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Monday, March 2, 2015

The Supreme Court of Canada makes up the law

Most Supreme Court of Canada judgments that make the news involve the Charter or the Constitution. But the Court’s judgment in Bhasin, cheerfully reported some months ago, had nothing to do with the Charter or the Constitution. It was an apparently mundane common law contract case, of no interest to anyone but the parties. Even for the parties the result must matter surprisingly little. The $87,000 in damages the Court awarded Bhasin will leave him little better off, after bearing some of the costs and the stress of 11 years of litigation, than if he had not bothered to sue. The defendant is a fair sized business for which some embarrassment may be more important than the damages and large costs is must pay.

The importance of the case is the Supreme Court of Canada ‘making law,’ something courts reportedly do, though how or why is little understood. The Court was very forward in proclaiming that new law was needed and that it would make it. The provincial legislatures are responsible for contract law under the Constitution and have passed many acts altering the common law. But why bother the legislatures when the courts stand ready to pass laws in their stead?


The issue in Bhasin was either quite simple, as the Alberta Court of Appeal saw it in dismissing his case in 11 pages, or wonderfully rich and obscure as the trial judge and the Supreme Court of Canada made it in 90 and 50 pages respectively.

Bhasin had a contract with Can-Am to market Can-Am’s RESPs in Alberta as an ‘enrollment director.’ He was making quite a success of it. Bhasin’s contract was not exclusive and one Hrynew had an identical contract and wanted to merge with or take over Bhasin’s business. Can-Am got on well with Hrynew, and when the Alberta Securities Commission had questions about Can-Am’s operations, it chose Hrynew to deal with the questions. Bhasin objected to Hrynew peering into his business, though there was nothing in his contract or the general law to sustain his objection. In the course of dealing with Bhasin about these matters Can-Am said some things that were not true or misleading and was less than frank with him. There was no evidence that Bhasin conducted himself differently because of that.

Bhasin’s contract was for three years, to renew automatically unless either party gave six months notice that it would not renew it. Can-Am gave Bhasin the six months notice. Bhasin had to close his business and sued.

The Court of Appeal saw it, as it might have appeared to a competent solicitor asked to review the contract, as an open and shut case. Can-Am had invoked the non-renewal term of the contract and that was an end of the matter.

The trial judge had seen it differently. In a three week trial every twist and turn of the dealings of Bhasin, Can-Am and Hrynew with each other and Bhasin’s hopes for his business had been gone into. She found that Can-Am had not dealt with Bhasin in ‘good faith’ and awarded him almost $400,000 in damages on the basis that Bhasin would have made about that if Can-Am had let his contract run until his planned retirement at age 65. As the Court of Appeal pointed out, the effect was to make a three year contract as much as a 40 to 50 year contract for a young enrollment director.


The Supreme Court of Canada’s new law says that parties to a contract have a ‘duty to perform their contractual obligations honestly.’ Who could object to that? But what does it mean? One might have thought that it would mean that parties must observe the terms of the contract. If I contract with you to deliver two dozen apples on Wednesday it won’t do to deliver two dozen oranges or deliver two dozen apples on Tuesday or Thursday. And if I contract with you to clean my eaves for three years renewable subject to six months notice you must expect that I may give you notice if I think someone else would do a better job or simply don’t like the cut of your jib.

The trial judge had said the parties to a contract must act in ‘good faith,’ referring to specific requirements of good faith in specific types of contract in common law and legislation. The Supreme Court of Canada said ‘good faith’ is an ‘organising principle,’ but its new law is, as I set out above, a requirement of honest performance.

Bhasin’s lawyers argued at the trial that Can-Am had to have a ‘good reason’ not to renew his contract, which doesn’t get us very far. The trial judge neither accepted nor rejected this argument, but held that Can-Am had acted in bad faith in not renewing his contract because he refused to merge with Hrynew. This presumably was a ‘bad reason.’ But why? Can-Am presumably thought their business would do better if Hrynew and Bhasin merged and, finally, if Bhasin went and Hrynew picked up the pieces. It was surely not for the courts to second guess Can-Am’s business judgment.

The trial judge also held that the purpose of the contract was was to ‘allow Bhasin to establish and operate an agency selling Can-AmFC products.’ Well of course that was one of its purposes, but its main purpose was to set the terms on which Bhasin could sell Can-Am’s products, what he could sell, where, following which procedures, for what compensation and for how long. The trial judge implies that that must have been forever, despite the precise wording in the contract on which Can-Am relied. Was it good faith on Bhasin’s part to insist that he be kept on?

