Sunday, March 29, 2015

The day Beverley McLachlin et. al whacked Vic!

Good Day Readers:

The changes Vic Toews made while federal Justice Minister to the process by which federal judges are appointed made his selection a slam dunk which his time came.

First, they turned the Queen's Bench representative on the Manitoba Judicial Advisory Committee into a eunuch by taking away their vote. Next as Mary Welch of the Winnipeg Free Press pointed out it allowed him to stack the Committee with his supporters making the outcome a foregone conclusion. Makes you wonder why the Committee even bothered meeting. Jezus they must think you're stupid.

Mr. Toews is an exemplary example of what Mark Twain once said, "Do as I say and not as I do."

Sincerely,
Clare L. Pieuk
Top judges rebuke Tories

Kirk Makin/Justice Reporter
Friday, March 17, 2009

Beverley McLachlin, Canada's Chief Justice, along with a powerful council of the country's top judges issued an unprecedented rebuke yesterday to Justice Minister Vic Toews for hatching a plan to arbitrarily change the way judges are chosen.

The Canadian Judicial Council expressed dismay that Mr. Toews is planning to introduce "significant changes to the composition and functioning of the Judicial Advisory Committees," secret groups which are set up in each region to vet candidates for the 1,100 federal judgeships across the country.

Chief Justice McLachlin, who chairs the council, urged Mr. Toews to include the judiciary and key legal bodies in any discussion of changes to the committee vetting process.

The first hint of what the government may be planning came this week, when Mr. Toews told a Winnipeg newspaper that police representatives will be put on the judicial advisory committees.

Chief Justice McLachlin called on the minister to initiate an immediate process of consultation on the proposed changes within the judiciary, Canadian Bar Association, the law societies and other interested parties. "We believe this is necessary to protect the interests of all Canadians in an independent advisory process for judicial appointments," she said.

Mr. Toews said, however, that "the law-enforcement process is a very important aspect of the justice system and to date, they have been underrepresented in that process. We are getting all the names in place so that this can commence fairly quickly."

The council, an august body composed of the chief justices and associate chief justices of every superior court in the country, said "the Council is concerned that these changes, if made, will compromise the independence of the Advisory Committees."

It specifically criticized the government for breaking with long-established convention and bypassing prior consultation with the council and top legal bodies. It urged Mr. Toews not to put any plans into place until "meaningful consultation" has taken place.

The council's rebuke is certain to send shockwaves through the legal establishment, where the function and makeup of the regional committees is a much-debated issue.

"Three cheers to the judicial council for blowing the whistle on this," said Peter Russell, a retired University of Toronto political scientist who has written extensively on the judicial appointments process. "It is good if they try to reform the system, but not in a way that totally undermines the integrity of the whole process."

Frank Addario, vice-president of the Criminal Lawyers Association, said senior judges are put in an uncomfortable position "when they have to reproach the Minister of Justice publicly for breaking with convention."

Operating in tight secrecy, the regional advisory committees consider applications from lawyers with 10 years of experience who are seeking federal judgeships. Committee members make discreet inquiries and delve into matters such as a nominee's legal track record and community involvement.

Mr. Russell said the committees are typically composed of five senior members: one nominated by the federal government; one by the chief justice of the province; one from the provincial bar association or law society; one from the provincial government; and a lay member.

They rank nominees as being very qualified, qualified or not qualified. The federal government is then free to choose from the large pools of judges who have been vetted in each region. They almost always choose someone in the qualified or very qualified category.

Mr. Toews also said the government plans to move to a simple pass or fail rating for judicial nominees. A spokesman for his office could not be reached last night.

"That is a transparent attempt to broaden his discretion and reduce the power of the committees," Mr. Addario of the criminal-lawyers group said last night. "Inevitably, you get more patronage and less qualified appointments."

Mr. Addario said there is nothing wrong with broadening the composition of the committees if it is done fairly. The problem, he said, "is that the minister has singled out one particular viewpoint for favour, suggesting he wants to appoint judges who will arrive with an agenda."

