Thank you, Chair and members of the committee, for convening this special session of the committee. I am really appreciative of everyone for being here and certainly of the lady to my left.
I'm pleased to discuss Mr. Justice Rowe. The purpose of this meeting is twofold: first, to discuss the government's selection of Mr. Justice Malcolm Rowe of the Supreme Court of Newfoundland and Labrador Court of Appeal as the government's nominee to the Supreme Court of Canada; and second, to describe the process that led to that selection. This will allow Canadians to understand the process that has been used in nominating Justice Rowe, and will allow you, as parliamentarians, to hold the government to account.
I know how busy the committee members are, and I greatly appreciate the time that you are devoting to this process.
I am, of course, joined by the Right Honourable Kim Campbell, who served as the chairperson for the Independent Advisory Board for Supreme Court of Canada Judicial Appointments.
As you know, the advisory board has been at the heart of the government's new appointments process for the Supreme Court. Seven distinguished individuals served on the board, including four nominated by independent professional organizations. In addition to the chairperson, the advisory board includes a former judge, three members of the legal profession and two non-lawyers.
The advisory board's work has been integral to creating an independent, transparent and non-partisan selection process for the Supreme Court of Canada. I would like to express personally, and on behalf of the Prime Minister and our government, our sincere gratitude to each of the advisory board members for their outstanding work and dedication to this process.
I would also like to thank the Canadian Judicial Council, the Canadian Bar Association, the Federation of Law Societies of Canada, and the Council of Canadian Law Deans for nominating such excellent individuals for this critical task.
Shortly, Ms. Campbell will describe the steps the advisory board took in creating the short list that it provided to the Prime Minister on September 23. I know that arriving at that short list of exceptional candidates required many hours of painstaking work, carefully reviewing all the detailed applications, and undertaking extensive consultations to assist in assessing each candidate against the published qualifications and assessment criteria. The value of these efforts was reflected in the excellence of the short list that the board produced, and I believe it clearly demonstrates the outstanding qualities of the government's nominee.
Our appreciation also extends to all those who were consulted throughout the selection process. The informed views and insights of those who know the candidates personally, who understand the demands of a judicial role, and who can advise on the institutional needs of the Supreme Court are truly invaluable in reaching the final selection of the nominee.
Special thanks certainly are due to Ms. Campbell for her able leadership in chairing the advisory board. I'm honoured to be appearing with her today. Our connections run deep. Not only did Ms. Campbell serve as a member of Parliament in the heart of Vancouver, but she has also opened many doors for women in the law and beyond and served as Canada's first female minister of justice. I'm proud to be among her successors in that role. She was the perfect choice to chair the advisory board, and I'm delighted she agreed to do so.
The government is also indebted to the Office of the Commissioner for Federal Judicial Affairs for the outstanding secretariat support they provided to the board. Quite simply, this process could not have happened without the professionalism, efficiency, responsiveness, and experience of the commissioner's office. I know that many staff worked long hours tirelessly throughout the summer and the fall to pull this together, and for that I am very grateful.
Last but certainly not least, I would like to extend my heartfelt thanks to all the candidates who applied for the vacancy. It goes without saying that this process could not have succeeded without their willingness to participate, and I recognize that making a decision to apply was not one made lightly or without personal cost.
I said when I appeared before you earlier that I knew it would be a humbling task to make a choice among so many outstanding candidates. That prediction proved truer than I had imagined and I can only say that I feel tremendous pride at the remarkable level of legal excellence in this country.
Let me now briefly review what has brought us here to this stage of the process. Our government made a commitment to establish a new process for the selection of the Supreme Court of Canada justices, one that is open, transparent, accountable, inclusive, consultative, and one that promotes diversity. We also promised that appointees would be functionally bilingual. Through the collective efforts of all those involved in the process, I believe we achieved those objectives.
Canada has an outstanding Supreme Court. It has long been a source of pride for Canadians and a source of inspiration for other countries. We are blessed to have an exceptional cadre of men and women who served on the courts up to the present day. But the process for selecting the court's justices has not always matched the excellence of its jurists. The process was often ad hoc and opaque and did not meet evolving norms of openness, transparency, and accountability. In short, a modern, dynamic, 21st century court needed a modern, dynamic, 21st century selection process, which is what we move towards.
The initial step was key. We opened up the process and established the first application-based approach to identifying qualified candidates for the Supreme Court. Anyone who met the statutory eligibility criteria could apply. This was a significant departure from past practice, which involved either the proverbial tap on the shoulder or in some more recent cases, saw initial long lists of candidates developed by the government itself on the basis of closed consultations.
Applications were invited from anywhere in the country to support our goal of ensuring that our highest court moves towards a better and fuller reflection of the diversity of Canadians. This was also to ensure that the most outstanding jurists in the country regardless of where they live have the opportunity to be considered for vacancies as they arrive and for which they are eligible.
I recognize the concerns expressed by some that this opening up of the process occurred at the expense of ensuring regional diversity on the court. With great respect for the sincerity of those who feel this way, I do not share this view.
The breadth and depth of expertise on Canada's bench and bar in every part of the country is quite remarkable. I am convinced that at any given time there will be outstanding individuals across Canada who will choose to put their names forward for a given vacancy. This will ensure that the Supreme Court's regional character is maintained.
Moreover, and in the context of the current process, the Prime Minister specifically directed the advisory board to include candidates from Atlantic Canada on the short list in recognition of the custom of regional representation and the fact that Justice Cromwell hailed from the region.
Our commitment also included a requirement that the short list only recommend candidates who are functionally bilingual given our country's bilingual character. As we expected, there was a rich pool of outstanding candidates reflective of the diversity of Canadian society who met this requirement and those who potentially aspire to serve on the Supreme Court in the future, are now aware of the expectations.
The process we have adopted has generated widespread public interest and debate, which is itself a positive thing. Canadians care deeply about their Supreme Court and the critical role it plays in our democracy. We believe this process has sufficiently advanced the goals of openness, transparency, accountability, and excellence, and a court that reflects the faces and the voices of Canada.
In light of this experience, it is our intention to follow this process for filling future Supreme Court of Canada vacancies subject, of course, to further refinements that may be suggested by this committee and by the advisory board. We believe our selection process is in keeping with the values of Canadians today and that it will support a modern Supreme Court of Canada that is reflective of and responsive to those values.
I would now like to turn the floor over to Ms. Campbell to allow her to describe the process that the advisory board went through in its mandate and then I'll provide some concluding remarks.
Over to you, Madam Former Prime Minister.