Ethics Commissioner committed to issue rulings on all complaints, but his senior lawyer is LeBlanc’s sister-in-law – is this why no ruling has been issued?
Democracy Watch filed court case last November challenging federal judicial appointment system for being too political
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE:
Thursday, February 25, 2021
OTTAWA – Today, Democracy Watch released the letter it has sent to federal Ethics Commissioner Mario Dion calling on him to issue a ruling, finally, on Democracy Watch’s complaint filed in July 2019 requesting an investigation into whether Trudeau Cabinet Minister Dominic LeBlanc participated in the appointment process for judges in New Brunswick with financial and other connections to him.
When testifying before the House Ethics Committee in December 2017 about his appointment, Commissioner Dion committed to issue a public ruling on every complaint he received. Yet more than 18 months have passed and still no ruling.
Democracy Watch filed a court case last November challenging the federal judicial appointment process for being too political because the Minister of Justice controls the process too much, including consulting with other ministers, and Liberal MPs and party members before making the final choice about who will be appointed.
“Given Democracy Watch filed its complaint in July 2019, Ethics Commissioner Dion’s ruling on Dominic LeBlanc’s participation in appointing New Brunswick judges who have connections to him is long overdue,” said Duff Conacher, Co-founder of Democracy Watch. “Given what has been revealed over the past year about how the federal Minister of Justice consults with other ministers about the appointments of judges in their provinces, it is difficult to believe that Dominic LeBlanc did not participate in the process appointing these judges who have financial and other connections to him.”
“Has Commissioner Dion not issued a ruling because he was handpicked by the Trudeau Cabinet through a biased, secretive, dishonest process, and his senior lawyer is LeBlanc’s sister-in-law? Commissioner Dion should have long ago delegated the investigation to someone independent of his office and all political parties,” said Conacher.
“The Trudeau Liberal Cabinet appointment system is essentially the same as the Harper Conservatives used, and it allows Cabinet ministers to choose their own Liberal party cronies as judges, and to choose lapdogs instead of watchdogs,” said Conacher. “To stop this dangerously undemocratic and unethical appointment process for all judges and democratic good government watchdogs, the appointment process should be suspended until, as in the UK and Ontario, fully independent committees are created to conduct public, merit-based searches for short lists of well-qualified nominees, with Cabinet required to choose from the lists.”
As first reported by CBC New Brunswick, Justice Charles LeBlond who was appointed to the New Brunswick Court of Appeal, and Justice Arthur Doyle and Justice Robert Dysart who were appointed to the New Brunswick Court of Queen’s Bench, all donated to help Minister LeBlanc pay off his debt from his 2008 Liberal Party leadership race campaign. GlobalNews.ca reported other donations made by these three justices to Minister LeBlanc’s riding association, and to the Liberal Party.
These outlets also reported that Jacques Pinet, the husband of Tracey DeWare, who was appointed Chief Justice of the Court of Queen’s Bench by Prime Minister Trudeau in June, also donated to Minister LeBlanc’s campaign, among other donations to the Liberal Party. CBC also reported that the couple purchased a seaside home from Minister LeBlanc in 2013 for $430,000, located next to Minister LeBlanc’s summerhouse.
Democracy Watch also revealed that, according to Minister LeBlanc’s federal ethics disclosure registration, sometime in 2017, a Jacques Pinet, Vice-President, Assumption Life Insurance Co. of New Brunswick, gave Minister LeBlanc a gift of 3 days hospitality at Ledges Lodge, Doarktown, New Brunswick. If this is the same Jacques Pinet who is married to Chief Justice DeWare, it would only compound the appearance of conflict of interest for Minister LeBlanc.
The Globe and Mail reported that Minister LeBlanc participated in the decisions for all of these appointments, while recusing himself from the appointment of one other judge who is a relative of his.
Section 4 and subsection 6(1) of the COIA together prohibit public office holders like Cabinet ministers from making or taking part in decisions when they have an opportunity to further their own, their family’s or their friends’ private interests, or improperly furthering another person’s interests (and section 9 prohibits trying to influence such decision, and section 8 prohibits using inside information to further a private interest). Democracy Watch’s position is that appointing someone as a judge furthers their private interest, and that “friends” should be defined by the Ethics Commissioner as including political friends such as significant supporters of the governing party.
In any case, it is improper for a minister to take part in a decision that affects any person who is their friend or has given them donations or gifts.
While the Trudeau Liberals added the goal of diversity for appointments, and reduced the number of members chosen by the Minister of Justice from four to three out of seven judicial advisory committee members, the committees still produce long lists of candidates which allow the Minister and Cabinet to appoint essentially whomever they want as a judge.
For quasi-judicial positions like key government watchdogs, Liberal Cabinet ministers still choose all advisory committee members and control the appointment process completely.
Democracy Watch also called on federal politicians to change the law to ensure all Cabinet appointees who watch over the government or oversee key democracy laws (especially every Officer of Parliament) be only allowed to serve one term.
“Like judges, all government and democracy watchdogs must only serve one term, with no possibility that the government can reappoint them, to ensure watchdogs don’t try to please the government in order to keep their job,” said Conacher.
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FOR MORE INFORMATION, CONTACT:
Duff Conacher, Co-founder of Democracy Watch
Tel: (613) 241-5179