The day Beverley McLachlin et. al whacked Vic!
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.
Mr. Toews is an exemplary example of what Mark Twain once said, "Do as I say and not as I do."
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 panel stacked with backers elevates Toews
By Mary Welch
Saturday, March 8, 2014
He was once a relentless critic of patronage appointments to the bench, pummelling the Liberals for choosing Grit-friendly judges.