I have no really firm opinions on the Canadian judicial appointments process, I know it is somewhat political; for example, back in 2015 Justin Trudeau said that all supreme court judges had to be bilingual … full stop, as important, apparently, as being ‘learned in the law.’ Of course, there are very, very few indigenous judges who are also functionally bilingual, which makes another of his ‘priorities’ harder to manage. Priorities must be balanced and managed and that is, very often, why we elect people. Good bureaucrats or expert panels can recommend but, I suppose, when there is a pool of well qualified candidates then it might be better to allow the prime minister to choose for his or her own (probably political) reasons because that, after all, is why we elected her or him and why we can, also, vote for someone else, next time.
But, as Robert Fife and Sean Fine, who broke the original SNC-Lavalin/Jody Wilson-Raybould/Shawcross Doctrine story over a month ago report, in the Globe and Mail, “Chief Justice Glenn Joyal of the Manitoba Court of Queen’s Bench was a candidate for the Supreme Court of Canada vacancy created by the retirement of former chief justice Beverley McLachlin in December, 2017 … [but now, he says] … his name is being improperly used to serve someone’s “agenda” in the dispute between former justice minister and attorney-general Jody Wilson-Raybould and the Liberal government.” Messers Fife and Fine explain that “News reports from The Canadian Press and CTV on Monday [my link added] said Ms. Wilson-Raybould, who has accused the Liberal government of political interference in her role as attorney-general, had pushed for Chief Justice Joyal both to replace Ms. McLachlin on the court and to be chief justice. In a statement, Ms. Wilson-Raybould would not comment on whether she supported Chief Justice Joyal for the court citing the confidentiality of the appointment process … [and, they remind us that] … Supreme Court appointments are decided by the prime minister and the minister of justice is consulted on the matter. Prime Minister Justin Trudeau named Justice Sheilah Martin, an Alberta appeal court judge, to the Supreme Court and Richard Wagner of Quebec as Chief Justice.“
What’s the problem?
“Citing unnamed sources … [which many suggest can only have been the PMO] … the news reports suggested Mr. Trudeau doubted Ms. Wilson-Raybould’s judgment when she backed the conservative-minded Chief Justice Joyal, who has questioned the Supreme Court’s expansive position on the Charter of Rights and Freedoms. Mr. Trudeau has defended a liberal interpretation of Charter rights … [the Globe and Mail report says] … But in a statement, Chief Justice Joyal said he withdrew his candidacy for personal reasons, “due to my wife’s metastatic breast cancer” … [adding] … “I fear that someone is using my previous candidacy to the Supreme Court of Canada to further an agenda unrelated to the appointment process,” he said in the statement. “This is wrong.”“
It is wrong, very wrong, indeed, to use the highly and necessarily confidential consultations on such a critical appointment as part of what appears, to me, and to others, to be a clumsy (and, so far, failed) campaign by Team Trudeau to try to change the channel on the whole affair. It isn’t exploiting Justice Joyal’s personal tragedy that is the worst element; it is far, far worse to discuss the necessarily confidential aspects of court appointments in public, for any reason.
We know that supreme court nominees must be carefully screened ~ former (Conservative) Prime Minister Kim Campbell chaired the committee that produced the short list which, apparently, included Justice Joyal and from which Justice Sheilah Martin was, ultimately selected ~ but the final selection is, as Robert Fife and Sean Fine explained, the prime minister’s to make, and he may (should) consult with his Attorney General on the issue. This is a mater which, for the sake of the reputation of the whole justice system, needs to be at least as confidential as cabinet deliberations.
So, why is Team Trudeau doing this?
