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category: Law
published: Nov 2019
publisher: UBC Press

Seeking the Court’s Advice

The Politics of the Canadian Reference Power

by Kate Puddister

tagged: courts

Can Parliament legalize same-sex marriage? Can Quebec unilaterally secede from Canada? Can the federal government create a national firearms registry? Each of these questions is contentious and deeply political, and each was addressed by a court in a reference case, not by elected policy makers. Reference cases allow governments to obtain an advisory opinion from a court without a live dispute or opposing litigants – and governments often wield this power strategically. The first study of its kind, Seeking the Court’s Advice draws on over two hundred reference cases from 1875 to 2017 to show that the actual outcome of a reference case – win or lose – is often secondary to the political benefits that can be attained from relying on courts through the reference power.

About the Author

Kate Puddister

Contributor Notes

Kate Puddister is an assistant professor in the Department of Political Science at the University of Guelph. She has written on a wide range of topics related to law and politics, Canadian politics, and criminal justice policy. Her work has appeared in the Canadian Journal of Law and Society, Canadian Public Administration, and Publius: The Journal of Federalism.

Editorial Review

this is an excellent book that completely fills a major and unfortunate lacuna in the academic literature. It is well organized, well written, thorough and balanced, and it winds up with recommendations for better squaring the practice with judicial independence concerns.


A first book, you say, and by a very junior author? It certainly doesn’t read that way—this is a polished work of mature scholarship. I recommend it highly.

— Canadian Journal of Political Science

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