House of Commons Hansard #108 of the 38th Parliament, 1st Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was housing.

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10 a.m.

Bloc

Richard Marceau Charlesbourg, QC

moved:

That the House denounce the recent remarks made by Mr. Justice Michel Robert stating that it is acceptable to discriminate on the basis of political opinion when appointing candidates to the federal judiciary and that it call on the Standing Committee on Justice, Human Rights, Public Safety and Emergency Preparedness to create a special subcommittee with the mandate to examine the process for appointments to the federal judiciary and make recommendations for reform, with the primary goal of eliminating political partisanship from the process, by October 31, 2005.

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased today to debate a highly important motion that speaks to the very state of law and the rule of law in our country.

The motion reads as follows:

That the House denounce the recent remarks made by Mr. Justice Michel Robert stating that it is acceptable to discriminate on the basis of political opinion when appointing candidates to the federal judiciary and that it call on the Standing Committee on Justice, Human Rights, Public Safety and Emergency Preparedness to create a special subcommittee with the mandate to examine the process for appointments to the federal judiciary and make recommendations for reform, with the primary goal of eliminating political partisanship from the process, by October 31, 2005.

This motion, as you can see, has two main parts, one that looks back at what has already been done, and another that is more prospective. In other words, what can we do to resolve an increasingly recognized problem?

So, why this motion? Let us put this all in context. As a result of various witnesses appearing before the Gomery commission, the sponsorship scandal has hurt all politicians. Revelations by Benoît Corbeil suggest that the judicial branch is also affected by the scandal. We know that Benoît Corbeil, the former director general of the Quebec wing of the LPC, has stated that anyone wanting to be appointed a judge “needed to have friendly relations with those people”—meaning members of the Liberal network—who can influence the political machinery.

A few days later, Michel Robert, the chief justice of the Quebec Court of Appeal, a long-standing Liberal and president of the Liberal Party of Canada from 1986 to 1990, spoke out and intentionally crossed the line into the political arena, by reprising contentious remarks he had made before.

What did Michel Robert say before and what did he say this year? Mr. Robert was interviewed by Mr. Maisonneuve on November 19, 2004, on Maisonneuve en direct , a popular show on Radio-Canada.

Mr. Maisonneuve asked him, “Mr. Robert, would you have been appointed to the Court of Appeal if you had been a supporter or an elected representative of a sovereignist party?”

Michel Robert responded as follows. “No, I would not be on the Court of Appeal because I believe the Government of Canada appoints people with federalist sentiments when there are openings in the hierarchy”.

Mr. Maisonneuve asked him, “So, there is a political dimension?”

And Michel Robert replied, “There is a constitutional dimension, in my opinion, yes, but beyond that, I believe that the system needs to be more transparent”.

Several months later, on April 26, 2005, in another Radio-Canada interview, Michel Robert made two points, “We normally must adhere to the federal Canadian system, since it's the system within which we operate. Personally, I have nothing against someone who wants to change the Canadian system into another system; this, he is perfectly free to do. But I don't think he should exercise judicial functions”.

He added, “To be nominated to a federal judicial function, I think it’s a sort of prerequisite, one must not be sovereignist, I mean, I think this is a generally held opinion among Canadian judges”.

The comments of the chief justice of the Quebec Court of Appeal constitute a serious error in judgment. First, he crossed the line, which should be and which is extremely clear, separating the political and judicial branches. In other words, he did not fulfill his duty to refrain from public debate. He was not speaking as a judge but rather as a federalist and a Liberal. He ignored his duty not to take part in public debate and, of his own free will, he crossed the line into the political arena.

There has been another serious breach of judiciary duty on his part. In our legal system, because of the “constitutionalization” of rights and freedoms, judges play an important role, in fact an essential one. Indeed, they form the keystone of the protection system for rights and freedoms in Canada. By stating as he did that it is acceptable to discriminate on the basis of public opinion in Canada in the 21st century, Michel Robert sent the message that discrimination based on political opinion is okay.

But the fact is that a judge, and the chief justice of the Quebec Court of Appeal in particular, is among those chiefly responsible for promoting and defending human rights and freedoms in Quebec and across Canada. This means that one of the chief persons responsible for ensuring the promotion and respect of human rights came out and said that such discrimination based on political opinion was acceptable. As we know, this caused an uproar, quite a bit of an uproar in fact.

I would ask the members in this House who do not share the Bloc Québécois' political opinion to picture the following situation. Imagine that the PQ government announced at some point that it will be appointing to the Quebec Court of Appeal exclusively sovereignist judges. I am convinced that people everywhere would rise up in protest. I can just see the headlines in the Globe and Mail , the Gazette , the National Post and the Sun , among others, denouncing such a decision. And they would be right to say it is unacceptable. That is the mirror image of the current situation.

