The recent Supreme Court of Canada decision in R. v. Caron, 2011 SCC 5 is an important victory which will have repercussions on the financing of public interest cases in Canada. The case was argued by Rupert Baudais of the Regina office of Miller Thomson LLP, who has represented Mr. Gilles Caron through all levels of court in this case.
In a unanimous decision, the Court rejected the Province of Alberta’s appeal, which sought to reverse the orders for interim costs awarded by the Alberta Court of Queen’s Bench, without which it would have been impossible for Mr. Caron to present his defence at trial. The case deals with the constitutional language rights of the Franco-Albertan community. The Supreme Court upheld that “(…) the Alberta courts were faced here with a constitutional challenge of great importance. (…) At issue was (and is) a fundamental aspect of the rule of law in Alberta.” (R. v. Caron, paras 6-7).
It is quite rare for a court to award interim costs and this decision establishes for the first time that a superior court possesses the inherent jurisdiction to make an order for interim costs for a case being heard before another court when this is necessary in the interests of justice. “Superior courts possess an inherent jurisdiction to render assistance to inferior courts to enable them to administer justice fully and effectively”. (R. v. Caron)
In its decision, the Supreme Court also refers to the importance of the constitutional questions at issue in the case. “…. The case, in short, has the potential (if successful) to become an Alberta replay of the Reference re Manitoba Language Rights,  1 S.C.R. 212. This is what makes the case “sufficiently special” in terms of Okanagan/Little Sisters (No. 2).” (R. v. Caron, para 8)
The next step in the case is for the Alberta Court of Appeal to hear arguments on the constitutional questions it has approved for hearing.