts, judges and transnational institutions. Having lost a highly ‘globalist’ Chief Justice who referred extensively to non-domestic legal sources, one might argue that there is a risk that the SCC may be on the verge of forfeiting its international reputation and influence in the global arena, currently valued by domestic and foreign scholars,78 judges,79 and even domestic politicians.80 As Hirschl elegantly describes the role of the SCC in the global arena, the ‘constitutional thought of every variety is now one of Canada’s main intellectual exports.’81

In fact, from a strictly quantitative perspective, it seems that Wagner, the new Chief Justice of the SCC, refers to non-domestic legal sources 3–4 times less often than Former Chief Justice McLachlin.82 However, it is impossible and even unfair to assess the ‘globalist’ profile of a court, or an individual judge by focusing only on the formal or juridical dialogue occurring through the exchange of legal sources, be it international or comparative. This is indeed only the ‘tip of the iceberg.’ As the last section of this paper clarifies, other forms of extra-judicial transnational judicial interactions and conversations are occurring, which are much more real and dynamic, and are occurring at both institutional and judge-individual levels.

To form a more detailed view of the individual justices’ citation of non-domestic legal sources, their approaches to each of the four forms of non-domestic legal sources were examined. As a general note, it is important to acknowledge that not all current and former justices of the SCC have referred to an extensive variety of all forms of non-domestic legal sources; however, the majority of them have done so. As Table 16 shows, 16 of the 21 justices have cited all four types of non-domestic legal sources. Of the five justices that have not cited all four types of foreign sources, four of them (Justice Iacobucci, Justice Gascon, Justice Brown and Justice Arbour) cited three of the above four non-domestic legal sources (except for international case law). Justice Coté was the only judge to cite only comparative case law and international treaties (omitting international case law and comparative statutes and regulations). It is interesting to note also that of the eight judges who did not cite all forms of non-domestic legal sources, five are current judges.

Table 16

Total citation of all four forms of non-domestic legal sources according to individual judges.

JUDGES Comparative Case Law International Case Law Comparative Statutes and Regulations International Treaties

Binnie 372 18 49 58
McLachlin 231 20 58 84
LeBel 208 44 35 84
Abella 164 21 38 25
Bastarache 116 12 19 43
Cromwell 130 5 24 24
Deschamps 129 14 13 24
Rothstein 91 1 11 23
Charron 85 12 21 5
Iacobucci 102 0 5 8
Fish 57 21 17 16
Arbour 87 0 8 2
Major 71 12 8 5
L’Heureux-Dubé 35 2 11 24
Gonthier 33 4 13 15
Moldaver 27 2 10 16
Coté 33 0 0 20
Karakatsanis 26 1 9 2
Wagner 26 1 2 1
Gascon 20 0 1 1
Brown 14 0 2 4

4.1. Spectrum of individual judges: from ‘globalist’ to ‘localist’

Finally, with these rankings in mind, the question remains: Is it possible to classify the current and former justices of the SCC based on their approaches towards the citation of non-domestic legal sources? In other words, can we categorize these judges as ‘globalists’ or ‘localists’ based on the data seen here?83

Before attempting any categorization, it is important to note that the goal of this section is to suggest a spectrum based on the amount of citation of non-domestic legal sources, and not to provide clear-cut categories. Yet even this spectrum has its limitations, because assessing how engaged in the transnational network of courts and how ‘globalist’ or ‘localist’ a judge is, constitutes a much more complex task than simply looking at their commitment to non-domestic legal sources. There are various objective factors that do not depend on the judge, but can significantly shape these numbers, including: the type of cases they are given to write, their duration on the Court, their law clerks’ ability to locate relevant non-domestic legal sources, and the role of parties, their counsel, and interveners in introducing such foreign sources. One interviewed judge explains how SCC judges differ in their engagement with non-domestic legal sources, and whether such engagement expresses the ‘globalist’ or ‘localist’ mindset of judges:

