Sunday, May 4, 2014

Unprecedented Attack on Chief Justice

The Harper Conservatives recently released a statement directed at Chief Justice of the Supreme Court of Canada, the Right Honourable Beverley McLachlin, suggesting improper conduct on her part.

The matter concerns the September 30, 2013 attempt by the Harper dictatorship to fill the Quebec vacancy on the Supreme Court of Canada with the appointment of Judge Marc Nadon of the Federal Court. On March 21 of this year, the Supreme Court rejected the appointment in a 6-1 ruling because, constitutionally, Nadon is not eligible to represent Quebec. While Nadon had been a Federal Court judge in Ottawa for the past 20 years, he has not been a sitting Quebec superior or appeals court judge, nor a current member of the Quebec bar, as required to fill the vacancy. The PMO claimed surprise at this ruling, saying its appointment had been vetted by two former Supreme Court Justices.

More than one month later, on May 1, the Prime Minister's Office has now issued a statement regarding related events in which it is claimed that Chief Justice McLachlin inappropriately contacted the government in July 2013 to offer advice regarding the Quebec vacancy in the Supreme Court. The statement says that Justice Minister Peter MacKay informed Prime Minister Stephen Harper that taking a call from the chief justice would be "inadvisable and inappropriate. The prime minister agreed and did not take the call."

The PMO statement also says, "Neither the prime minister nor the minister of justice would ever call a sitting judge on a matter that is or may be before the court."

When McLachlin called MacKay at the end of July, it was shortly after she had spoken to the selection committee examining a short list of candidates for the court vacancy. At that point, there was no nomination, let alone a court case. Nadon wasn't appointed to the Supreme Court until two months later, which was challenged by a Toronto lawyer in a federal court in early October.

On May 2, Chief Justice McLachlin issued a statement to set the record straight. She addressed the "insinuations of improper conduct from the Prime Minister's Office and reported widely in the press." According to the media release from the Chief Justice:

"At no time was there any communication between Chief Justice McLachlin and the government regarding any case before the courts. The facts are as follows:

"On April 22, 2013, as a courtesy, the Chief Justice met with the Prime Minister to give him Justice Fish's retirement letter. As is customary, they briefly discussed the needs of the Supreme Court of Canada. On July 29, 2013, as part of the usual process the Chief Justice met with the Parliamentary committee regarding the appointment of Justice Fish's successor. She provided the committee with her views on the needs of the Supreme Court.

"On July 31, 2013, the Chief Justice's office called the Minister of Justice's office and the Prime Minister's Chief of Staff, Mr. Novak, to flag a potential issue regarding the eligibility of a judge of the federal courts to fill a Quebec seat on the Supreme Court. Later that day, the Chief Justice spoke with the Minister of Justice, Mr. MacKay, to flag the potential issue. The Chief Justice's office also made preliminary inquiries to set up a call or meeting with the Prime Minister, but ultimately the Chief Justice decided not to pursue a call or meeting."

This attack on Chief Justice McLachlin is unprecedented and unacceptable. The Supreme Court of Canada is established constitutionally as an impartial body which means that it must be above partisan political considerations. The credibility of what is called a democracy, versus a dictatorship, resides in there being a clear division of powers between the judiciary and legislative institutions of the state. The Harper government's attempt to impugn the integrity and honour of the Chief Justice is its modus operandi to disparage the public institutions and justify its own dictatorship and use of privilege to act with impunity. The practice of defamation to declare a subject outside the law was the practice in medieval times. It is not permissible within a democratic set-up where it is supposed that there must beprima facie evidence of a crime prior to the laying of charges. This hit and run method of the Harper Conservatives is despicable, to say the least.

(With files from CBC News, Toronto Star, Supreme Court of Canada)