It was a number that was very reassuring because of the 31 applicants from all across Canada, almost all had some French and met the standards of French. Only a very small number did not have French at all, and most had considerable French. That was very interesting for me to see.
I want again to echo the words of the minister in thanking all of the people who filled the applications. It was a long application form. Interestingly, the more senior you are, almost the harder it is to go back to dig up the material, because you think you're never going to apply for anything again, and there you are having to re-create your life.
People did it. The deadline was August 24 at midnight Vancouver time. For those in eastern Canada, that was a good thing, because some of them, I think, were sending off their applications at 2:00 in the morning their time. Happily we got them.
Afterwards, the Office of the Commissioner for Federal Judicial Affairs did a wonderful job of taking all the applications and loading them onto secure tablets and also printing them out. Each of the members of the committee had binders with the printed version, but we also had secure tablets that were password protected which we could take with us so we could review the materials.
We came to Ottawa on the morning of Monday, August 29, and really began in earnest to do our work. I won't go through all the details, because you will have your own questions, but I do want to give you a little idea of the philosophy, which certainly I had as chair, and which we brought to the exercise.
One of the things that was important from my perspective was that every person who applied would know that he or she was getting a full and fair review. We started off by taking groups of candidates and each of us went off separately to review the applications, so there was no groupthink, there was no influence one over the other. We each looked, knowing what the terms of reference were and knowing what the criteria were, to develop our perspective on the individual candidates. Then we came together to see where there was consensus, where there was disagreement, and where there was disagreement to try to discuss more fully the nature of the candidates.
We also realized that we would need to reduce the number of 31 candidates to a manageable size. The Prime Minister would only appoint one, and the maximum number of names we could send to him was five. We began to work to whittle down the list. We decided that we would interview 10 candidates. I have to say that, again, the commissioner's office was incredibly helpful in setting up appointments for us to talk to references. We spoke broadly to chief justices and senior members of the bar across the country about various candidates and had great co-operation. The candidates themselves were incredibly co-operative about finding time to fit within our schedule, to come to Ottawa for a full interview.
We developed a questionnaire for the referees so that each person got the same questions, although we always included an open-ended question at the end, so there would be comparability. We created a script of questions to ask the applicants, so that again there would be comparability in terms of their responses. I think it was a very good questionnaire. We allowed an hour for the interviews, although I will say Justice Rowe, as you will find, is a man of few words. I thought the interview was going to be over in 10 minutes, but as soon as we asked him to elaborate on some issues, we got a lot more information. Some people are more succinct than others, but all of them had extraordinarily wonderful stories to tell about their own lives, but also had very interesting and often very nuanced understandings of the law and the role of the court.
We interviewed the candidates, and immediately after each interview the candidates went upstairs to do the functional bilingualism test. If they were francophones, it was in English, and if they were anglophones, it was in French. Also during the interviews, they were asked questions in both languages. The candidates themselves were extremely helpful in accommodating their schedules in the summer, in August, when many of them, I think, probably hoped they could stay at their cottages, but interestingly enough they came for the interview, which was wonderful.
Then we worked and deliberated. The hard part was to deliberate and create a short list of five candidates. I'm glad it was hard, because what that reflects was the richness of the applicants. It's very, very difficult, and I think it's important to say that there is certainly no shame in being one of the applicants for the Supreme Court of Canada and not being the one who's appointed. All of the people whose careers we reviewed, and even more so perhaps the people who we interviewed, were really remarkable, any one of whom could have served with distinction.
Our job was to try to find the most promising, the most accomplished, and it was not an easy task. However, it was a very reassuring one. It was a wonderful thing to see. I was actually also very pleasantly surprised at the level of French competence among the applicants. Again, as the Honourable Rob Nicholson will remember in our days many years ago in justice together, the judges and lawyers were learning French. Even out west it was sort of becoming the thing they wanted to do, and I must say this is something Justice Rowe represents, the commitment of anglophone jurists to become part of that national conversation, and I think it was really great.
Let me finish by saying that, from our perspective, the values of the process were, first of all, the open application, the fact that you didn't have to know somebody. I think in the past, prime ministers and their ministers of justice have always tried to find very good people.
All of us who have fought to increase diversity, to increase the representation of non-prototypical people in various fields, know that sometimes people just don't notice those who are not like them or who they don't encounter in their daily lives, so having a process that basically allowed any lawyer in Canada to put himself or herself forward for consideration was really wonderful. It meant that if you weren't in the gaze of the normal advisers, you still could be considered. Of course, as I say, we felt that our moral obligation was to give each of those candidates the fairest possible review and include them in the process.
Also, our review was an independent and non-partisan review. Our whole focus was to look for competence. The government may have a view about a philosophy or whatever; that was not our view. Our view was to provide to the Prime Minister a list of candidates who were very competent and who brought with them a richness of perspective that would be an adornment to the court.
In terms of the fairness measures, first of all, we considered the candidates by number so that we didn't even get caught up in calling them by name in case that would have created any early stage bias. We just looked at them in terms of their qualities, which they had revealed in great detail in those difficult application forms. We reviewed them individually before we came together to share our perspectives to make sure there was no influence that might keep somebody from standing up for a candidate. That's very important. Sometimes two people will read an application, and they'll see it slightly differently. One person may say “Meh”, while another person may say “Ah, but look at this”, and you go, “Oh, yes”. There was a lot of that to try to maximize the appreciation for the applicants. As I say, there was consistent questioning for their references, consistent questioning in the interviews, so we could create comparability.
Also, each interview was debriefed immediately afterward with a note-taker so that we didn't rely on remembering what had been said or even our own notes. As soon as we had finished an interview, we sat down with a note-taker or went around the table and debriefed in great depth so that those impressions would be vivid when it came time to consider the ultimate challenge of creating a short list.
In terms of challenges for the future, I think the process was remarkable. I was pleased that as I went about the country doing other things quite unrelated to the advisory board, members of the legal profession spoke to me of their happiness with this idea, particularly, I think, with the openness of the application and the fact that the review was by a group of people who had no agenda other than to try to find excellence in its many different forms.
The timing of the process was tricky. August is not the optimal month. It's not just in Europe that everything closes down in August. People whose assistants or secretaries were on holiday were really having a hard time putting the story of their life together. But they did it. They were remarkable.
In regard to the length of the process and a possible revision of the applications, it would be to just have more time. I think for some people it was a bit of pressure to do it, although people did it, but if there were more time, that would be great.
Challenges for the future would include outreach and recruitment. I think, having once done this, there is importance in making sure that people know what the process is; that talented, interesting members of the legal profession, whether jurists or members of the bar, know what the process is; and that all members of the legal profession and communities encourage people who they think have wisdom and skill to think about it and perhaps prepare themselves for the process in the future.
Thank you for welcoming us here today. I'm very pleased to have been part of this process, and I very much look forward to your questions.