What the Judge Actually Said

As Canadian readers of Slaw will likely know, there’s been a small contretemps in Ottawa over the last few days involving a Conservative MP and the Chief Justice. According to the CBC News report:

Saskatchewan MP Maurice Vellacott took a swipe at the Supreme Court on the weekend, prompting a swift response from the country’s top judge.

Maurice Vellacott attributed comments to the country’s top judge, but a spokesperson says she never said them…

“I don’t think it is the role of the judge, whether left or right or conservative or whatever stripe [he] happens to be, to actually figure to play the position of God,” the Tory MP for Saskatoon-Wanuskewin told Lawand.

Vellacott, a former pastor who claims a doctoral degree from Trinity International University in Chicago, then singled out Beverley McLachlin, the chief justice of Canada.

He claimed McLachlin “herself said actually when they step into this role that suddenly there’s some kind of mystical power that comes over them, which everything that they’ve ever decreed is not to be questioned.

“They actually have the discernment and almost prophetic ability to plumb and know the mind of the public.”

Vellacot has since issued a form of retraction [pdf].

If you’re interested in reading what Chief Justice McLachlin actually said in the Lord Cooke Lecture given in New Zealand in December of last year, you can the text of her address [pdf] on Vellacot’s website. She’s an avowed modern natural lawyer, so you can sort of see how Mr. Vellacot got things twisted in his head the way he did, because your classic, historical natural law theory was espoused by people like St. Thomas Aquinas, who’s views on law were certainly well-integrated with his religious beliefs.


  1. Hi. I’m pleased to find your site with important links to this “minor contretemps”. While I disagree that it is minor touching as it does on the foundation of our free speech values, the greater threat is from the Canadian Bar Association using this pretext to issue its first ever call for a resignation.

    Whatever we may think about Vellacott’s misspeak about McLaughlin, it seems to me to hardly justify his resignation. Let’s face it; we are so PC now in this country, that almost any criticism of the Supremes is “off-limits”.

    You can see my take on this at my site, cnjournal.

    My check with the Barr assoc yesterday revealed the “reasons” the Bar took what I view as an alarming action – the call for his resignation – on the rather specious grounds of some possible disrespect for the Court.

    What a load of bilge. I bet that if any lawyer ever argued this line to the Supremes, they would throw it out in a heartbeat.

    I have a question for you.

    As I note in my blog, there was a news story at the time of the lecture that pursued the very question that Vellacott tried to get at, that is, the rather powerful role of the Supremes as they move beyond the written constitution or statute to apply “norms” that derive from our history of (at a minimum) our common law heritage. In my comment I note that my failing memory does recall that McLaughlin herself ruminated on the awesome power of the Supremes and its humbling or daunting effect.

    Do you recall anything along these lines or have you ever seen the story? It likely appeared in an Aus paper but I cannot be sure.

    Thanks for your help.

    Colin Nelson
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  2. The Bar ALWAYS sucks up to judges – maybe because its leaders intend to become them, but at least because its leaders appear before them and do not dare to be critical.

    But Vellacott came across as an idiot – misquoting the CJC as saying what no sane person would say, even if she thought it. As the Globe and Mail put it, the Chief Justice does not write at a Dick-and-Jane level. If Vellacott reads only at that level, he’s better off somewhere else (but unfortunately he remains in Parliament.)

    It is perfectly fair to criticize any judgment, or the role of our judges, or the legalization or judicialisation of our society, etc etc. It is fair to ask where reliance on ‘unwritten norms’ will take us, or where the judges get the norms and whether the rest of us (esp non-lawyers) share them. Some of such criticism rests on a misunderstanding of what judges do and have to do, but it’s fair to discuss it.

    Likewise one need not be temperate in criticism. Remember the Ontario Court of Appeal decision that the court was hardy enough to withstand the accusation that the courts and the police stick together like KrazyGlue (Kopyto case).

    So some criticism of Vellacott may have been unfair, but if you use (stupid) misrepresentation in public argument, particularly as an MP, then the rebound may be harder than you expect.