The Supreme Court of Canada refers to academic writings on ‘good faith’ expressing dissatisfaction with the requirement of good faith in specific types of contract without a general requirement of good faith. Why should there be a requirement of good faith in employment contracts, insurance contracts and franchise agreements and not in all? The answer is that in these specific types of contract, rightly or wrongly, the courts or the legislatures felt the need and gave it a meaning in the specific context.

Most of the ‘authorities’ cited by the Court were writings of law professors, some by one of Bhasin’s counsel. The Court could not base its decision on old cases or statutes. If the ‘new duty’ it proclaimed could be found in old cases it would not be new.

But law professors, resentful of their light duties in training would be lawyers, spend their well paid spare time musing on what the law should be. Standing apart from the practical world and accountable to no one, they must find fault with the law as it is, what they are supposed to know and teach, and subject it to theoretical correction. Some times, with little experience of the practice of law, they become judges. Their favoured students become clerks to judges all the way up to the Supreme Court of Canada. They mix with judges at select conferences. They review judges’ reasons as they do their students’ essays. The media unthinkingly turn to them for ‘expert’ commentary. The public think when they are telling us what they fancy the law should be that they are telling us what it is.

When courts make law, they do not set it out as legislatures would in a statute, with sections and subsections and definitions. You have to find it in their reasons for judgment. When courts are properly making law, settling an unsettled point, it is usually easy enough to do. But when they are enunciating a broad principle, as the Court does in Bhasin, it opens up endless speculation as to what the law may be or how it will apply in any specific case.

‘Hard cases make bad law’ is an oft quoted old saying. It means that in cases where sympathy may be on one side but the law on the other, courts may be tempted to change the law to suit their sympathy in the case but in doing so damage the law. It is plain that the trial judge and the Supreme Court of Canada did not like the defendants and felt sympathy for Bhasin. Whether this was fair we can’t really know, because the case was not actually about whether Can-Am was nasty and Bhasin nice and the trial might still be going on if it had been. The Court of Appeal evinced no sympathy for any of the parties and simply applied the law as it was.

The Supreme Court of Canada proclaimed its duty to ‘develop the common law to keep in step with the “dynamic and evolving fabric of our society…”’ What exactly has happened to society to demand the new law the Court has proclaimed? Was honest performance of contracts not such a good idea fifty or a hundred years ago? Or is it simply that people were so much more honest then that no legal requirement of honesty was required?


The trial judge found that Can-Am had not acted in good faith in two respects:
261 … First, Can-AmFC breached the 1998 Agreement when it required Bhasin to submit to an audit by Hrynew, and when it required Bhasin to provide Hrynew with access to his business records for this purpose. Second, Can-AmFC breached the 1998 Agreement when it exercised the non-renewal provision in bad faith. Specifically, Can-AmFC used the non-renewal clause because of Bhasin’s failure to submit to an audit by Hrynew, and used the non-renewal clause to force Bhasin into a position where he had to either merge agencies with Hrynew or leave the organization. Can-AmFC acted dishonestly toward Bhasin in exercising the nonrenewal clause. This conduct amounts to a breach of the implied term of good faith by Can-AmFC.

Can-Am ‘breached the 1998 agreement’ in requiring Bhasin to submit to an audit. What provision did it breach? She doesn’t say because it did not breach any provision of the agreement. It only breached the ‘good faith’ provision that she was inventing in 2011. And what specifically that provision meant she doesn’t say except that it didn’t permit Can-Am to require Bhasin to submit to an audit by Hrynew.

And how exactly did Can-Am act dishonestly in invoking a non-renewal provision in the contract that before Bhasin’s case it was entitled to invoke at its absolute discretion?

While one can understand why Bhasin wouldn’t like a competitor whom he obviously didn’t like examining his records and would be upset at having his contract not renewed, there was no evidence that the one would have done him any harm or that the other would not have been as upsetting had it happened, as it might well have, without the long and unpleasant course of dealings between Can-Am and Bhasin that forms the basis of the trial judge’s finding of bad faith.

The trial judge’s basically concludes that Can-Am had decided to rid itself of Bhasin some time before it gave him notice of non-renewal and kept that from him.
256 … The evidence establishes that Can-AmFC decided to restructure by merging the agencies of Hrynew and Bhasin earlier than June 2000. It was certainly open to Can-AmFC in good faith to restructure its organization in Alberta.…It was also open to Can-AmFC to adopt a business strategy that did not include Bhasin’s agency. Can-AmFC certainly was not obligated under the 1998 Agreement to continue the contractual relationship forever.