The main criticism of the current vetting system has not been the composition of the committees, but how the government chooses from the pools of candidates it has ranked. Successive governments have appointed judges from those who are merely qualified, ignoring some of those ranked as highly qualified.

It is far too easy for marginal candidates to be ranked as qualified, Mr. Russell said. "Right now, they just screen out the utterly incompetent," he said. "If you are in Kingston Penitentiary or something like that, you don't make the list, but that's about it."

Most of those pushing for reform insist that the government should be obliged to choose only from the pool of candidates ranked as very qualified.
A patronage critic on Queen's Bench
A panel stacked with backers elevates Toews

By Mary Welch
Saturday, March 8, 2014
As Canada's Public Safety Minister, Vic Toews backed a controversial online surveillance bill and mandatory minimum sentences for those convicted of fire arms crimes. (Sean Kilpatrick/The Canadian Press Files)

He was once a relentless critic of patronage appointments to the bench, pummelling the Liberals for choosing Grit-friendly judges.

Now, after nearly six years of speculation, former Conservative cabinet minister Vic Toews has been named to Manitoba's Court of Queen's Bench, thanks to a vetting system he helped create and a committee stacked with his supporters.

TOEWS TALKS

"Mr. Speaker, this Liberal government has allowed judges to become the most powerful force in setting social policy in Canada. Whether it is by allowing convicted murders to vote or by changing fundamental institutions like marriage, this government has substituted the supremacy of an elected Parliament with unelected judges."

- House of Commons, February 23, 2004, speaking as Opposition justice critic

"Mr. Speaker, the point is this so-called independent panel does the screening for the minister. It checks Liberal credentials before he gets to see them. The minister may say that he has no knowledge of this, but the system has been set up to ensure that it is Liberals who make it to this final panel. If there is no truth to these allegations, why does he not refer the matter to the Judicial Council for a full hearing? This is a clear way to clean up this cloud on Canadian judges."

-House of Commons, May 4, 2005, speaking as Opposition justice critic about Liberal judicial appointments

"Mr. Speaker, Canadians understand that this is a Liberal process, controlled by Liberals, for Liberals... When will the minister finally agree to an independent judicial appointments process that is transparent and public?"

-- House of Commons, May 17, 2005, speaking as Opposition justice critic about Liberal judicial appointments

"I have heard sufficient testimony that leads me to the conclusion that if we change the definition of marriage, it will have an impact on other rights. I am also confident that there are ways to address equality concerns without changing the definition of marriage. That is the Canadian way. That is what Canadians support. They support equality, but they also support this basic institution."

- House of Commons, June 27, 2005, speaking as Opposition justice critic on same-sex marriage

"We are proposing measures to bring our laws into the 21st century and to provide the police with the lawful tools that they need. He can either stand with us or with the child pornographers."

- House of Commons, Feb. 14, 2012, speaking as public safety minister to a Liberal MP questioning a Conservative online surveillance bill

"We are very concerned about the courts doing that, because illegal firearms - especially those smuggled in from the United States... Minimum prison sentences are absolutely essential to create a strong deterrent against that kind of activity."

- Golden West Radio, July 17, 2012, speaking as public safety minister chiding judges who struck down mandatory minimum penalties for gun crimes

"I'm not going to the Senate, I'm not retiring, I'm not going to the bench. I'm not leaving politics."

- Quoted in the Winnipeg Free Press, Jan. 19, 2010, on rumours of a judicial appointment

"I keep hearing all the time that I'm retiring, and your newspaper is the one that keeps on saying it... Also, I have to sort of shrug my shoulders and say, 'You must know something that I don't know.' That's all I can say."

-- Quoted in the Winnipeg Free Press, July 2012, on rumours of a judicial appointment

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Toews replaces Justice Donald Bryk in the court's general division, which hears criminal and some civil cases. Toews' appointment was announced Friday and sparked questions not only about the appointment process but also about Toews' ability to be impartial and fair, given his vocal support for the Conservatives' tough-on-crime agenda and his disdain for judicial activism.

