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Charter of Rights and Freedoms, Economic Rights, Poverty, Social Policy, Contextual Approach, Judicial Decision Making


While the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms has had a major impact on Canada’s political landscape in its first 25 years, its impact on social and economic rights has been minimal. The courts should assume a larger role in advancing the rights of the many Canadians living in poverty and despair.

Judges have traditionally regarded matters of social and economic policy as falling within the expertise of the legislative and executive branches of the state. The Charter has done little to dispel that view. The elected branches of the state must continue to play a major role, but the courts need to also carve out a role, recognizing that many of our most basic civil and political rights have important social and economic dimensions.

Courts led by the example of the Supreme Court of Canada have moved beyond the arid legalism of the past to embrace a more contextual approach to judicial decision-making in all areas, but especially the interpretation of the constitution. The social and economic realm offers an appropriate, albeit challenging, extension of this contextual analysis.


This is an author's manuscript of an article published in The Lawyer's Weekly on April 17, 2009.