The Canadian Bar Association, including 11 former presidents of the CBA, last week came to the support of the Chief Justice of Canada following recent claims by the Prime Minister that the Chief Justice attempted inappropriate conversations with him in 2013.
The recent comments by Prime Minister Stephen Harper, claiming that the Chief Justice of Canada attempted an inappropriate conversation with him, demonstrate a disrespect by the executive branch for the judicial branch of our constitutional democracy, and for the Chief Justice of Canada as the most senior member of the Canadian judiciary. This is so despite the fact that the discussion in question involved a possible new appointment to the Supreme Court of Canada, a topic well within guidelines for appropriate conversations between prime ministers and chief justices.
On Friday, May 9th CBA President Fred Headon posted a note of thanks to members for their support:
Dear CBA members,
I would like to take this opportunity to thank you for your words of support and encouragement over the past week.
While the Canadian Bar Association is usually busy intervening in court cases, making submissions to government, commenting on proposed legislation and supporting members, it’s not every day that the CBA is called upon to help the public understand the nuances of a pressing national issue which raises concerns about the rule of law.
Suggestions by the Prime Minister and the Minister of Justice that the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court of Canada acted inappropriately last July are quite troubling. When filling a vacancy on the court, the government rightly consults with many interested parties, including the Chief Justice.
The Supreme Court is an integral part of our democracy, and of the legal system. And when a member of that court is alleged to have acted inappropriately, despite evidence to the contrary, it’s the CBA’s business to weigh in.
In our media appearances and statements of the past week, the CBA has explained the problem this presents, and at the same time proposed a way to rectify the situation. So, too, you may have noticed, did eleven former presidents of the association, who wrote an editorial published Tuesday, May 6, in The Globe and Mail and in La Presse. Please visit www.cba.org for more on this.
By speaking out as we have this week, the CBA is acting on your behalf to defend the rule of law in Canada and the role of the courts as impartial decision-makers who act as a check against the power of the state.
To perform this role, all judges must be independent from government, free from the fear of reprisal when rendering decisions based on the Constitution and laws of our land.
I wanted to let you, the members of the CBA, know that we will continue to speak out when necessary in this matter. I hope, as I’m sure we all do, that this issue will not continue to escalate. As head of the Government of Canada, the Prime Minister should confirm – as the CBA has – that he maintains full confidence in the Supreme Court and the Chief Justice of Canada so that this controversy can be put behind us…before public confidence in the courts and the rule of law erodes.
Again, I thank you for your support of the CBA and all its work.
In case you missed the controversy, some of the related press:
- Harper alleges Supreme Court Chief Justice broke key rule with phone call (May 1, 2014) Globe and Mail
- Stephen Harper weighs in on spat with Chief Justice Beverley McLachlin (May 2, 2014) CBC News
- Chief Justice hits back at Prime Minister over claim of improper call (May 2, 2014) Globe and Mail
- Nadon spat between Harper, chief justice McLachlin called ‘disturbing’ (May 3, 2014) CBC News
- Canadian Bar Association: Deeply Concerned About Spat Between Harper And Beverley McLachlin (May 3, 2014) Huffington Post
- MacKay repeats allegations against top court judge (May 5, 2014) Globe and Mail
- Harper takes on top court (May 5, 2014) CTV News (video) – includes interview with CBA President Fred Headon