Thank you, Mr. Chair, and thank you to the members of the committee for convening this special meeting. I am certainly grateful for the committee's ongoing engagement in the Supreme Court of Canada selection process. Of course, I am pleased to be joined by the Right Honourable Kim Campbell.
The purpose of this meeting is twofold: to discuss the government's selection of the Honourable Sheilah Martin as the government's nominee to become the next member of the Supreme Court of Canada and to describe the process that led to the selection. This will allow Canadians to better understand the process that has been used in nominating Justice Martin, and will allow you, as parliamentarians, to hold the government to account.
Again, I am pleased to be joined by the Right Honourable Kim Campbell, who is for the second time serving as chair of the Independent Advisory Board for Supreme Court of Canada Judicial Appointments. I cannot say how delighted I am that she agreed to lend her considerable leadership as chair once again.
As you know, the advisory board has been at the heart of the new process our government has introduced for Supreme Court appointments. 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.
I would like to express personally, and on behalf of the Prime Minister and our government, sincere gratitude to each of the advisory board members for their excellent work and commitment. 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 outstanding individuals. Our appreciation also extends to all those who were consulted throughout the selection process, to the commissioner for federal judicial affairs and his office for the excellent secretariat support provided to the board, and to the candidates who applied for appointment.
I will begin with some initial remarks on the developments since the first selection process, as well as on the overall objectives of the present exercise. I will then turn the floor over to Ms. Campbell, who will describe the steps the advisory board took in creating the short list it provided to the Prime Minister on October 23. Finally, I will discuss the merits of Justice Martin's candidacy and how she meets the qualifications and assessment criteria.
In August of 2016, the Prime Minister launched the selection process that culminated in the appointment of Justice Malcolm Rowe to the Supreme Court. The process was designed in response to our government's dual commitments to establish a new process that was open, transparent, accountable, inclusive, consultative, and promoting of diversity, and to only appoint functionally bilingual justices.
Many of the key factors of the new process, including the fact that candidates had to apply, were unprecedented. Our government has been attentive to how Canadians perceived the process, and we have expressed our openness to refining it to ensure that we have the best possible process. We were particularly grateful to receive this committee's observations and recommendations in your February 2017 report.
I will briefly comment on three aspects of the report. First, this committee affirmed the strong link between a clear, open, easily understood selection process and public confidence in our nation's highest court. I wholeheartedly agree. Our government's ultimate objective in introducing a new process is to ensure that the manner in which we select our Supreme Court justices reinforces Canadians' confidence in this fundamental institution.
Second, the committee noted that the independent advisory board was a key element to the success of the process, and recommended that it be made a permanent element of all future appointments to the Supreme Court. The committee went on to recommend that the board retain its composition, whereby a majority of its members were appointed by non-governmental legal organizations. This strong endorsement of the role and composition of the board was reassuring. I could not agree more with the committee's observation that what made the board a success was the fact that its members were a diverse group of qualified individuals who were all non-partisan appointees.
Third, the committee emphasized the importance of regional representation on the court. As you know, the question of how to enhance the diversity of the court while ensuring regional representation was prominent not only in my earlier discussions with this committee but also in debates in Parliament and among the broader Canadian public. Our government has always stressed the importance of maintaining regional representation on the court over time. The Prime Minister noted this in his mandate letter to the advisory board for the first selection process, asking that the short list include Atlantic Canadians. Ultimately, the process resulted in the selection of an outstanding Atlantic Canadian jurist and the first ever Supreme Court justice from Newfoundland and Labrador.
Nonetheless, we have listened to the committee and to Canadians from coast to coast to coast, and agree that regional representation is a fundamental aspect of the court’s diversity and is critical to ensuring the public confidence that underpins the legitimacy of the court. As a result, the application process launched this past July to fill the vacancy created by Chief Justice McLachlin’s departure was limited to applicants from western Canada—that is, British Columbia, Alberta, Saskatchewan, and Manitoba—as well as from northern Canada, including the Northwest Territories, Nunavut, and the Yukon.
Time does not permit me to go through all the helpful recommendations made by this committee in its report, so I refer you to the government response I provided last June for more information in this regard.
I will turn now to the two-stage process that we're in. I would like to begin by noting the important fact that it is the chief justice of Canada, as we all know, who will be retiring on December 15. As the Prime Minister and I have noted on other occasions, Canadians owe an immense debt of gratitude to Chief Justice McLachlin for her exceptional service, dedication, and outstanding leadership. I’m sure I’m not the only one who has difficulty imagining the court without Chief Justice McLachlin, but her imprint is deep and enduring. More immediately, her departure creates the need not only to restore the court to nine members but also to identify who will be the next chief justice of Canada.
As the government explained at the outset of this process, we are proceeding in two stages. The first stage involves selecting the next member of the court. To do so, the government has employed the same process, as mentioned, that was used to select Justice Rowe, including an open application process and asking the independent advisory board to develop a short list of candidates based on the same set of qualifications and assessment criteria. This stage, which led to the nomination of Justice Martin, is what we are considering today.
The second stage involves the Prime Minister identifying who among nine exceptional individuals—that is, the eight remaining members of the court and the nominee—is best placed to serve as chief justice. Central to this decision is a recognition of the important role the chief justice plays in fostering collegial decision-making on the court, attending to important leadership and administrative responsibilities, and effectively representing the Canadian judiciary at home and abroad. It is a position of profound legal, constitutional, and institutional significance.
Pursuant to his prerogative, the Prime Minister will make his decision following consultations that will include me, the outgoing chief justice, and prospective candidates, among others. The Prime Minister will then publicly announce his selection for Canada’s 18th chief justice.
With this context, I would now like to turn the floor over to Ms. Campbell to allow her to describe the process the advisory board went through in pursuing its mandate.