There is a fairly serious problem of perception as far as the politicization of the judiciary is concerned, one that has been aggravated by Michel Robert's comments, among others. We have monitored the debates, the phone-in,—some of which I took part in—the editorials and press coverage. This has attracted a lot of public attention. Unfortunately, people are starting to mistrust the judiciary, which is, as I said, the cornerstone of our legal system in a country where the supremacy of law must be enforced.

That is the reason why I have, as you know, filed a complaint with the Canadian Judicial Council so that it may address this matter. It has, moreover, been a source of great concern to me that the Minister of Justice has not also filed such a complaint in support of mine, despite my questions, which I would say have been posed in a friendly and constructive manner.

One of the important, essential, vital roles of the Attorney General and Minister of Justice is, in my opinion, to protect the separation between the political and the judiciary. The minister has been remiss in one of his vital duties by not supporting my complaint with one of his own.

The public perception of a politicized judiciary is based on facts. I would like to refer to the excellent work done by the Gazette and CanWest—and those words are not likely to come often from my lips; perhaps this day should be marked on the calendar. Elizabeth Thompson and Cristin Schmidtz, among others, have come up with the statistics. I will begin by quoting from an article by Elizabeth Thompson which appeared on page A1 of the May 6 Gazette. I will be reading it in the original, so I ask your forbearance for any mistakes of pronunciation I might make:

Nearly 60 per cent of lawyers appointed to the bench in Quebec by the federal government since the 2000 election contributed to the Liberal Party of Canada in the years leading up to their appointment, The Gazette has learned.

If professors and public servants are factored out, the proportion rises even higher.

Of the 29 law firm lawyers appointed to the Quebec Superior Court or Quebec Court of Appeal for the first time during that period, 21, or 72.4 per cent, had made individual contributions to the Liberals.

In fact, The Gazette's investigation reveals that the overwhelming majority of contributions made by those later named to the bench was to the Liberal Party during the 10-year period of contributions studied.

So the perception is based on facts which are troubling, to say the least. Hence the need to ensure that merit is the only consideration when people are appointed to the bench. This is why the explanations of the Minister of Justice that this is already the case do not hold water. Even the figures of the terribly sovereignist Gazette indicate the contrary.

Now for the prospective part of the motion. The procedure has to be changed. This change received unanimous approval in the Standing Committee on Justice, Human Rights, Public Safety and Emergency Preparedness, where I presented a quite similar motion. It got the support of the NDP and the Conservative Party. Initially, the motion was much harder on Mr. Justice Robert. However, at the request of my Conservative and NDP colleagues, among others, the wording was toned down a bit so as to take off some of the edge, if I can put it that way, and so the motion would be as balanced as possible. This is this motion we have before us today.

I wish to thank my colleagues from Provencher and Windsor—Tecumseh, both justice critics. They too have some fairly well based concerns. I am sure they will present examples that affect them, doing their best to be as non partisan as possible.

In this regard, the Standing Committee on Justice, Human Rights, Public Safety and Emergency Preparedness is generally speaking quite collegial. Despite the elevated levels of heat and antagonism in the House—as concerns the sponsorship scandal, for example—we manage to work together quite well. Everybody makes compromises, and the bills get moved along. This was the case with bills C-13 and C-2 on DNA banking and child pornography, respectively.

The Standing Committee on Justice, Human Rights, Public Safety and Emergency Preparedness and the justice critics therefore have an interest and have made a collective contribution. I therefore want to thank my colleagues from Provencher and Windsor—Tecumseh not only for supporting the motion but for helping to formulate it. What we have today is almost word for word what was before the committee. This proves we are capable of working together. I thank them.

So, it is important to change the procedure. We all know how judges are currently appointed. There is an advisory committee made up of seven members: one is appointed by the provincial bar association, one by the Canadian Bar Association, one by the federal judiciary, one by the relevant provincial justice minister, and three by the federal Minister of Justice. The individuals who are interested in becoming judges submit their candidacy to that committee. The committee then produces three lists: one for those applicants who are not commendable, one for those who are commendable, and one for those who are highly commendable. The Minister of Justice can choose between those who are either highly commendable or commendable.

The current system is not working as well as we would like it to. Indeed, we found, as indicated by the figures that I submitted earlier, that there is an over-representation of individuals who are of Liberal allegiance. It is important to point out that the fact that a person was previously involved in politics is no reason not to appoint him to the bench. On the contrary, we would be sending a very bad message if we told people they should do their civic duty by getting involved in politics, but that this will prevent them from being appointed to the bench.

I understand this very well, and I think that we should not prevent someone from being appointed as a judge on the ground that he is or was involved in politics. In fact, this political experience can often prove to be very useful, once a person becomes a judge.