There are many reasons for the engagement or non-engagement with non-Canadian legal sources. First, we have to realize that … until last year, it was the Chief Justice who decided which judge was going to write each decision. The nature of the case is key, because, obviously, you cannot involve non-domestic legal sources, foreign or international, in every case. There are only specific cases that have that potential. And if you are not called to write on those decisions, of course you will not appear in the list of judges who referred to such sources. Second, it depends on whether you are with the majority or minority. Third, it depends whether it [the case] comes from Quebec, or another province. That can certainly have an impact on how much a judge is contributing. Fourth, the number of years that judges have served in the Court also plays a role. The longer a judge serves, the more confident is the judge with non-domestic legal sources. Fifth, many references to international or foreign legal sources will be found by the clerks. So, clerks play an important role in presenting these sources to the judge. To sum up, there are many factors that [influence] whether and to what extent a judge engages with non-domestic legal sources.84

Indeed, as the same judge noted: ‘Just looking at the numbers cannot tell you much, because these numbers may misguide you on how a judge perceives the role of foreign legal sources in our decision-making.’85 In addition, the ‘globalist’ or ‘localist’ mindset of a judge cannot be limited simply on the citation of non-domestic legal sources. Indeed, assessing how engaged in the transnational network of courts and how ‘globalist’ or ‘localist’ a judge is, constitutes a much more complex task than just looking at their commitment to non-domestic legal sources. Besides the usage of formal legal tools, judges utilize also extra-judicial mechanism to network and enter into dialogues with their counterparts, such as: face-to-face meetings, judicial associations and organizations, judicial training institutions and electronic networks.86 Judges’ participation in these extrajudicial activities certainly adds to their profile.

However, just by looking at the above data, Table 17 shows that the 21 former and current justices of the SCC can be placed on a spectrum that divides into three identifiable groups.87

In the first group are the top seven justices with the highest averages of citation of non-domestic legal sources per month. They are: Justice Binnie, Justice L’Heureux-Dubé, Justice Iacobucci, Justice Coté, Justice LeBel, Justice Cromwell, and former Chief Justice McLachlin. These justices with high reference of non-domestic legal sources can also be labeled as highly globalist justices. It is interesting to note that in this top group, only two are current justices, former Chief Justice McLachlin and Justice Coté. However, as we mentioned above, although in terms of average of citation per month (in service) Justice Coté appears to be at the first group, she has only cited judgments of foreign courts and international treaties.88 This can certainly question her merits to belong in the first group.

In the second group are the middle seven justices with a medium average of citation of all types of non-domestic legal sources per month. They are: Justice Bastrache, Justice Arbour, Justice Abella, Justice Gonthier, Justice Deschamps, Justice Charron, and Justice Major. These justices with a moderate citation of non-domestic legal sources can also be labeled as moderately globalist justices.89 Once again, it is worthy to mention that in this middle group, only one is current justice (Justice Abella), while the other six are former justices.

Table 17 reveals that the last group is comprised of the seven justices with the lowest average of citation of non-domestic legal sources per month. They are: Justice Brown, Justice Rothstein, Justice Fish, Justice Moldaver, Justice Gascon, Justice Karakatsanis and Justice Wagner. These justices with a low number of citations of non-domestic legal sources, despite the limitations of assessing by these numbers alone mentioned above, may be labeled as localist justices.

Table 17 

Spectrum of SCC judges according to their citation of non-domestic legal sources (2000–2016) (average per month).

Looking at this group, it stands out that the absolute majority (5 out of 7) are current justices of the SCC. Moreover, the three bottom justices with the lowest averages of references are all current justices (Justice Gascon, Justice Karakatsanis and current Chief Justice Wagner). As noted previously, their combined average was 4–5 times lower than the average of the top three justices (all former), which is one of the ways to explain the different approach of the current Court towards the citation of non-domestic legal sources. Such findings seem to be in agreement with some of the existing literature. One researcher who wrote extensively about the globalization of the SCC, in referring to a personal interview with a judge of the SCC, observed rightly that, ‘the interest of the [SCC] judges in international consensus, and in foreign law as such, has faded over the years.’90

5. Instead of a conclusion: is this the judicial slowbalization of the court?

By empirically analyzing all the judgments of the SCC between 2000–2016, I demonstrated that the SCC and its judges extensively engaged with all forms of non-domestic sources, be it international or of foreign nations. The data show that the Court has indeed a global consciousness. However, more detailed numbers indicate that there is a ‘slowbalization,’ or in other words, a decrease of the use of non-domestic sources in the latest year. The reasons for the decline may vary, and may be external and/or internal, however, they are beyond the scope of this paper. Yet, it is worth it to touch some of the main possible explanations of such a judicial slowbalization of the SCC, since they are directly connected with the motives why courts and judges engaged with non-domestic sources in the first place.

