Canadian Journalists Hunger for Gavels

Most Slaw readers will know that gavels simply aren’t part of the equipment of Canadian or British judges – however much they may feature in the popular iconography of the American judicial system.

Which meant that it seemed odd to see headlines like Gavel falls on Judge Cosgrove, by Tracey Tyler in the Toronto Star for April 1, (admittedly fixed in the electronic archive) or Gavel Slams Harper on Khadr in the free Toronto newspapers for April 24.

It’s a continual myth, as comments in the Blogosphere show and as Lloyd Duhaime’s online dictionary of Canadian law shows. Justice Alvin Hamilton has even written a book on Aboriginal Justice entitled: A Feather Not a Gavel: Working Towards Aboriginal Justice (Winnipeg: Great Plains Publications, c. 2001). As one Canadian student tells us:
A gavel is a hammer looking object that the judge uses for making the public quiet, a McGill journalist adds a gavel to a story on a student who interns for a judge or a social worker in the GTA says: Parents Have Input Until The Gavel Comes Down. Even Justice Frank Iacobucci had a gavel at the SCC and the BCSC talks about gavel-to-gavel coverage in R. v. Pilarinos, (2001), 158 C.C.C. (3d) 1, (2001), 88 C.R.R. (2d) 33.



  1. Even some of Ontario’s highway signs warning of penalties use a gavel image. This example of simple-minded Americanizing is, as you know, a pet peeve of mine. Be good if some journalist picked up on this and did a piece on how Canadian judges don’t need hammers to keep order.

  2. Instead of a comment… I post a question… After much disappointment in searching the net, I have not been able to find the MEANING of the “no gavel” traffic signs that are around Niagara on the Lake. Perhaps they are elsewhere in Canada, but I have no idea what they mean and would LOVE to know. Thank you in advance for a response!