However, there is a problem when the person must be affiliated to a specific political party and must believe in a certain political philosophy to be appointed as a judge, and when this has almost become a prerequisite. Unfortunately, in Canada, we are getting dangerously close to that.

The subcommittee that I am proposing would try to come up with solutions to eliminate political partisanship from the appointment process. At first glance, there are two things that come to mind rather quickly. First, why does the selection committee choose those applicants who are either highly commendable or commendable? Why does the process give full latitude and discretion to the Minister of Justice to choose from a list of highly commendable or commendable individuals? This means that the minister can appoint someone from the B list—if you will—that is, the list of those who are deemed commendable, and ignore those who are deemed highly commendable.

One way to tighten the appointment process would be to take away this huge discretionary power enjoyed by the Minister of Justice. This could be done if the committee submitted a short list of people and if the minister were required to appoint judges from that list.

I am sure my colleague from Windsor—Tecumseh will talk about the process in Ontario. He brags about it quite a bit. Since he will surely be a member of the committee, if it is formed, he will probably want to invite Peter Russell, who set up the committee in Ontario, to tell us how to go about it and to discuss the advantages that have stemmed from the process. Notably, there was the arm wrestling match between the Harris government and the members of the committee. My colleague is in a much better position than I am to talk about it.

Second, is it necessary to have three representatives of the Minister of Justice on this seven-member committee? That is almost 50% when, in any event, the Minister of Justice will have very significant decision-making power since he will be appointing the judges in question. This begs the question: do we really need three representatives of the Minister of Justice on this committee?

Mr. Speaker, I see you are indicating that I should be wrapping up my speech. Twenty minutes is not a lot of time to talk about all this. I have two minutes remaining.

As a law maker, and simply as a citizen, I believe it is important for the judiciary not to be politicized. The public needs to have the impression and needs to know that the judiciary is not politicized. The keystone of our constitutional system must be protected by denouncing any intention to attack or even destroy the integrity of the judiciary system. We must denounce the politicization of the judiciary system. We must also protect the judges, who are essential, important and vital in protecting our individual rights and freedoms, which are constitutionalized in this system. With open minds, cooperation and non partisanship—the way things are in the justice committee, as I was saying—we must work on proposing a new process that will give the people of Quebec and Canada the least politicized judiciary system possible for the greater good of everyone.

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10:25 a.m.

Liberal

Don Boudria Glengarry—Prescott—Russell, ON

Mr. Speaker, I have listened to our colleague with interest. I often agree with him, but not this time.

As far as the process of appointing judges is concerned, I spent nearly seven and one-half years in cabinet. I have often seen candidate lists. There is a major problem—as the Minister of Justice could tell us—in finding representatives of minorities to apply for judgeships, and then to get their names onto the list. If the minister has less discretion in choosing between “highly recommended” and “recommended”, these minorities will be even less well served.

I will give an example. For a long time, there were no francophone candidates in my province, not a single one. We just about had to hold a recruitment drive to encourage people to apply. If this were narrowed down still further, minorities would be shut out of the judiciary. I think this will serve us very badly. We need to maintain the minister's latitude to consult the list, choose from it and say that all those on it are qualified. No one is proposing to recruit, and appoint, the rejects.

As for the qualified candidates, we must ensure there are enough magistrates from any given group or language or racial minority. These people do not see themselves in the judiciary and must be sought out. I know that the Minister of Justice is very much aware of some of the difficulties connected with this, and we have spoken together about it in the past.

My response to my colleague is that there may be improvements to be made in the structure; that I do accept. But what I personally do not accept is removing all or most of the ministerial discretion. In my opinion, it is very difficult at this time, in my province at least, to find a number of candidates to serve the public. I am not just reporting hearsay; I have seen it for myself for years. I have personally telephoned around to lawyers I knew to try and recruit them as candidates. I knew they would be good, and I would ask them “Mr. or Ms. So-and-So, would you please be a candidate? We need people like you”.

That is what needs doing, not discouraging them further.

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10:25 a.m.

Bloc

Richard Marceau Charlesbourg, QC

Mr. Speaker, the member for Glengarry—Prescott—Russell is a staunch defender of minority rights, especially minority language rights, in his native province.

However, I would like to tell him that I found his question quite surprising. The member stated, without me putting words in his mouth, that if ministerial discretion is taken away, it will be more difficult for minorities to get judicial appointments. He is nodding in agreement. So he is saying—and I presume that we disagree on that point—that minorities would not qualify based on the merit principle only.

Having attended the Laval University law school and the University of Western Ontario, I am convinced that people from linguistic, cultural, ethnic or religious minorities are just as qualified to be in the “highly recommendable” group as the majority of Canadians, who form the pool from which the selection is made.