257 However, Can-AmFC was obligated under the 1998 Agreement to exercise the non-renewal clause in a way that respected Bhasin’s interests to a standard of good faith - this means honestly, reasonably and fairly. This does not mean that Can-AmFC could not use the non-renewal clause to end the contractual relationship with Bhasin. A strategic decision to restructure could be a reasonable use of the non-renewal clause. Can-AmFC was obligated, however, to go about exercising the non-renewal clause and implement the restructuring in a way that respected Bhasin’s interests.…

258 Can-AmFC acted dishonestly with Bhasin throughout the events in question. Can-AmFC did not explain to Bhasin that Can-AmFC was intending to nor that it had already proposed the new structure to the ASC. Can-AmFC did not communicate to Bhasin that the decision was already made and final. Can-AmFC did not communicate with Bhasin that it was working closely with Hrynew to bring about a new corporate structure with Hrynew being the main agency in Alberta. Had Can-AmFC done so, Bhasin could have governed himself accordingly so as to retain the value in his agency throughout the process. Bhasin did not realize he was being pushed out until it was too late.

What ‘good faith’ amounts to in the instance according to the trial judge then is that a party to a contract automatically renewable subject to non-renewal on specific notice, must keep the other party apprised of its thinking on renewal and give notice of non-renewal as soon as it decides not to renew, whatever the specified notice period may be in the contract. There are obvious reasons why reasonable and honest people might not want to do that. They are stuck with the guy for however long the contract says and they’d rather he worked in hopes than knew he was for the chop and slacked off and started looking elsewhere. The whole point of such a contract as Bhasin had was to give the parties a three year’s commitment and an agreed, and reasonable, notice period if they wanted to end the relationship.

The Supreme Court of Canada referred with approval to an American case
[87]…United Roasters, Inc. v. Colgate-Palmolive Co., 649 F.2d 985 (4th Cir. 1981). The terminating party had decided in advance of the required notice period that it was going to terminate the contract. The court held that no disclosure of this intention was required other than what was stipulated in the notice requirement. The court stated:
. . . there is very little to be said in favor of a rule of law that good faith requires one possessing a right of termination to inform the other party promptly of any decision to exercise the right. A tenant under a month-to-month lease may decide in January to vacate the premises at the end of September. It is hardly to be suggested that good faith requires the tenant to inform the landlord of his decision soon after January. Though the landlord may have found earlier notice convenient, formal exercise of the right of termination in August will do. [pp. 989-90]
United Roasters makes it clear that there is no unilateral duty to disclose information relevant to termination. But the situation is quite different, as I see it, when it comes to actively misleading or deceiving the other contracting party in relation to performance of the contract.

So according to the Supreme Court of Canada you don’t have to tell someone as soon as you have decided to terminate a contract, but you mustn’t string him along, let him think everything’s OK when you really plan to terminate. Despite the trial judge’s finding, one may question whether Can-Am did actually decide to terminate Bhasin about a year before it gave notice. If that’s what the case turns on, and it may appear it does, there are two problems. When you actually decide to do something is a tricky psychological question. Some would argue you don’t actually decide to do anything until you actually do it. And at the time of the trial no one could have known that that tricky question was what the case turned on.

What does ‘Bhasin could have governed himself accordingly so as to retain the value in his agency throughout the process. Bhasin did not realize he was being pushed out until it was too late.’ mean? ‘Too late’ for what? Too late to slack off and start laying the groundwork for some other business? The trial judge is a bit vague about the terms of the contract but says they ‘suggest’ that Bhasin should ‘devote all necessary time and effort to’ selling Can-Am’s products. Had Can-Am been perfectly frank and honest with Bhasin but not renewed on the basis of a ‘strategic decision,’ in the trial judge’s phrase, how would his position have been different?

This may seem simply a question of damages. But any lawsuit is fundamentally a question of whether a wrong has caused damages. The ‘good faith’ rule cannot mean that any time a party to a contract says something untrue to another party there has been a breach of the contract and some damages must be found to vindicate the good faith obligations of the contract. If I am planning to give notice of non-renewal to you for our eaves cleaning contract but say ‘Thanks. That was a great job.’ thinking it was lousy, am I stuck with you indefinitely? The law has never made every lie actionable, else the courts would be backed up to doomsday. It is only when there has been reliance and injury and damages that the law concerns itself with untruths.

