The Badminton Court in the Middle of Canada’s Supreme Court

While no one knows why there is a badminton court in the middle of Canada's Supreme Court, we try and serve up some answers.

Thousands of years ago, ancient Greeks and Romans kept themselves busy playing an early version of Badminton. It's named after Badminton House in Gloucestershire, the ancestral home of the Duke of Beaufort, who formalised the sport during the 18th century. The first world championship took place in 1948, and in 1992 it finally became an Olympic sport.

Badminton has had a long and illustrious history. But one thing is sure: without a hint, you might never guess just how famous some of its players are.


The Badminton Court in Canada's Supreme Court

Case in point: Canada's Supreme Court. Tasked daily with some of the country's most important cases and decisions, judges and staff alike always know they can rely on one type of diversion and relaxation. That's because, believe it or not, the Supreme Court of Canada has a badminton court in the middle of it.

It seems to be located in one of the building's central courtyard, drawing natural light from above while also being easily visible from multiple offices. Exactly who plays, and when, is uncertain. That makes it one of the most mysterious stories in one of the country's most powerful political institutions.


Beverly McLachlin and the Badminton Court

Beverly McLachlin was Canada's Chief Justice until she retired earlier this year. In the course of her tenure on the country's highest court, she oversaw anything from indigenous rights to sexual assault cases that influenced and sometimes changed the public conversation.

And yet, there is the badminton court. According to the National Post,

The Supreme Badminton Court of Canada is not often used. Looking out the window behind McLachlin's desk, however, east toward Parliament Hill, you can almost imagine a great game of legal badminton, in which Parliament lobs a passed vote across the clifftop, only to see a judgment come whizzing back. In democracy, as in badminton, keeping the birdie aloft is competitive and cooperative.

Not often used, but there. Not sure who the most frequent players are, but right within view of the highest judge in the country. Is it a wonder that this is a mystery for the ages?


The Badminton Court as a Metaphor

The National Post story, from 2015, chooses to paint the court as a metaphor of the difficult decisions that Canada's Supreme Court has to make on a daily basis. It juxtaposes perfectly to the portraits of past chief justices, hanging closeby in the same building.

For McLachlin, it was the perfect counterpoint to the otherwise lofty, and sometimes aloof, image that justices tend to have. You think we're removed from real life and the daily realities it brings with it? You probably won't think so after you've seen us hit a shuttlecock a few times. The former chief justice even equated the mere existence of the court to the ways in which she sees the court of law and major cases:

"What you have to try to do as a judge," she says in an exclusive interview, "whether you're on charter issues or any other issue, is by an act of the imagination put yourself in the shoes of the different parties, and think about how it looks from their perspective, and really think about it, not just give it lip service."

Put yourself in the shoes of both parties. Or watch them play a game of badminton. Once you consider them both, is there really much of a difference


The Much-Needed Physical Activity

Put all of those convenient metaphors aside for a minute. Now, imagine the daily life of a judge, lawyer, or legal staffer in Canada's Supreme Court. Lots of sitting, some in your own office and some in meetings. What do you start to want more than anything else?

The answer probably has something to do with physical activity. In fact, an increasing movement (and one backed by Psychology Today) is aimed toward improving the physical and mental well-being of professionals around the legal world. As the argument goes, the daily stresses combine with a lack of activity to lead to some seriously unhealthy habits.

If you're unhealthy, you're less likely to excel at your job. But what is mere trivia for most professionals becomes crucial for the courts, especially the highest courtroom in the land. Canadians want and need their Supreme Court judges to be as mentally and physically sharp as possible when shaping the presence and future of the country.

Now, a judge like McLachlin probably won't be pumping iron in the local gym anytime soon. So why not build an alternative form of exercise that fits her (and the other judges') needs? Enter the badminton court, an elevated form of exercise that also happens to act as a metaphor they crave it to be.


Can't We Just Have a Little Fun?

Which of the two theories is true? That's an impossible question to answer. It's difficult to buy a badminton court that wasn't built for the purpose of exercise and competitive spirits. At the same time, the metaphor describing it as a way to look at both parties in a court case is at least tempting.

So why does it have to be one of the two? All we know for sure is that in the middle of Canada's Supreme Court, a badminton court of unknown use or origin has made its home. We don't know about you, but that's enough of a story for us to enjoy, and spin our theories.

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