I am not saying that there can be absolutely no ministerial discretion. That has to be clearly understood. The judiciary must reflect as much as possible the society that it is supposed to serve, which means that issues such as gender and ethnicity can be discussed. I am not saying that there should be no discretion whatsoever. However, I am saying that it has to be tightened somewhat.

The member for Glengarry—Prescott—Russell may not agree with me as to the degree of latitude that must be given to the minister, but it is not black and white; it is a grey area. Between ministerial discretion as it is now and taking away such discretion completely, there is some manoeuvring room, and that can be discussed at the subcommittee which, I hope, will be struck as a result of this opposition day.

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10:30 a.m.

Liberal

Denis Paradis Brome—Missisquoi, QC

Mr. Speaker, I listened intently to what my colleague from Charlesbourg—Haute-Saint-Charles said. I agree with him that it is important that these appointments be made on merit. In fact, I believe they are now made in this way.

I was president of the Quebec bar association in a previous life. I also followed these committees as the representative of Quebec's lawyers. Generally speaking, we have seen these appointments being made on merit.

My colleague from Charlesbourg—Haute-Saint-Charles also mentioned that belonging to a political party does not disqualify a candidate. Thus, it might be interesting to see someone with a varied life experience as a good candidate.

Where I disagree is with this talk about the politicization of the judicial system. I do not believe this is the case, from what I have seen, nor on the provincial level, since our PQ colleagues were in power for several years in Quebec. Consequently, can we say that all judges who were appointed in Quebec during the PQ government were staunch PQ members? I am not sure about this.

Rather than talk about politicizing a system, perhaps we should talk—and my colleague mentioned this earlier—about improving a system so that merit is recognized and is the basis of this system. However, when he mentioned—this is where I disagree a little—that one must belong to a political party to be appointed, I do not agree at all. Appointments are made on the basis of merit and must continue to be made in this way.

I agree more with my colleague's comments when he says that it is not a tie with a political party that disqualifies a candidate.

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10:30 a.m.

Bloc

Richard Marceau Charlesbourg, QC

Mr. Speaker, I thank my Liberal colleague and former president of the Quebec bar for his question.

Actually, I do not think political action or having been a member of a political party should disqualify anybody from becoming a judge.

I tried a little test. I called the Quebec section of the Liberal Party of Canada to ask how many members they had. After a short discussion, I was told 70,000 to 80,000. So this is 70,000 to 80,000 members out of a population of about 7 million. This is not a big percentage.

When we look at the figures provided by the Montreal Gazette , hardly a sovereignist mouthpiece--I do not think they are big fans of the Bloc, the Parti Québécois, or sovereignty--we see that 60% of those who have been appointed as judges made contributions to the Liberal Party of Canada. If we consider only lawyers in private practice, the percentage is 72.4%. There is certainly at least an appearance of politicization.

I think there is more than the appearance of a problem. The problem is real, if you consider that three lawyers out of four who were in private practice and have been named federal judges contributed to the Liberal Party of Canada. Therefore, there is a problem with politicization, which should be eliminated from the whole process of appointing judges, for the greater good of all Quebeckers and Canadians

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10:35 a.m.

Mount Royal
Québec

Liberal

Irwin Cotler Minister of Justice and Attorney General of Canada

Mr. Speaker, I agree with the member for Charlesbourg—Haute-Saint-Charles on the importance of this motion. Indeed, one of my responsibilities is to protect judicial independence and the rule of law.

Accordingly, because of this I will be voting against this motion, which I regard, taken as a whole, as being inappropriate, uninformed, unconstitutional and prejudicial to the independence of the judiciary and the responsibility of Parliament. Indeed, I am very concerned about the trafficking in innuendo in relation to the judiciary over the past few months.

As my colleague has said, an independent judicial system is the cornerstone of our democracy, the cornerstone of our rule of law.

Therefore, public confidence in the independence and reputation of the judiciary is essential for the proper functioning of the legal system and the maintenance of the rule of law.

As parliamentarians, we have a responsibility to preserve and increase Canadians' respect for public institutions, such as the judiciary and the courts. There may be short terms gains in using the judiciary as a political toy, but in the long term, we all suffer if we do not give public institutions the respect they deserve. For this reason, we must be very cautious about making charges in the House and elsewhere.

It is not only highly inappropriate but in my view contrary to the Constitution for this House to be debating a motion of censure against Chief Justice Robert at this time. Regardless of the depth of feeling that some hon. members may have about the chief justice's comments, now is not the time or the place for these kinds of concerns or censures to be aired.

