National Post

Page URL:

Wednesday, March 24, 1999

Supreme Court set to rule on 4 key social issues cases
Judgments due same day: Judges will hand down decision on oldest case on the top court's books

Janice Tibbetts
Southam News

The Supreme Court of Canada, after a relatively quiet winter in which it handed down few verdicts, will release four wide-ranging decisions Thursday that could reach into the lives of many Canadians.

The nine justices will touch on high-profile social issues, including divorce, spousal support, pensions, age discrimination, aboriginal rights and even what information can be divulged about a person charged with a crime.

Perhaps the most monumental ruling will be in the battle of Frank and Sharon Bracklow, a divorced British Columbia couple who were married for six years.

The high court, in a case closely watched by family lawyers, will set out to define the meaning of short-term marriages by determining what support, if any, a healthy spouse owes a sick one when a relationship falls apart.

The judges will also hand down a decision in the oldest case currently on the Supreme Court books: a challenge heard more than 14 months ago about Nancy Law, who the Federal Court of Canada ruled was too young to collect her husband's federal government pension because she was only 30 years old when he died.

The court found the age-discrimination case was important enough that it decided late last year on a re-hearing because a full complement of judges was not sitting at the time of the January, 1998, appeal.

Another potentially significant decision to come down will be in a rare case that has been cloaked in complete secrecy. Even the names, Jones and Smith, are pseudonyms. It's only the third time in the court's 124-year-old history that it has imposed a complete gag order, which could be lifted tomorrow.

The only publishable information so far is that the case originated in British Columbia and deals with solicitor-client privilege.

A fourth decision Thursday will deal with an aboriginal-rights case heard last fall. The court will rule on whether traditional hunting and fishing rights in rural Saskatchewan should override the efforts of the provincial government to protect natural areas.

The Supreme Court does not normally release four significant judgments on the same day, but it is certainly not unheard of that it would hand down several of varying importance. The last time it did so was in late January.

Related Sites

The Supreme Court of Canada
Canada's top court on the Web.

Jurist Canada
The leading judicial website.

Supreme Court decisions
Link to the decisions once they're handed down.

Copyright Southam Inc.