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Federal Court rejects Trudeau Cabinet’s first attempt to have key evidence kept out of case challenging its too-political judicial appointments and promotions system

Trudeau Cabinet still trying to stop court from seeing government emails reported on in La Presse, and evidence that lawyer associations, law professors, experts and media all think the Liberals’ appointment process is too political

Case hearing in 2022 – case alleges Trudeau Liberal’s consultation with only Liberals across Canada taints appointments with partisan bias that violates independence of courts and public’s Charter right to impartial courts

Wednesday, December 15, 2021

OTTAWA – Today, Democracy Watch announced that the Federal Court rejected (PDF) the Trudeau Cabinet’s first attempt to have key evidence thrown out in its case challenging the federal government’s too-political, unconstitutional system for appointing judges to the federal courts and all provincial superior courts and courts of appeal, and promoting judges within those courts.

The evidence shows clearly that federal appointments system for judges is too open to political interference that violates the constitutional principle that guarantees the independence of courts, and the public’s Charter right to impartial courts.

Department of Justice lawyers are still trying to prevent the Federal Court from considering almost all of the evidence that Democracy Watch filed in a December 2020 affidavit (PDF) and in a second affidavit (PDF) about internal government emails reported on in La Presse on October 31, 2020.

Parts of the evidence in exhibits attached to the second affidavit will be considered confidentially by the Federal Court under an order of the court (the PDF of the second affidavit that is linked above is redacted to remove the currently confidential information).

The Trudeau Cabinet’s lawyers are trying to hide from the Federal Court almost all of Democracy Watch’s December 2020 affidavit – exhibits D to J, N to W and Z to BB – which contain all of the open letters and articles that lawyer associations, law professors, lawyers, experts and media have produced in the last few years expressing their concerns about how political the federal judicial appointment is, and how that undermines the public’s confidence in the independence and impartiality of the judiciary.

Wade Poziomka of Ross & McBride LLP is leading the litigation team representing Democracy Watch and its co-founder Duff Conacher in the case.

The federal appointment process for the federal and provincial superior and appeal courts matters a lot because the Supreme Court of Canada refuses to hear 90% of appeals from these courts, and many appeals are also refused by provincial appeal courts, so in many cases the provincial superior courts are the public’s court of last resort. The constitutional guarantee of the independence of the courts has been upheld in several rulings on the measures in Part VII of the Constitution. And sections 7 and 11(d) (and, indirectly, 24(1)) of the Charter have been applied in rulings to ensure impartial court hearings.

The problems are longstanding, and have been raised in the past: unlike in the UK and Quebec, the federal Minister of Justice has too much political control of the process from start to finish, from choosing the majority of the members of the judicial appointment advisory committees in each province and territory (who serve renewable two-year terms), to receiving long lists of candidates from those committees, to circulating those lists secretly to MPs, Cabinet ministers and ruling party officials before making the final choice. The Minister also makes the decision, without any advisory committee involved making recommendations, to promote a sitting judge by appointing them to a court of appeal. (See Backgrounder for details)

Details about how many ruling party officials the Minister of Justice involves in reviewing the long lists of candidates for judicial appointments submitted by the advisory committees have been confirmed by whistleblowers disclosing internal government emails to the Globe and Mail and CBC and Radio-Canada.

And in April 2020 the Canadian Judicial Council found that Justice Colleen Suche, spouse of then-federal Natural Resources Cabinet Minister Jim Carr, had violated the judiciary’s ethics code by providing suggestions about who the federal Cabinet should appoint as judges.

In November 2020, the Canadian Bar Association (CBA) expressed concern about the final step of the federal appointment process in which the Minister circulates the long lists of candidates to many ruling party officials, saying that it is “a process that is open to speculation about political interference” that may be “a factor in the number of vacancies on the bench, which is a direct contributor to court delays and the access to justice crisis in Canada.”

There are also concerns that the partisan nature of the appointment process may be inhibiting the appointment of judges that reflect Canada’s diversity. Last June, the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court of Canada expressed the need for a “our courts, including our highest court, to reflect the diversity of Canadians.” In September 2020, 36 lawyers associations, legal clinics and advocacy groups called for changes to the appointment process, as did the CBA, to increase the appointment of more Black, Indigenous and People of Colour (BIPOC) judges.

“The current federal judicial appointment system is open to too much political interference by the ruling party, which violates the independence of the courts that is need to ensure democratic good government and fair law enforcement for all,” said Duff Conacher, Co-founder of Democracy Watch. “Hopefully this case will lead to key changes that will ensure the appointment process for judges across Canada is truly independent and merit-based.”

“The power of Parliament is checked by the power of the judiciary, which has the ability to declare laws enacted by Parliament to be unconstitutional,” said Wade Poziomka, a partner at Ross & McBride LLP who is leading the litigation team representing Democracy Watch. “The independence of the judiciary is a necessary safeguard in a healthy democracy. This case challenges an appointment process that has been in place over more than one government, a process that is ripe for change because it allows partisan considerations to affect appointments.”

“Democracy Watch wants to strengthen the independence of our judiciary and, in turn, public confidence in the justice system,” said Poziomka. “Our first choice is to work with federal politicians and other stakeholders to achieve this goal. If litigation is necessary however, Democracy Watch will argue the merits of its case before the Federal Court.”

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Duff Conacher, Co-founder of Democracy Watch
Tel: (613) 241-5179
Cell: 416-546-3443
Email: [email protected]

See more at Democracy Watch’s Stop Bad Government Appointments Campaign and Stop Unfair Law Enforcement Campaign