The framers of the Constitution gave careful consideration to all aspects of the relationship between the branches of government and in particular between the judiciary and Parliament. Section 99 of the Constitution reflects the importance of preserving the separation of these two branches by conferring on both Houses of Parliament the singularly important task of considering whether the conduct of a judge warrants removal. This is the exclusive role of Parliament, but it is also a limited role with only one sanction: removal. Parliament has no other power to censure or criticize individual judicial conduct.

An equally important and related point is that Parliament itself has established a specific process that is to be used to assist in informing its serious task in considering whether removal of a judge is warranted. In 1971, Parliament conferred the responsibility and authority on the Canadian Judicial Council to receive and fully consider complaints with respect to these matters and make recommendations as to whether the conduct in question warranted removal.

Parliament clearly recognized that the independence of the judiciary would be more appropriately preserved through this process, which allows for full evidentiary based inquiries upon which the decision whether or not to seek removal can be based.

I believe the hon. member for Charlesbourg—Haute-Saint-Charles filed a complaint with the council, as is his right. We must therefore allow the council to carry out the mandate Parliament has given it. The council has expertise in matters of judicial independence and restraint. It will examine the complaint independently and objectively, as part of its procedures and make a decision.

This motion, however, seeks to vilify a sitting judge, with none of the processes or protections that have been established by this Parliament or by the Constitution. It is therefore not only premature and unfounded, but what is more serious is that this entirely premature and unfounded step could be perceived as an attempt by Parliament to influence the council's considered deliberations, if not circumvent the constitutional process established by Parliament for this purpose.

Indeed, there is as well a bigger problem with this motion. As indicated, the Constitution mandates that removal of a judge can only be accomplished by joint addresses to the House and the Senate. This House could be called upon at some point in the future to consider these issues formally in the context of the joint address procedure, that constitutionally mandated procedure. By prejudging the issue of the judge's conduct in this matter by voting in favour of this censure motion at this time, hon. members could be undermining the fairness of any future process that we may be called upon to implement.

As parliamentarians, we have a duty to act consistently with the Constitution and with respect to the separation of powers as protected under that Constitution. We must let the council process unfold and, if necessary, let the constitutional process unfold as it was intended to. Anything else is prejudicial to the independence of the judiciary and, I might add, to our role and constitutional responsibilities as parliamentarians.

I have said many times and I will say again that the quality of the Canadian judiciary is unassailable. Canadians are proud and have every right to be proud of our judicial system, which is studied around the world as a model of fairness, impartiality and independence. One of the main reasons for this is that our Canadian judges are seen to be of the highest calibre. They are diligent and dedicated and they deservedly enjoy a high degree of respect and admiration both within Canada and beyond our borders.

Accordingly, any reform of the appointments process must ensure that this important legacy continues to be protected and to flourish.

It is important to remember that the Constitution determines the context for the federal process of appointing judges. More specifically, section 96 of the Constitution Act, 1867, gives the executive—or cabinet—power to appoint judges to provincial superior courts by order in council. The executive remains responsible and accountable for the exercise of the power to appoint.

There are two important consequences of this. First, the power conferred on the federal cabinet cannot be delegated to another body, be it another level of government, a committee or any other entity. Second, the exercise of the executive's discretionary power in the appointment of judges cannot be hindered to the point where the executive has only limited latitude in exercising this discretionary power.

On a practical level, this prevents the government from adopting reforms which effectively delegate its authority to outside committees or which limit its discretion by requiring the government to select from a short list, as the member suggested.

We therefore need to examine carefully those proposals which are inspired by provincial processes that do not face the same constraints and constitutional frameworks as are dictated by section 96.

The federal judicial appointments process exists for one reason and one reason only: to ensure that only meritorious candidates are appointed to the bench. I strongly believe that my own appointments and those of my predecessors as well have been guided by this foundational principle.

There are also practical considerations that will limit the options that are available. This is not like the Supreme Court of Canada where there are nine judges, and vacancies normally arise every couple of years. In the Superior Courts, there are approximately 1,100 judges and there are always vacancies to be filled.

In April 2004, for example, the Commissioner for Federal Judicial Affairs testified before the justice committee that 490 applications for the bench were received in 2003. There were 59 advisory committee meetings to assess these applications in every province and territory. In that year, 55 applicants were appointed to the Superior Court bench. In 2002, 499 applications were received. There were 47 meetings and 53 appointments.

These numbers do not include judges who were elevated from a Superior Court to a Court of Appeal or the Supreme Court of Canada.

A great many applications need to be assessed and a considerable number of vacancies need to be filled. When we talk about committees meeting and interviewing candidates for each vacancy or establishing short lists of candidates for each vacancy, the implication is that there is much work to be done, particularly if we consider the fact that, on one hand, the committee members are all volunteers and, on the other, their terms are relatively short.

In my opinion, we risk ending up with a process that cannot handle the applications submitted or fill the vacancies created when a judge dies, retires or is promoted to another court.

