CBA Defends the Chief Justice of Canada

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.

Among other media appearances, a statement was published in the Globe and Mail on Tuesday. From the statement:

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.

Fred Headon
President

In case you missed the controversy, some of the related press:

 

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Comments

  1. It’s worth noting that both the Federation of Law Societies and the Council of Law School Deans have also made statements in support of the Chief Justice. See http://www.flsc.ca/en/federation-news/#78 and http://www.theglobeandmail.com/news/national/law-school-deans-join-critics-of-harpers-attack-on-top-judge/article18510787
    I’m proud to see our profession standing up for our CJC, whose conduct has been above reproach.

  2. David Collier-Brown

    Thank you, Mr Headon of the CBA, and to Ms Crosby from passing it on the the larger community.

    We cannot afford to give up the supremacy of our constitution and fall back to what is termed the “supremacy of parliament”, but is in practice the supremacy of the sitting PM.

    Chief Justice McLachlin is to be complimented for bringing a probable disqualification to the attention of the Minister and the PM, and Mr. Harper should apologize to her for so misrepresenting her doing her duty.

    I urge the legal profession to defend her, the court and our constitution against the attempted politicization of what should be strictly legal decisions.

    –dave

  3. Ginger Goodwin

    I question if the following short passage from Michael Tigar’s article on the US Bill of Rights does not apply to the Canadian Charter, given the adulation of the SCC one day, and condemnation the next day over the Harkat decision:

    “For the lawyers, these are our weapons,
    willed to us by those who preceded us
    in this profession, and without the tak-
    ing up and using of which we are not
    worthy of our role. Ours is the special
    duty assigned in different societies to dif-
    ferent classes and kinds of people-it is
    the duty of remembering. Remembering
    the dark times and sacrifice that brought
    forth these words, written on a paper by
    our grandfathers for our grandfather’s
    clients. And, having remembered, to
    wield these words worthily.”

    “For the judges, these words are en-
    treaties about power and the limits of
    power. They are in terms and by their ori-
    gins a reminder that judges do not own
    and did not invent the law. They are sim-
    ply appointed its keepers. The judges are
    named by the Constitution’s third article
    and catechized by these enumerated
    rights. The judges are custodians of the
    house of the law, so that when a client
    seeks refuge and a lawyer takes up her
    cause, the two of them can come in out
    of the din and darkness and find there
    a kind of sanctuary in the jungle.”

    Michael Tigar, “By the Lawyers and for the Judges: An Irreverent History of the Bill of Rights”,
    Alabama Lawyer, Vol. 51, Issue 2 (March 1990), pp. 78-81

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