‘Can-AmFC certainly was not obligated under the 1998 Agreement to continue the contractual relationship forever.’ the trial judge says. For how long then? It couldn’t terminate the contract in November 2001 because, according to the trial judge, its decision to do so then wasn’t in ‘good faith.’ Her assessment of damages implied that it should have kept him until his retirement in 2010. But what if it had decided to let the contract run for another three years from 2001 and laid off the requirement of an audit by Hrynew and terminated the contract at the next three year anniversary in 2004. ‘ It was…open to Can-AmFC to adopt a business strategy that did not include Bhasin’s agency.’ the trial judge says. Well?

The Supreme Court of Canada says Bhasin ‘was misled and lost the value of his business as result.’ While there was evidence Bhasin was misled, there is none that he lost the value of his business as a result.

Two provisions of Bhasin’s contract would have, in the absence of the Court’s ‘new duty,’ confirmed the Court of Appeal’s straightforward reasoning. One provided that the contract could be terminated early for misconduct or other cause. That implied the Can-Am did not have to have any ‘cause’ for not renewing his contract on six months notice. Another provision allowed Bhasin to sell, transfer or merge his agency subject to Can-Am’s consent, which was not be be withheld ‘unreasonably.’ That implied that Can-Am did not have to show that its decision not to renew Bhasin’s contract was reasonable. These are standard steps in interpreting and applying the provisions of a contract. Swept aside by the new law.


The Supreme Court of Canada’s reasons dispense with precise analysis and seem both apologetic and arrogant. On and on they go without clarifying but insisting on both the Court’s modesty and its wisdom. It’s a new deal but no big deal.
[29] …recognition of a general duty of good faith would constitute an incremental advance in the law, given the numerous specific situations that already give rise to a duty of good faith.

[62] I conclude from this review that enunciating a general organizing principle of good faith and recognizing a duty to perform contracts honestly will help bring certainty and coherence to this area of the law in a way that is consistent with reasonable commercial expectations

[63] The first step is to recognize that there is an organizing principle of good faith that underlies and manifests itself in various more specific doctrines governing contractual performance. That organizing principle is simply that parties generally must perform their contractual duties honestly and reasonably and not capriciously or arbitrarily.

[69] The approach of recognizing an overarching organizing principle but accepting the existing law as the primary guide to future development is appropriate in the development of the doctrine of good faith. Good faith may be invoked in widely varying contexts and this calls for a highly context-specific understanding of what honesty and reasonableness in performance require so as to give appropriate consideration to the legitimate interests of both contracting parties. For example, the general organizing principle of good faith would likely have different implications in the context of a long-term contract of mutual cooperation than it would in a more transactional exchange:

[80] Recognizing a duty of honesty in contract performance poses no risk to commercial certainty in the law of contract. A reasonable commercial person would expect, at least, that the other party to a contract would not be dishonest about his or her performance. The duty is also clear and easy to apply. Moreover, one commentator points out that given the uncertainty that has prevailed in this area, cautious solicitors have long advised clients to take account of the requirements of good faith…

[89] for wholesale adoption of a more expansive duty of good faith in contrast to the modest, incremental change that I propose:…

[90] It is not necessary in this case to define in general terms the limits of the implications of the organizing principle of good faith. [Oh, yes it is!] This is because it is unclear to me how any broader duty would assist Mr. Bhasin here. After all, the contract was subject to non-renewal. It is a considerable stretch, as I see it, to turn even a broadly conceived duty of good faith exercise of the non-renewal provision into what is, in effect, a contract of indefinite duration. This in my view is the principal difficulty in the trial judge’s reasoning because, in the result, her decision turned a three year contract that was subject to an express provision relating to non-renewal into a contract of roughly nine years’ duration. As the Court of Appeal pointed out, in my view correctly, “[t]he parties did not intend or presume a perpetual contract, as they contracted that either party could unilaterally cause it to expire on any third anniversary”: para. 32. Even if there were a breach of a broader duty of good faith by forcing the merger, Can-Am’s contractual liability would still have to be measured by reference to the least onerous means of performance, which in this case would have meant simply not renewing the contract. Since no damages flow from this breach, it is unnecessary to decide whether reliance on a discretionary power to achieve a purpose extraneous to the contract and which undermined one of its key objectives might call for further development under the organizing principle of good faith contractual performance.