The present appointments process also permits the minister to promote diversity on the bench, as has been mentioned by my colleague, within the context of a merit based system. Indeed, since I was appointed Minister of Justice, we have taken great strides in improving gender equity. Close to half of my new judicial appointments and of my elevations and transfers have been women.

Our accomplishments do not end with gender equity, however. I have also had the honour, and this is important with respect to diversity, to appoint the first aboriginal judge to a Court of Appeal in Canada, the first person of colour to the Ontario Court of Appeal and the first Métis person to the Superior Court of Ontario. All this was done under the current system of merit based appointments, which some of my opposition colleagues now seek to challenge.

In my view, any system of appointments must be structured so as to ensure that diversity can be promoted within the ranks of the merit based Superior Court judiciary. When we have courts that reflect the society they serve, this helps to promote confidence in the judicial system by all segments of our population.

There are seven basic points which are essential in examining the current appointments process referred to by the member for Charlesbourg--Haute-Saint-Charles this morning. I believe these address a number of concerns that have been expressed about the system. The process is designed to ensure the Minister of Justice receives broadly based and objective advise about the qualifications of those who seek a judicial appointment.

First, the committee process for the federal judiciary is independent and at arm's length from the minister. The process is organized around independent judicial advisory committees which assess the qualifications of potential candidates.

Second—and this is extremely important—the Commissioner of Federal Judicial Affairs has supervisory power over the process. The commissioner has overall responsibility for administering the appointments process. He receives the applications and ensures assessments are diligent and thorough. He provides administrative support to the committees.

Third, as the member for Charlesbourg—Haute-Saint-Charles mentioned, representatives of the judiciary, the Canadian Bar Association, the provincial law societies and the provincial attorneys general sit on the judicial advisory committees. These are all highly respected organizations.

Three members of these committees—two of whom must be laypersons—are selected by the minister. There are 16 committees: three in Ontario, two in Quebec and one in each remaining province and territory.

Fourth, judicial advisory committees vet applications from candidates in accordance with prescribed merit based criteria that are publicly available on the commissioner's website. In order to be considered for an appointment, a candidate must first meet the minimum of conditions in the Judges Act, the Federal Courts Act and the Tax Court of Canada Act, as the case may be. Candidates must have been called to the bar of a province or territory for at least 10 years or have 10 years' service as a combination of time at the bar and time in a full time judicial office.

The merit based criteria, which are set forth in the formula for the application form for candidates, include general proficiency in the law, intellectual ability, analytical skills, ability to listen, ability to maintain an open mind, ability to make decisions, capacity to exercise sound judgment, reputation among professional peers and the general community, capacity to handle heavy workloads, capacity to handle stress and pressures of the isolation of the judicial role, awareness of racial and gender issues, bilingual ability and such personal characteristics as sense of ethics, patience, courtesy, honesty, common sense, tact, integrity, humility, fairness, reliability, tolerance, sense of responsibility and consideration for others.

These merit based criteria, which are publicly available for evaluation and the like, do not include or make any reference to political affiliation or political belief. It is simply not considered relevant, nor can it be considered relevant.

The judicial advisory committees also consider potential impediments to appointment, such as whether candidates suffer from any debilitating medical conditions that would be likely to impair their ability to perform the duties of a judge or whether there are any past or current disciplinary actions against them, and so forth.

Fifth, the judicial advisory must evaluate a process then recommend candidates for evaluation by the Minister of Justice. The committee assesses candidates in one of three categories: recommended, highly recommended or unable to recommend. The files of all candidates are maintained in a separate and confidential data bank at the commissioner's office.

Sixth, and this is crucial, the minister can only choose from candidates who are recommended or highly recommended. I stress that no candidate has ever been chosen who was not recommended by the committee in its merit based evaluation.

Seventh, I, myself, subsequently engage in a consultative process with respect to the recommended candidate by the advisory committee. This consultation is intended to ensure it has the broadest possible set of information to determine who is the best candidate for a particular vacancy.

Turning to the question of political affiliation, it is important to stress once again that a candidate's political stripe, if any, is not a relevant criterion, nor can it be. It is not a prerequisite in the choice of a candidate. Nor can it be used to exclude candidates. The advisory committees do not take this into consideration, and I have repeatedly said that I do not either. Indeed, I have said on several occasions that for the most part, I do not know what a candidate's affiliation is and frankly, I could not care less.

Obviously, an individual should not be appointed to the bench because they gave money to a political party. But nor should that individual be discriminated against for having done so. A number of judges were once active in politics, and we should not exclude such individuals because, consequently, we would be failing to take advantage of such excellent candidates and discouraging participation in the democratic process.

