Somehow Stephen Harper managed to take an ordinary responsibility of the Prime Minister—filling a vacancy on the Supreme Court—and turn it into a major debacle, deeply unbecoming of his office.
Last fall, Harper appointed Justice Marc Nadon to the Supreme Court, in an apparent violation of the requirements for justices from Quebec. He was immediately challenged and Nadon was ultimately ruled ineligible this spring. The affair left the court short a justice familiar with Quebec’s unique civil code for nine months and counting.
Instead of seeking out the best candidate, Harper seems to have gone out of his way to find one who was more ideologically acceptable.
Quebec’s top judges and lawyers were largely bypassed, with four of six candidates on the short list reportedly coming from the Federal Court, despite the fact that no Federal Court judge had ever been chosen for one of the Supreme Court’s three Quebec seats. Along the way, the government ignored countless warnings that these judges were ineligible.
One of those warnings came from the Chief Justice herself. Months later, the Prime Minister smeared her, saying her advice was “inappropriate and inadvisable”. He picked an unprecedented public fight with our highest court, casting aspersions on its credibility to impartially.
In fact, it was entirely appropriate for the Chief Justice to warn the government that its short-listed choices may not be eligible.
Reportedly, the government went as far as to suggest Justice Nadon resign as a judge and join the Barreau du Quebec purely to get around the rules. Fortunately, he thought better of it.
The appointment was mismanaged from start to finish. The integrity of the process was undermined. The Supreme Court was smeared and left short-handed. The best and brightest of the legal community were spurned.
This mess has been a costly mistake. The government spent about $245,000 on the botched selection, plus an estimated $146,500 on Nadon’s salary. Harper also missed an opportunity to increase diversity on the bench, as only one of his six appointments has been a woman.
Sadly, this is just the latest rebuke of the Conservatives’ reckless justice agenda. The courts have already struck down many of their policies, including the closure of Vancouver’s safe injection site, harsh mandatory minimums and violations of the rights of child soldiers.
Canadians deserve better.
Sean Casey, MP
Liberal Party of Canada Justice Critic