Competing theories regarding the development of a "rights revolution" in Canada have appeared in the judicial and constitutional literature in recent years. On the one hand, scholars argue that the profound effects often attributed to the Charter of Rights and Freedoms are substantially overstated, and conventional analyses have overlooked the more important role of changes in what is called the "support structure" for rights. Others have advanced a competing theory that the Charter created an expansion of civil liberties. We take advantage of an extensive dataset on the decisions of the Supreme Court of Canada to provide a more systematic test of these competing theories. We conclude that the adoption of the Charter had effects on both the rights agenda and the constitutional issues agenda of the Court, which were both substantively large and statistically significant. There was some indication that changes in agenda control mattered, but the effects were not consistent across our time-series models. The more limited claim that increases in the support structure are one of multiple factors that are associated with agenda change received only mixed support. In short, we found that bills of rights do matter.

Document Type


Publication Date

Winter 2013

Publisher Statement

Copyright © 2013, Osgoode Hall Law School. This article first appeared in Osgoode Hall Law Journal: 51:1 (2013), 297-328.

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