I truly believe the current appointment process is sound in principle. This does not mean, however, that improvements cannot be made. That is why I have undertaken a consultation process concerning appointments to the judiciary and how it is working. These consultations will start with the chairs of the various advisory committees who will have the experience on the ground in terms of how the process works in reality.

In addition, I also publicly have committed to consulting with experts to seek their views with respect to possible improvement. This process would not prevent in any way the parliamentary committee undertaking a parallel process, which it is free to do without the necessity of this motion. Indeed, this demonstrates that the motion has been brought in for purely partisan purposes unworthy of support in the House. This speaks to the issue of politicization that the hon. member himself warned against.

Before I conclude, I feel compelled to point out that the government's commitment to transparency in judicial appointments is further reinforced by our recent proposal to reform the Supreme Court of Canada appointments process. To the degree that the Bloc motion today would touch on that process, I would emphasize that the government's proposal achieves increased transparency and credibility of the appointments process for Supreme Court judges, provides for greater parliamentary and provincial participation and protects the independence and respect for the judiciary. At the same time, it preserves the constitutional authority for these appointments in the governor in council and protects, as I stated, from the constitutional framework, the independence of the judiciary, the integrity of the court and the responsibilities of the House.

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10:50 a.m.

Beauséjour
New Brunswick

Liberal

Dominic LeBlanc Parliamentary Secretary to the Leader of the Government in the House of Commons

Mr. Speaker, I thank the minister for his very well reasoned and researched presentation into what is a very important issue. As the minister knows, I am a member of the bar in New Brunswick.

In my province, as in many others, practising members of the bar have shown a great deal of interest in the judicial appointment process. I must say that since he has taken office, the minister has made some top-notch appointments.

What I want to know from the Minister of Justice is what he intends to do in this regard in my home province of New Brunswick. We have to appoint competent lawyers of course, but also bilingual lawyers. Some of my classmates still practice law. They tell me that in a province like mine, which is officially bilingual, the fact that a judge is not bilingual is often a problem for some witnesses or when documents are introduced.

I know that the minister has said publicly that it was important for our judiciary, whether the Federal Court or the superior courts of my province, to be able to work in both official languages. As a minority francophone, I would be interested to know what the minister intends to do to promote these values regarding the appointments, while agreeing of course that all appointments must be based on competence and integrity.

Supply
Government Orders

10:50 a.m.

Liberal

Irwin Cotler Mount Royal, QC

Mr. Speaker, as I have said, I will meet with the chairs of all advisory committees to encourage them to look at ways to encourage French-speaking lawyers to apply. This is also what I am trying to do when I meet with the French-speaking lawyers associations. I try to encourage them to apply for a judge position.

Diversity is an issue, but ultimately, all evaluations are based on merit.

In the pool of candidates we want to encourage more bilingual candidates, candidates that reflect the diversity of our country in order to promote gender equity, the inclusion of visible minorities and more bilingual judges, all of which speak to the issue of diversity, and this is important, within the framework of prescribed merit based criteria as I cited in my comments.

Supply
Government Orders

10:55 a.m.

NDP

Joe Comartin Windsor—Tecumseh, ON

Mr. Speaker, it has been interesting to watch the debate develop this morning, particularly the response from the minister. This is the problem I have. I am hearing from the minister that the system is basically functioning very well. We produce extremely good judges in our country. Generally I agree with him, but it is not as good as it could be.

We listened to the question from the member from New Brunswick and before that the member for Glengarry—Prescott—Russell. What I hear is francophone judges do not get to the top of the list in sufficient quantity to represent the our needs. They are not recommended or highly recommended. In my experience in Ontario, as a practising lawyer, there are a great number of highly qualified francophone lawyers in the province.

If they are not getting onto the list or high enough on the list to be recommended or highly recommended, does the minister not see that there is something intrinsically wrong with the system and in particular with the advisory committees that are either not encouraging it or, if the applications come through, are not giving enough credit to the merits of the francophone lawyers in this province, and I am assuming across the country? Does he not see that as a systemic problem with the advisory committees or with the system overall?

Supply
Government Orders

10:55 a.m.

Liberal

Irwin Cotler Mount Royal, QC

Mr. Speaker, I have discussed this question with the hon. member outside this chamber. As a matter of principle, the appointments process in my view is an independent, merit based one, at arm's-length from the minister, under the superceding authority of the Commissioner for Federal Judicial Affairs.

However, this does not mean that in its operational capacities the system cannot be improved and therefore, for that purpose, I have convened the chair of the judicial advisory committees to ask how the system can be improved and to consult with a group of outside experts for the same purposes. In addition, there will be consultations on how to improve the diversity of our system.

Dealing with the issue of bilingual judges, if I look in terms of my own range of appointments, we have appointed a francophone to the Supreme Court of Canada and another to the Ontario Court of Appeal. The first appointment that I made to the Federal Court of Canada was also a francophone and we have appointed other bilingual candidates.

