Court of Queen's Bench of Alberta proposes 'Supreme' name change

The Court of Queen's Bench of Alberta wants to change its name to the Supreme Court of Alberta.

'It's well-intentioned but I think it's a terrible idea,' lawyer says

The executive board of Alberta’s Court of Queen’s Bench wants to change the court's name to Supreme Court of Alberta. (CBC)

Long may she reign, but maybe not as the namesake for an Alberta court.

The mortality of Canada's reigning monarch, Queen Elizabeth, is the reason Alberta's Court of Queen's Bench wants to change its name to the Supreme Court of Alberta.

Darryl Ruether, the court's executive legal counsel, said Wednesday that changing the name has been on the court's agenda for a few years.

"We would like to do it sooner rather than later," he said. "Recognizing that there's a certain inevitability to it, doing it in advance seems a little bit more sensitive, I suppose."

Though it's up to the provincial government to make the change, the court noted in its latest annual report that those talks are underway.

New name is really an old name

Changing court signs and other places the name appears will come at some expense but Reuther said the gender-neutral alternative will serve for years to come, regardless of whether a king or queen sits on the throne.

And, technically, it would be a rename rather than a new name: Supreme Court of Alberta was the moniker the court went by until 1979, Ruether said. 

Until recently, provincial law stipulated that when the Queen dies, the court's name must be changed to Court of King's Bench (assuming the Queen's son or another male heir succeeds her). But changes to the act overseeing the court that passed in December 2018 now allow cabinet flexibility in both the choice and timing of the name change.

The Court of Queen's Bench typically handles more serious matters, such as murder cases or jury trials. Queen's Bench is higher than provincial court, but lower than the Court of Appeal of Alberta.

Alberta is one of a handful of provinces that have kept the name: Manitoba, Saskatchewan and New Brunswick still cite the monarch in their superior court titles.

British Columbia, Prince Edward Island, Nova Scotia, Newfoundland and Labrador, the Northwest Territories and Yukon use "supreme" for their superior courts. Ontario and Quebec use "superior." Nunavut has a single trial court called the Nunavut Court of Justice.

'Significant confusion to the public'

But lawyer Avnish Nanda thinks changing the name to Supreme Court of Alberta is a bad idea.

Nanda practises public law litigation in Edmonton and Vancouver. He said in B.C., where they have the Supreme Court of British Columbia, people get confused because they can't figure out if their case is with the province's supreme court or the Supreme Court of Canada.

 "It's well-intentioned but I think it's a terrible idea that's going to cause confusion to the public," Nanda said.

He thinks the court doesn't need to rush into a name change, but when it does happen the Superior Court of Alberta would be the better option.

Alberta Justice did not provide a response Tuesday to a query about the status of changing the court's name.