Judicial vacancies
Canada's Supreme Court Chief Justice Richard Wagner speaks during a news conference in Ottawa, Ontario, June 20, 2019. (REUTERS/Chris Wattie)

A new empirical study challenges the popular narrative that Canada’s Supreme Court has become more divided under its current chief justice, Richard Wagner.

Wagner replaced Justice Beverley McLachlin as head of Canada’s highest court in December 2017. Unlike McLachlin, who was known to encourage consensus and unanimity, Wagner has publicly stated that he likes civil dissent and welcomes it in his Court.

The study’s authors, partners at prominent Canadian law firms, analyzed Supreme Court decisions from 1984 through 2022. They found that while the Wagner Court does exhibit higher levels of disagreement than earlier Courts, “some of this increased disagreement is of a nature that may be less concerning at an institutional level than the headline numbers suggest.”

When asked why the level of disagreement on the Court matters, study co-author Jeremy Opolsky told Canadian Affairs: “I think that we are inevitably affected by the zeitgeist that is the Supreme Court of the United States.”

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Lauren Heuser founded Canadian Affairs in 2023. Her previous roles include chief strategy officer of a Paris-based news service for young people, deputy section editor at the National Post and corporate...