The Work at the Court

Take a peek at some of the work happening behind the scenes.

Message from the Registrar

It is an honour for me to write this message further to my appointment to this office in December 2021. As the Supreme Court’s 13th Registrar and second woman in this role, I look forward to working closely with Members of the Court and our high-performing employees. My priorities include continuing to further modernize court operations to serve Canadians better; planning the Court’s future move to a new building while the courthouse undergoes 10 years of major renovations, and building on the institution’s reputation as a fantastic place to work.

Before my formal appointment, I served as Registrar Designate. It afforded me the opportunity to get to know my colleagues and appreciate the valuable contributions of the court employees who continued, during the pandemic, to be resilient and creative. They ensure that this Court seamlessly continues its crucial work for all Canadians.

This year I presented the Registrar’s Award to employees who demonstrated excellence in 2020-21. I recognized our reference librarians for their invaluable contributions to judicial law clerks who were required to work off-site for almost the entire clerkship year. I also celebrated the Court’s chief jurilinguist for his exceptional contributions to the bilingualism of the Court. In addition, I recognized our executive director of judicial support and protocol for his service to the Chief Justice while he acted as Administrator of the Government of Canada for six months.

In the fall, I enjoyed working creatively with our employees to raise $35,022 from a record number of Supreme Court donors for the annual Government of Canada Charitable Workplace Campaign. Working together during the pandemic to make a difference was very inspirational.

On December 30, 2021, the Supreme Court hit a significant milestone. After 146 years, the Court opened its 40,000th file. It caused me to reflect on the history of this great institution and those before me who served as Registrar, especially those who ensured access to justice for Canadians through the First and Second World Wars, times of economic and political instability, as well as the 1918 pandemic.

It is a privilege to serve this Court and Canadians.

Signature de Chantal Carbonneau

Chantal Carbonneau

Chantal Carbonneau
Participants hold the banner “SCC Polar Dip”
Employees sponsored by their colleagues to dive into Lac Leamy on December 2 for the annual charitable workplace campaign
The Registrar and two judges
The Registrar meets with Justices Karakatsanis and Rowe
Two employees looking at a document
Building operations employees plan the reconfiguration of the courtroom
The Registrar and three employees
Chantal Carbonneau presents one of the Registrar’s awards to the Court’s reference librarians

Embracing Change

The Supreme Court of Canada is always adapting to serve Canadians better and improve access to justice. In 2021, the Court revised its rules to make it simpler for someone to apply for leave, or permission, to appeal.

The slimmed down process requires fewer supporting documents and everything is filed electronically. Instead of heavy trolleys filled with paper, a leave request today consists of a digital notice of application and memorandum of argument with hyperlinks to the judgment the party wants to appeal. The new process uses two-thirds less paper.

For appeals, the Court has made it optional to hire an Ottawa lawyer as agent to provide procedural assistance. Parties are also permitted to exchange documents by email and the Supreme Court has eliminated fees for obtaining electronic records. These changes have enhanced access to justice and made leave applications and appeals more affordable, efficient and convenient.

This makes a difference for all, especially those who do not want or cannot afford legal representation. Every day, Registry employees take the time and care necessary to support self-represented litigants. Sorting and preparing these case files is a considerable part of the Registry workload. The Court is thankful for its partnership with Pro Bono Ontario, which operates the Supreme Court of Canada Legal Assistance Program for residents of all provinces and territories.

While the Supreme Court building in Ottawa remained physically closed to the public in 2021, the Court was actually more accessible than ever! Friendly outreach to groups and schools across the country led to the Court welcoming 14,882 visitors to its remote guided tours. From Salt Spring, Baffin and Grand Manan islands, distance is no longer a barrier to a fun and informative visit.

The Court also piloted something new for the media in 2021 – remote confidential briefings on widely-anticipated decisions. They started in March with the ruling on the constitutionality of the Greenhouse Gas Pricing Pollution Act. Working with the Parliamentary Press Gallery, the Court employed technology and trust to further support journalists in their work of informing the public about significant legal developments. In 2021, the Court provided journalists with 36 in-depth briefings on decisions.

Outside the courtroom, judges continued to engage with Canadians in 2021 with dozens of commitments to participate in a variety of remote activities. Videoconferencing facilitated interviews, speeches, as well as participation at conferences and graduation ceremonies. The Court is also looking forward to travelling to Quebec City from September 12-16, 2022. For the second time, the Court will hear two cases outside Ottawa and the judges will participate in special events with the public, students and local legal community.

The judges in the courtroom
Justices Kasirer and Moldaver in the courtroom during a hybrid hearing
Employees in the Registry
The Registry is a dynamic place to work, where employees take time and care to support all parties
Employees filming a video
With more virtual and remote events, the Communications team supports judges and employees in delivering speeches and presentations
Justice Brown
Justice Brown addressed first year law students at the University of Alberta where he used to teach

Communications and Outreach

Employee at her desk

Leslie wrote 36 plain-language Cases in Brief.

A tour interpreter at her computer

Luisa is among the Court’s law student tour interpreters who provided informative tours to 14,882 people.

Employee at her computer

Caroline published 230 news releases in 2021.

Connect with us!

The Supreme Court of Canada invites you to watch or listen to live and archived hearings. You may also follow the Court on LinkedIn, Twitter and Facebook. Instagram is coming in 2022!

Since the onset of the Covid-19 pandemic, the Court offers engaging and informative guided remote tours of the building. The outstanding tour guides tailor content for the audience in French, English or both. They cover topics such as Canada’s judicial system, judges of the Court and the history and architecture of the art deco building.

To sign up for a virtual visit, please fill out this form. This is a great activity to do with students, friends and family. Once public health protocols permit, we look forward to seeing you in person. Visiting is free and we are accessible to people with disabilities.

Ask a Tour Interpreter

Why do Supreme Court judges have to retire after they turn 75 years old?

It’s the law! Parliament introduced the mandatory retirement age in 1927 after it grew concerned with how often older judges were absent from the Court due to poor health.

Why are people allowed to listen to cases in the Supreme Court?

The Court is a transparent institution dedicated to access to justice. It welcomes anyone, anywhere, to watch or listen to Supreme Court hearings. Cases are webcast and archived on our website, unless a publication ban is in place.

Is the change to the judges’ bench permanent?

The judges’ bench has been modified in accordance with public health recommendations. The five longest-serving judges now sit on the raised back row and four judges sit in front. Once physical distancing is no longer required, the judges will once again sit together on the bench.

Do all judges have to be lawyers at some point in their career?

Absolutely! The Supreme Court hears some of the most complicated legal questions in Canada. In order to qualify for the job, applicants must have been a licensed practicing lawyer for at least 10 years, or served as a judge of a superior court after having practiced as a lawyer.

What does the “Crown” mean in criminal cases?

In criminal cases, the “Crown” means the government lawyers who prosecute crimes; they are called Crown prosecutors.

A tour interpreter at his computer
Tour interpreters giving remote tours
A tour interpreter at her computer