The main reasons why judges cite foreign counterparts are pragmatic, such as their desire to learn more, to become better judges, and to more easily resolve difficult cases. With the growth of Canadian jurisprudence, SCC judges have fewer motives to cite from the decisions of their counterparts. Historical context is another important explanation. The cross-citation of case law is quite common, particularly among former colonial powers and their colonies, which explains the high number of citation of British jurisprudence and jurisprudence of other developed Commonwealth countries such as Australia and New Zealand. At the earlier years the intensity of this process was particularly influenced by the colonial and post-colonial legislation, which later diminished. Other reasons for the use of foreign legal sources are based on legal tradition, language, strong ties in economy, culture, education, politics, geography, and of course the reputation of the foreign court. The US Supreme Court is the best example, the influence of which increased across the globe, and became an important point of reference for the SCC, particularly after the Canadian Charter entered into force.91

Overall, the reasons for use or non-use of foreign legal sources are diverse and complex, with relevance in history, legal tradition, politics, economy, culture, language, education, geography and even judicial behaviour.92 Indeed, as the section on individual judges suggest, the extent of use of non-domestic legal sources depends heavily on the judicial behaviour of individual judges, which means, their judicial philosophy, education, knowledge of foreign languages, previous experience, and participation in dialogue with foreign counterparts.

As a matter of fact, the SCC and its judges are increasingly engaged in a genuine conversation with foreign counterparts, the extent of which is far greater than the metaphorical ‘dialogue’ that occurs through the use of formal non-domestic legal sources. Often such interactions establish permanent networks of courts and judges, which provide them with greater opportunities to interact with one another. SCC participates in court-to-court institutional relationships in several forms, including the establishment of regular bilateral relationships with foreign counterparts, joining transnational courts associations and organizations, and hosting occasional visits from different foreign courts. Each of the forms of institutional court-to-court exchanges is essential to the transnational judicial conversation, showing that the Court plays a broader role, venturing outside the legal realm to participate in the diplomatic arena.93

In addition to the court-to-court relationships, there is another very powerful set of mechanisms that helps to bring the SCC’s participation in the transnational judicial conversation to another level, the transnational judicial conversation of individual justices. Judges are increasingly participating in face-to-face meetings with foreign counterparts, joining transnational judicial associations, contributing in transnational judicial training and other legal education institutions, and even establishing and participating in electronic judicial networks. All these forms of interactions, from both Court’s-institutional and individual-judge perspectives, are vital for understanding the different dimension and complexity of transnational judicial dialogue.

To conclude, the ‘globalist’ or ‘localist’ profile of a court cannot be evaluated solely by its engagement with non-domestic legal sources, be they international or comparative. In fact, extra-judicial interacting activities of courts and judges are even more essential for the development of relationships with foreign courts and for building a ‘globalist’ profile. The SCC and its judges certainly understand the importance of these activities, which is why they have been so engaged in them, particularly over the last two decades. The SCC and its justices seem to be highly committed to establishing institutional and individual-judge relationships with foreign and transnational courts and judges from various parts of the globe. Despite the ‘slowbalization’ as the new trend of general globalization,94 if the SCC wishes to maintain a central and high profile in the global network of courts, the Court as an institution and its individual judges must carefully continue to engage not just with non-domestic legal sources of both international and comparative nature, but also in real conversation with their counterparts. The effects of these interactions and dialogue appear to be a significant factor fostering the evolution of the role of judges from interpreters of the law, to policy-makers, and finally to their modern role as diplomats, networkers and crucial actors in foreign relations, roles that certainly cannot continue without debate.