The Court’s assessment of damages is simply incomprehensible. It held, based on the the trial judge’s rambling discussion of damages, that the value of Bhasin’s business at the time his agreement expired was $87,000. What the trial judge actually said was
[419] Given all of these considerations, I find that the value for Bhasin’s agency based on a
trailing 12 month period would be $87,000.00 at the point that he turned 65.

She was thinking of what Bhasin might have sold his business for, as a still going concern, when he turned 65.
The Supreme Court says
[110] It is clear from the findings of the trial judge and from the record that the value of the business around the time of non-renewal was $87,000.

One would have thought that it was nil. It no longer existed. Any office equipment, good will from his employees and contacts and knowledge of the field he and they had, he still had and could and did employ in a new business. But Can-Am had argued that if there had to be damages $87,000 was right, that being the lowest figure under discussion, and the Supreme Court of Canada accepted its position.

The Court agreed with the Court of Appeal in rejecting the implication that the contract was for life, and in awarding Bhasin only $87,000 in damages implicitly accepted that Bhasin had no right to expect his contract to last for any considerable length of time. But it remains unfathomable what the damages from a ‘bad faith’ non-renewal were as compared to what Bhasin would have lost had his contract not been renewed in good faith.

Had Bhasin been an employee suing for wrongful dismissal, itself a dodgy cause of action invented by Victorian judges, the Court would have decided on a notice period and awarded damages, perhaps about $87,000, accordingly.

It very much appears that the Court, having exercised itself so much to make new law, could not bring itself to say that there were no damages.


Those who have got this far must forgive me for taking more words than the Court of Appeal to make my points. But the trial judge’s and the Supreme Court of Canada’s reasons, which have at times the air of political speeches, defy simple analysis.

Making new law as the Supreme Court of Canada has done it is wrong because it is ex post facto law. The most competent solicitor would have advised Can-Am that it was within its rights to give notice of non-renewal. The Supreme Court of Canada says ‘one commentator points out that given the uncertainty that has prevailed in this area, cautious solicitors have long advised clients to take account of the requirements of good faith….’ I haven’t access to the 1985 lecture by ‘one commentator,’ my old tax professor Warren Grover, who one day over forty years ago remarked that being a law professor was ‘part time work for full time pay,’ but I can’t believe that he could have foreseen thirty years ago what the Supreme Court of Canada has made of good faith.

And remember that the finding of ‘bad faith’ or ‘dishonesty’ in Bhasin was based on a three week trial. So we are to think that a solicitor cannot advise a client based on a written contract but must be briefed on facts that might take three weeks to canvass at a trial.

In any event, is the Supreme Court of Canada being quite honest? If the putative ‘cautious solicitor’ would have advised Can-Am against giving notice of non-renewal after being briefed on all the circumstances, the law must have been what the Supreme Court of Canada now says it is back in 2001. Then the Supreme Court of Canada hasn’t made new law. The Court pretends it hasn’t. I has just found the law. In its head. But it says
[1]…Finding that there is a duty to perform contracts honestly will make the law more certain, more just and more in tune with reasonable commercial expectations.
‘will make the law…’

If it is not new law, just something the Court found, but the dopes on the Court of Appeal couldn’t find, that’s alright then. The Supreme Court of Canada isn’t making new law. It’s just finding something that had been mislaid. They have a bigger and better organised library.

But the Court repeatedly says it is setting out a ‘new duty,’ asking itself ‘Should there be a new duty?’ The ‘new duty’ is new law, law that did not exist when Can-Am gave notice of non-renewal in 2001, but was imposed by the Court in 2014. The Court, in its own words, has a duty to ‘develop the common law.’ As the Court can only deal with cases where the facts are years behind, it can only ‘develop the common law’ ex post facto.

How can the ‘cautious solicitor’ know what the law is if the Alberta Court of Appeal doesn’t know? Alternatively, the cautious solicitor should always advise ‘Only the Supreme Court of Canada knows what the law is. You’ll have to ask them.’ Which makes the hundreds of dollars an hour you are paying your solicitor wasted money. And you cannot submit a reference to the Court. Only the government can. All you can do is act blindly and spend years and hundreds of thousands from first instance, to court of appeal, to the Supreme Court of Canada hoping for the best, if you are challenged.

