A Question They Can't Refuse? Canadian Reference Questions and Judicial Independence

Kate Puddister


This paper addresses one aspect of the very important but understudied Canadian reference power. More specifically, it examines the frequency at which Canadian appellate courts refuse to answer all questions submitted in a reference case and under what conditions courts refuse to answer through analysis of an original dataset of all Canadian appellate court reference cases from 1949 to 2017. Addressing this question of how often and under what conditions courts refuse to answer reference questions is central to understanding how reference power operates, as the statutory foundation for the power does not provide courts any discretion to refuse questions submitted by the executive. This lack of discretion and the reference power itself, raise several concerns for judicial independence. This paper considers the implications for judicial independence brought on by the reference power. This paper argues that courts should have the power to refuse to answer questions that are considered inappropriate to safeguard the independence of the judiciary when participating in the extrajudicial function of reference cases.


reference questions; judicial independence; judicial review

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@Canadian Political Science Review (CPSR). ISSN 1911-4125