Kate Kehler, Acting Executive Director of the John Howard Society of Manitoba, said the presumption of innocence has already been eroded by lengthy stays in remand before trial.

"And now we have a federal appointment to the Queen's Bench of a former Public Safety Minister who, while in that role, espoused often extreme views that other legal experts, such as the Canadian Bar Association, noted were not based in evidence," she said.

As Attorney General and then Public Safety Minister, Toews was a vocal proponent of mandatory minimum sentences, the elimination of house arrest for some crimes and tougher rules for repeat offenders.

Many at Winnipeg's Law Courts reacted to the appointment with raised eyebrows Friday, with some questioning the optics of it, given Toews' well-established views. None would go on record, most loath to criticize a judge they will likely appear before.

Winnipeg lawyer Evan Roitenberg, who sits on the Board of the Canadian Council of Criminal Defence Lawyers, said he expects Toews will do what all judges must -- evaluate evidence in a fair and independent manner.

"What people did in their past positions generally should be forgotten when they go to the bench," he said.

Toronto lawyer Bill Trudell, National Chairman of the Defence Lawyers Council, echoed Roitenberg's views, saying he expects Toews to honour the office by behaving impartially.

"Once someone becomes a judge, it's a new role, it's a new world. Whatever their political affiliation was before, whatever stances they took before, it would be expected those would be parked," Trudell said.

Lawyers often don't know what personal biases are at play when they appear before a judge. In Toews' case, his views are well-known, Trudell said.

"At least we know where he's coming from and can confront it in arguments," he said.

Toews resigned from Parliament last summer after prolonged speculation he was angling for a judicial appointment. In recent years, multiple sources have suggested Prime Minister Stephen Harper favoured a cooling-off period before Toews could be considered for a judgeship. While in opposition, Toews hounded the Liberal government over its judicial-appointment process, accusing then-justice minister Irwin Cotler of exploiting a "Liberal process, controlled by Liberals, for Liberals," and stacking the bench with party supporters.

When he became attorney general following the 2006 election, Toews made three key changes to the judicial-appointment system, most of which did little to make theprocess less secretive, said University of Guelph Political Scientist Troy Riddell, who studies judicial appointments.

Toews added a police representative to the advisory panel that vets potential judges in each province, a move condemned by many, including national lawyers' groups and the chief justice of the Supreme Court of Canada.

In Manitoba, it resulted in longtime Winnipeg Police Association President Mike Sutherland's appointment to the Federal Judicial Advisory Committee for Manitoba, where he still serves.

Toews also changed the way the Provincial Advisory Committees forward possible appointments to the Justice Minister. Before, would-be judges could be recommended, not recommended or highly recommended. That allowed the committee to clearly highlight superior legal minds, perhaps above political affiliation.

Now, recommendations are made to the federal justice minister based on a simpler designation, either recommended or not recommended. What other names are in the mix are kept secret, so it's not clear who Toews might have beat out for the Queen's Bench appointment.

Also in 2006, Toews stripped the Chair of the Advisory Committees -- in Manitoba, currently Queen's Bench Justice Brenda Keyser - of voting rights.

Currently, the majority of voting members on Manitoba's Judicial Advisory Committee have close ties to Toews.

Marni Larkin is a top Conservative strategist who ran the party's last provincial campaign, served on the party's national council and quarterbacked several local riding races. Ken Lee is a senior strategist and fundraiser for the provincial party. John Tropak, a Winnipeg video-store owner, has donated at least $5,400 to the Conservative party in recent years and was rumoured to be a contender for a Senate appointment. And Mike Sutherland has been a Toews ally. Toews awarded Sutherland a Diamond Jubilee medal in 2012 and last year appointed him to the Canadian Firearms Advisory Committee.

Toews will make $288,000 as a Queen's Bench judge and is also eligible for a federal pension worth $79,000 annually and a provincial pension for his five years as a provincial MLA.

While an MLA running for re-election in the 1999 race, Toews violated the province's Election Finances Act. In 2005, he pleaded guilty to spending more than the allowable limit and was fined $500.

maryagnes.welch@freepress.mb.ca

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition March 8, 2014

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