When courts properly ‘make law’ they do so when there is no law, when there are conflicting cases or circumstance arise to which the existing law doesn’t fit. In those circumstances the cautious solicitor can advise that the law is unclear and the courts may have to make it clear.

The Supreme Court of Canada repeatedly claims that its ‘finding’ is ‘incremental,’ trying to a assure us of its modesty and caution. But in proclaiming the ‘organising principle’ of ‘good faith’ while ‘finding’ an allegedly simple duty of honest performance the Court literally invites new lawsuits that will lead to new increments, new applications of the ‘organising principle’ and offer the prospect of a law in flux as it keeps up with the ‘dynamic and evolving fabric of our society.’ That is, the negation of law.

For law is settled rules. Its value is letting us know where we stand. In the limiting case, which side of the road to drive on, though it doesn’t matter which, so long as there is a rule. Times change and the rules may best change. Sweden went from driving on the left to driving on the right in 1967 as traffic between Sweden and its neighbours became common. But we need to know what the law is before we act, which is why legislation is the business of legislatures and public debate and comes into effect on a specified date and not retroactively.

The new Chief Justice of Ontario made conventional remarks on his swearing in about the ‘cost, complexity and time it takes to complete legal proceedings.’ We are not going to get lawyers working for even what plumbers charge. But the complexity and time legal proceedings involve is very much a product of the decay of the law that the Supreme Court of Canada is promoting. If law is to be a matter of ‘organising principles’ and ‘increments’ and the exploration of everyone’s ‘good faith’ in three week trials, its ‘cost, complexity and time…to complete’ are only going to become greater.


An apparently technical but suggestive issue discussed at all three levels was the pleadings. Pleadings are documents in which the parties set out their case, a statement of claim and a statement of defence. You plead facts, not the evidence by which you hope to prove the facts. You don’t plead law, or make a legal argument. You don’t have to give your cause of action a name. But if your facts don’t form the basis of an action known to the law your case can be dismissed. If I issue a statement of claim saying you wore a hideous tie to my dinner party and claiming damages, you don’t have to prove that your tie was decent. You can move to have my action dismissed on the pleadings and will succeed. Pleadings save everyone the trouble and expense of frivolous actions and also serve to let the parties know what the case is about, what evidence they may have to marshal and what legal arguments they may have to prepare.

The trial judge and the Supreme Court of Canada held that Bhasin had plead enough to raise the issue of good faith, or honesty, whatever, which given the vagueness of the concepts could be said of almost any pleading. And they said that Can-Am was not prejudiced by the unpredictable course of the trial because basically the whole relationship between Bhasin and Can-Am was put into play in the Statement of Claim. This may be true. Can-Am made no motion to attack the pleadings.

The Court of Appeal said
[19] Carefully checking the statement of claim confirms one complaint by Mr. Hrynew. He
complains that the issues on which the Reasons for Judgment were based were never pleaded. The trial Reasons correctly stated that causes of action need not be pleaded, only facts (paras 24-25). However, the majority of the facts upon which the Reasons based those conclusions were not pled either. An allegation that the respondent Mr. Bhasin was “wrongfully terminated” is a conclusion, not a fact. The Reasons found for the respondent Mr. Bhasin on the basis of bad faith and dishonesty toward him. But old R 115 and new R 13.6(3) require a party to plead the matter to be relied on where there is illegality, fraud, malice or ill will, or wilful default.
[20] Therefore, all the evidence was heard before Canadian American had a clear idea of the case against it. No one asked to amend the pleadings. Canadian American objected to raising some of the issues because they had not been pleaded (Reasons, para 21). Evidence closed before anyone argued the topics on which the Reasons proceeded.

The point of pleadings is to see whether there is any case for trial assuming the facts and then to focus the preparation for trail and the trial on those facts. But courts are increasingly reluctant to dispose of cases on the pleadings and to hold parties strictly to the pleadings at trial. Thus the “cost, complexity and time it takes to complete legal proceedings” are increased.

Bhasin’s case should have been dismissed before trial. He and the other parties would have been happier had it been, and we should all be better off.


There are many critics of the Supreme Court of Canada’s Charter or Constitution decisions, though most people suppose it knows what it is doing as they are told it does by law professors in the media. But there are few who will criticise the Court for its work in a case like Bhasin. For law firms it is good for business. They can report it to their clients to show that they are keeping up with the law and how much they are needed. Longer lawsuits and more meetings with clients unsure of their rights and duties will help the bottom line. Law professors, of course, are simply chuffed to see their influence.