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Quong-Wing v. The King: Racism in the Supreme Court of Canada Law 

Quong-Wing v. The King: Racism in the Supreme Court of Canada

The Supreme Court of Canada has created its fair share of injustices. One such injustice occurred in 1914, in the Quong-Wing v. The King case. In 1914, a law existed in Saskatchewan which prohibited individuals of Chinese origin from hiring Caucasian female employees. 

Quong-Wing, a Chinese-British citizen owned a restaurant where he employed two white waitresses. Under a statute in the province of Saskatchewan, Mr. Quong-Wing was breaking the law. The consequence of going against the statute was a penalty of one-hundred dollars. A failure to pay the penalty would result in a maximal sentence of two months in jail. 

Quong-Wing eventually appealed the case to the Supreme Court of Canada where he argued that any law which created a crime was a criminal law which was under the jurisdiction of the Federal Parliament, not a provincial legislature. Therefore, the Saskatchewan provincial legislature was violating their jurisdiction by creating a law which they did not have the authority to create making it ultra vires. Moreover, the statute wished to strip persons of Chinese descent of rights which other citizens were entitled to.

 The majority of the court held that the statute was aimed at “protecting the morality and bodily health” of female employees. The court also compared the legislation to municipal laws and to other labor laws which prohibited child labor and other such employment laws. The court with a four-to-five majority ruled that the law was constitutional, valid and not aimed at harming individuals of Chinese descent. However, Mr. Justice Idington dissented from the other four jurists. The learned justice, in his dissent, stipulated that taking away another person’s equality is uncivil. Justice Idington further added that the Saskatchewan statute was a “product of the mode of thought that maintained slavery”. Justice Idington’s dissent, through his recognition and condemnation of the clearly racist law, inspired future jurists and his ruling shaped the law later on. 

While the Supreme Court has recognized human rights and has enabled progress, instances exist in the court’s history which are reprehensible and vexing. Ultimately, the court has produced wrong rulings, but that trend is mostly to be found in the past.

Further reading:

Pound, Richard. Made In Court: Supreme Court Decisions that Shaped Canada. Fitzhenry 

& Whiteside, 2014.

By Mario Michas

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