The main issue is how do we promote more applications from bilingual and francophone jurists. It is not only a question of whom we can choose from the pool. It is a question of whether francophone and bilingual applicants are themselves initiating that application process whereupon an evaluation and a choice can then be made.

It may involve more of an outreach capacity by the judicial advisory committees and the like. It may be that non-governmental associations may have to themselves engage more in the nomination of people otherwise merit based. I want to stress otherwise merit based, but who would also, if appointed, reflect the diversity.

In my view, the question is, how do we operationally include more applicants that will reflect the diversity of this country rather than any changes to the framework from the point of view of principle, let alone the constitutional framework itself?

Supply
Government Orders

11 a.m.

The Deputy Speaker

There are approximately two and a half minutes left for questions after question period for the minister.

Heritage North Bay
Statements By Members

11 a.m.

Liberal

Anthony Rota Nipissing—Timiskaming, ON

Mr. Speaker, I rise to pay tribute to Heritage North Bay, an organization comprised of 750 volunteers who help run and maintain the heritage carousel, the heritage train and the heritage gardens along the shores of beautiful Lake Nipissing.

Soon Heritage North Bay will be introducing @discoverynorthbay. Formerly known as the North Bay Museum, @discoverynorthbay is a brand new facility located in a beautifully refurbished Canadian Pacific Railway station also near North Bay's waterfront.

On July 1 Heritage North Bay will unveil a brand new winter wonderland carousel complete with carved animals representing northern Ontario's wildlife. Each of these animals has been carefully hand carved and painted by Heritage North Bay volunteers.

I would like to commend and salute the hundreds of volunteers who serve Heritage North Bay and help make North Bay's waterfront one of the most beautiful destinations in all of Ontario and Canada.

Keep up the great work.

Ruth Lund Kijowski
Statements By Members

June 3rd, 2005 / 11 a.m.

Liberal

Denis Paradis Brome—Missisquoi, QC

Mr. Speaker, recently, a resident of my riding of Brome—Missisquoi, Ruth Lund Kijowski of Cowansville, travelled to Armenia on behalf of the Canadian Executive Service Organization, known as CESO. This is an organization funded by CIDA through which Canadians share their expertise to stimulate the development of disadvantaged economies.

I commend Ms. Lund's extraordinary involvement as a volunteer with this not for profit organization newly established in Armenia, which provides training in fashion. Her extensive professional experience in management, particularly in the textile sector, has enabled her to share her expertise by conducting training sessions on the development of new products and the selection of fabrics for affordable clothing.

Thanks to Ms. Lund, four women have completed the training and are now ready to work and to share their knowledge.

Congratulations, Ms. Lund, for this great philanthropic gesture. You are a source of pride and inspiration for us all in Brome—Missisquoi.

Highway Infrastructure
Statements By Members

11 a.m.

Bloc

Robert Bouchard Chicoutimi—Le Fjord, QC

Mr. Speaker, a few drops of the wealth of money that poured before the May 19 vote have fallen in my riding of Chicoutimi—Le Fjord.

The Minister of Transport has announced that his government will be covering 50% of the cost overrun for the construction of highway 175. It has even been suggested that this commitment was formalized in an agreement. Yet, this precious document is unobtainable. It would appear that there is no agreement, only an exchange of correspondence between Ottawa and Quebec City.

Time has taught us to be extremely wary of Liberal promises, especially since highway 175 has already been part of the Liberal platform in several elections.

The federal government has to stop bluffing about this and put its cards on the table once and for all.

Paul Henderson
Statements By Members

11 a.m.

Conservative

Maurice Vellacott Saskatoon—Wanuskewin, SK

Mr. Speaker, Paul Henderson was a star hockey player who gave team Canada its winning goal against Russia in the famed 1972 series.

Those of us old enough to remember the series still remember the tension we felt as we were watching those games between Canada and the Soviet Union. Canada got off to a shaky start but came from behind to take the series by winning three straight games.

Paul Henderson, a well rounded, hardworking Toronto Maple Leaf player made it on to team Canada. He was also one of the few members on the team who played every single game in that notable competition against Russia. Paul Henderson scored Canada's winning goal in each of the last three games of that historic series against the Soviet Union and his winning goal in the final game was the most important goal in the history of Canadian hockey.

Despite Paul Henderson's incredible contribution to Canada, the psychological boost and patriotic spirit which that hockey victory gave to Canada over 30 years ago, this star player has not yet been given the recognition he deserves. Paul Henderson has not yet been inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame.

It is time to give this great hockey player his due and to give Paul Henderson a place in the Hockey Hall of Fame and while we are at it, we should induct him into the Order of Canada.