DEBATE: Is the Supreme Court too politicized?

Critics of the Conservative government celebrated a ruling on mandatory sentencing which puts the brakes on a piece of Stephen Harper's signature legislation. Some say this is the court's way of reflecting evolving Canadian values, others say it reflects an activist agenda.
The Supreme Court building in Ottawa. The Supreme Court of Canada has ruled that a key part of the Conservative government's tough-on-crime agenda is unconstitutional. (Sean Kilpatrick/The Canadian Press)

The Supreme Court of Canada has now ruled that mandatory sentences for gun crimes are unconstitutional.

It's another in a string of recent decisions which have over turned legislation central to the Conservative government's political platform.

Some say the gulf evident between the judiciary and the government is shows the court's willingness to reflecting the evolving values of the Canadian public, but others say it reflects an politicised, activist agenda.

Georgialee Lang is a Vancouver lawyer and blogger who says the decision on mandatory sentences for gun crime is an example of ideology influencing judicial judgment. She highlighted the sharp comments of the dissenting judges who felt the basis for striking down the legislation was an obscure, unlikely scenario.

Lang suggests that the court's tendency to liberal opinions is partly rooted in the culture of legal education.

I think it's pretty notorious that most of the law schools, many of the faculty in law schools do tend to lean left.- Georgialee Lang

"I think it's pretty notorious that most of the law schools, many of the faculty in law schools do tend to lean left."

But Osgoode Hall law professor Allan Hutchinson argues that the current tension between the court and government might have more to do with protecting turf than promoting ideology. He notes that mandatory sentencing laws take power and influence from judges, power and influence that they will fight to keep

"The court will jealously guard that, regardless of pollitics."

Hutchinson says the willingness of the court to challenge the government is a sign of a vigorous democracy.

What do we want judges to be? We want them to be healthy and purposeful, not dozy and lacklustre.- Allan Hutchinson