Philip Slayton

Philip Slayton

Philip Slayton is president of PEN Canada, an organization of writers that protects and promotes freedom of expression. Follow him on Twitter @philipslayton.

Monday, 26 June 2017 09:00

The SCC’s place in the world

Illustration: Jeannie Phan
Illustration: Jeannie Phan
Top courts in other countries play very different roles than Canada’s Supreme Court.
Monday, 01 August 2016 09:00

Guiding principles

Illustration: Dushan Milic
Illustration: Dushan Milic
Almost all Canadian law students intend to practise law when they get out of law school. It’s different in some other jurisdictions. In Europe, for example, a law degree often leads to government service, or a business career, or a job in journalism. Europeans think the study of the law develops analytical skills that can be put to general use. But in Canada a law faculty is considered a trade school and its denizens single-mindedly look forward to setting up legal shop as soon as possible. They are anxious to graduate with everything they need to begin practising. One of the things they require but may not have is a moral lodestar. If you are entering the practice of law you should believe — you need to believe — in some guiding principles. Without them you’re more likely to mess up your life and career.
Monday, 06 June 2016 09:00

Telling it like it is

Illustration: Dushan Milic
Illustration: Dushan Milic
Ezra Levant is a conservative media commentator or, if you prefer, an over-the-top right-wing rabble-rouser. He thrives on controversy and conflict. He feeds the flames of intemperance. He’s always having a fight with somebody. He’s rude. He makes people angry and delights in doing so. He’s scoffed at by flaneurs in what American public intellectual David Brooks calls the “corridors of the cognoscenti.” He’s not to be taken seriously, the flaneurs say. Maybe they’re right. Maybe they’re not.
Monday, 01 February 2016 09:00

Is there a new view on defence ethics?

Illustration: Scott Page
Illustration: Scott Page
What are the ethical boundaries for a lawyer defending someone accused of a sex crime? Is he a hired gun, expected to do everything legally possible to win the case, concerned only about the fate of his client, free to attack the complainant unreservedly in cross-examination, dedicated — as it is sometimes put — to proof, not truth? That, I think, was the old idea, unchallenged for many years.
Monday, 05 October 2015 09:00

Combatting the lynch mob

Illustration: Dushan Milic
Illustration: Dushan Milic
Billie Holiday, in her 1939 song Strange Fruit, sang: “Black bodies swinging in the southern breeze. Strange fruit hanging from the poplar trees.” She was singing about lynch mobs. In the southern United States, in the late 19th century and first half of the 20th century, mobs of white people lynched black men for crimes that were presumed and never proven. Historians estimate about 3,500 black men were murdered in this way. With some notable exceptions, the legal profession looked the other way.
Monday, 03 August 2015 08:00

Trust is the crux of it all

Illustration: Darcy Muenchrath
Illustration: Darcy Muenchrath
Trust and law. The optimal relationship between the two is an ethical conundrum at the heart of legal practice. How much can we trust each other? How much law do we need? Do unnecessary legal rules replace trust to the detriment of a truly civil society? Does increasing legalization — turning every problem, no matter what it is really about, into a legal issue — damage the fabric of our community?
Monday, 06 July 2015 08:00

Abella! the musical

Illustration: Dushan Milic
Illustration: Dushan Milic
My latest project is Abella!

It’s a rock musical about the Supreme Court of Canada, featuring Rosie Abella, its most interesting and colourful justice. There will be singing and dancing. “It’s madness,” the editor of this magazine told me. I don’t think so.
I’m just going down the path laid out by our entertaining American neighbours. If it’s madness, there’s method in it.
Monday, 05 May 2014 08:00

The SCC bench is hot!

Illustration: Jeff Szuk
Illustration: Jeff Szuk
A “hot bench.” This titillating expression has nothing to do with sexual allure or erotic practices. It refers to a court where judges frequently and aggressively interrupt lawyers with questions. In the United States there’s even a TV show starting this fall called Hot Bench, produced by Judy Sheindlin (who makes $45 million a year for her court show Judge Judy). At least one real judge is leaving the real bench to join the cast of Hot Bench, further evidence the worlds of entertainment, law, and politics are becoming one big playground.
Monday, 03 February 2014 08:00

No end to the circus

Illustration: Dushan Milic
Illustration: Dushan Milic
Is there no end to the Lori Douglas circus, an apparently interminable saga of personal and institutional misjudgment?
Monday, 02 September 2013 09:00

Should public opinion count?

Illustration: Marco Cibola
Illustration: Marco Cibola
We all know judges, particularly those on a country’s highest court, make law and decide social policy. Should they take public opinion into account when they do it? And should they take into consideration how their decisions might affect the way people subsequently think and behave?
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