Message from the Chief Justice, Richard Wagner
Welcome to the Supreme Court of Canada, the only bilingual (English and French) and bijural (common law and civil law) supreme court in the world.
We work and decide cases in English and French, in all areas of law (such as family, criminal, and tax law). We decide cases from Canada’s two major legal traditions (common law and civil law).
The decisions we make here affect the lives of all Canadians, and that of your family and community. It’s important to us that you understand the work that we do, and why it matters.
The Supreme Court’s essential task — to make independent and impartial decisions about issues that matter to Canadians — hasn’t changed since the Court was created in 1875. But much else has. The Court, its judges, and staff are dedicated to finding ways to better serve you. We’re leveraging technology and new media to better communicate with you, wherever you live, in both of Canada’s official languages.
This website is part of that effort. Feel free to browse the site, but here are some quick links you may find useful:
- Case Information – search engine for information about a specific case (or you can view information about recently-filed cases directly)
- Cases in Brief – summaries explaining our decisions in plain language, so everyone can understand them.
- Role of the Court – an explanation of what the Court does
- Year in Review – an overview of the Court’s work in the last calendar year
- The Judges of the Court – learn more about the nine judges
You can also learn more about the Court and its work by watching a short video:
Welcome to your Court - A Brief Guided Tour of the Supreme Court of Canada
Hello! Welcome to the Supreme Court of Canada. My name is Richard Wagner and I am the 18th Chief Justice. Over the years, the Court has probably made a decision that impacts you! That’s why I feel it is important to share information about how the Court works and what it does. After all, this is your Court.
The Supreme Court is Canada’s final court of appeal. The nine members of the Court decide complicated legal issues that are important to the public and help develop Canadian law. Canadians can be confident that the Court is impartial and independent. Every judge is committed to making sure the law is applied clearly and fairly across the country. They also have a duty to protect people’s rights and freedoms. I like to say the Court does not make decisions based on what is popular. Rather, it makes decisions based on what is right, in the context of our legal traditions and the rule of law. This is the only bilingual and bijural Supreme Court in the world. We hear and decide cases in English and French, and deal with cases from Canada’s two major legal traditions – British Common Law and the French Civil Code.
The Supreme Court building was designed by renowned Montreal architect, Ernest Cormier. Queen Elizabeth - the Queen Mother - laid the cornerstone on May 20th, 1939 in presence of her husband, King George the sixth. The exterior also includes two bronze statues. Veritas – or “truth” – stands on the west side. To the east is Justicia, which means Justice.
You’ll know when the Court is in session when this flag is flying. It is a visual expression of the Court’s role, traditions and the principle of judicial independence. It flies from the flagpole closest to Parliament Hill.
Our bench has changed significantly since 1875. What began as a bench of six judges grew to seven in 1927 and nine in 1949, which is what we have today. Of the nine judges, three must be from Quebec. And by tradition, three judges come from Ontario; two from western Canada, and there is one from Atlantic Canada. Every judge – including me – has an equal stake in every decision. Another big change on the bench over time is its diversity. In 1982, Bertha Wilson became Canada’s first woman Supreme Court Justice. And the Court’s first racialized judge is Justice Mahmud Jamal, who was appointed in 2021 and in the summer of 2022, the Court welcomed its first Indigenous member – Justice Michelle O’Bonsawin. I am confident the Supreme Court bench will continue to evolve to reflect the diverse perspectives and experiences of Canadians. Judges must retire at the age of 75. When it’s time to fill a vacancy at the Supreme Court, the Federal Commissioner for Judicial Affairs organizes an independent and non-partisan Advisory Board. Its members recommend three to five candidates to the Prime Minister. The Prime Minister will then nominate a candidate who is formally appointed by the Governor General.
There is no juries or witnesses at the Supreme Court, so no one testifies or gives evidence. Sometimes, the Court will decide an issue quickly and deliver its judgment from the bench at the end of a hearing. Most often though, the Court “reserves” its decision. That means we need more time for greater discussion. In those cases, the Court will deliver a written judgement at a later date. On average, the Court hears 67 appeals each year.
The courtroom is equipped with video cameras and simultaneous interpretation, to ensure everyone may speak and listen in the official language of their choice. We also have a video-conference system, so parties may argue their cases from anywhere in the country. Canada’s courts are open and accessible to the public. That builds confidence in the justice system. At the Supreme Court, people may attend hearings in person or watch them live on our website. That is where you will also find plain-language summaries of Court decisions. The Court reports on its activities and accomplishments every year in the Year in Review… and our knowledgeable guides welcome tens of thousands of visitors through in-person and virtual tours. I also hold an annual news conference where I update Canadians on the work of the Court. All of this is to make sure the Courts is accessible and open to you.
I hope you found this short tour informative and fun and I am looking forward to meet with you in person at the Supreme Court soon.
Rt. Hon. Richard Wagner, P.C.
Chief Justice of Canada
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