Neil Macdonald, in an opinion piece written for CBC News, suggests that it is simply self defence. He says that “Perhaps Jody Wilson-Raybould and Jane Philpott are acting entirely on principle, laying their bodies across the tracks to protect our democracy and rule of law. Perhaps … [and] … That’s their story, anyway. And it’s a good one, too, no denying that. A politician cannot buy the kind of hagiography Philpott has enjoyed since she quit Justin Trudeau’s cabinet in solidarity with Wilson-Raybould, who is herself now portrayed as single-handedly protecting the justice system’s integrity from attacks by crude ward heelers in the PMO. A fellow political columnist suggested last week that Philpott should resign as a Liberal because she is so immensely competent, so strong, and so principled that her fellow party members simply aren’t worthy of being in caucus with her … [but] … In any case, Philpott and Wilson-Raybould are politicians who are being treated as though they aren’t politicians, which is every politician’s lustiest dream.” Mr Macdonald, like some others, doesn’t buy that. He thinks that it’s time to “strop up Occam’s razor and apply its austere logic to all this .. [and, on that basis, he asks] … Might it simply be that Philpott and Wilson-Raybould are being coy because they want to inflict maximum damage on Trudeau from within his own caucus, which they know is the most effective place to do it? Might they intend to push for a leadership review after this fall’s election, or, even better, before it?” It might be, indeed, and I have suggested, over and over again, that some Liberals must step up, sooner rather than later, and clean out the Augean Stables that 50 years of Trudeau-Chrétien-Trudeau ineptitude, corruption and, perhaps, even criminality have left as their legacy.
But, be that “might” as it may, I, personally, continue to believe, as I have explained elsewhere, on social media, that Dr Philpott, especially, and Ms Wilson-Raybould, too, are honour bound, by their own moral and ethical standards, to obey both the law and constitutional conventions. I believe Dr Philpott when she said that she still believes in the core Liberal programme, but that her Liberal Party “needs to be the best version of the Liberal Party,” and I suspect that she believes that Justin Trudeau is dirtying a once noble, national institution. If she is, indeed, trying to sabotage Justin Trudeau to salvage the Liberal Party (just as he sabotaged the Energy East pipeline to try to salvage a few votes in Québec) then, I think she is doing a good deed for Canada.
How low will they go?
We saw, Tuesday afternoon, that the Trudeau regime is desperate to deny Dr Philpott and Ms Wilson-Raybould an opportunity to explain themselves. The Globe and Mail reports that “The Prime Minister told reporters Monday that there was no need to grant another waiver to Ms. Wilson-Raybould, saying the justice committee had a “full airing” of the matter. Last week, the Liberal-dominated justice committee shut down hearings on the SNC-Lavalin affair … [and the Liberal majority on the House of Commons Ethics Committee dutifully just followed their orders, and] … Liberal MPs … used their majority to defeat the [Conservative bid to give them a chance to speak at the Ethics Committee] putting an end to any further parliamentary inquiry into attempts by Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and other top officials to shelve the fraud and bribery prosecution of SNC-Lavalin.” But, I suspect that is not the end of it. Too many people, including too many Liberals know that this looks and smells like a major coverup, which hints, therefore, at a serious breach of the rules … even of a crime. The CBC‘s Robyn Urback said, on social media (at 3:02 PM on 26 March), that “The PM has calculated it is less politically costly to continue having this drag out than just release Philpott and JWR to say what they have to say. Which suggests something awfully interesting about what they have to say.” That seems about right to me and that seems to say that what they might tell Canadians will cost him his job … or worse.
John Ibbitson, writing in the Globe and Mail, says that “The core question in the SNC-Lavalin affair is whether Justin Trudeau and his advisers respect the rule of law … [and] … The answer appears to be that they have no respect for it at all, after an unnamed source, in an effort to smear former attorney-general Jody Wilson-Raybould, fed reporters a story about a dispute over choosing a judge for the Supreme Court … [he adds that] … Even Liberals are furious over the leak … [and] … Members of the Liberal old guard are not pleased. The leak “involved extremely confidential information about applicants to the Supreme Court,” tweeted Penny Collenette, who was director of appointments for four years under Prime Minister Jean Chrétien. “Shockingly bad form” … [and] … “Agree,” replied Senator Percy Downe, who served as Mr. Chrétien’s chief of staff. “Appalling behaviour.”” Indeed!
In this case, I am not at all conflicted, whoever
leaked planted the story about Justice Joyal has done a grave disservice to democracy in Canada. I believe, along with many others, that it was Justin Trudeau’s staff, in the PMO. It is, yet, further evidence that this prime minister neither knows nor cares about the justice system … he appears to think that it can be manipulated, at his whim, to suit his own partisan political ends. That cannot be, it must not be the case. Now he seems increasingly desperate to cover up what he did. For the sake of democracy in Canada Justin Trudeau must be removed from office, soon, by his own Liberal caucus.