No way to pick judges for the Supreme Court
Monday, April 11, 2005
Barely more than a year after being elected, Prime Minister Paul Martin is backing briskly away from a key electoral promise to give Parliament the right to review appointments to the Supreme Court.
This week, Justice Minister Irwin Cotler announced the workings of what he fondly calls the promised "reform" of the recommendation process. It is a long way from the full and open review Martin had suggested would be allowed.
Under Cotler's proposal, future Supreme Court judges would be drawn from a confidential shortlist of three candidates approved in advance by an ad-hoc advisory committee, including opposition MPs. But significantly, a future judge would not be required to appear before a parliamentary committee for public vetting. Cotler described his proposed change as fulfilling the government's commitment to bring more transparency to the appointment of Supreme Court judges.
That is true only considering it could scarcely bring any less transparency than under the current system, in which the list of candidates is never revealed and the public is told nothing until a name emerges. Canadians know more about the process of selecting a pope than we do about what goes into selecting our high-court judges.
This "reform" of Cotler's falls so far short of the Liberal promise that it cannot fairly be described as a reform at all.
In fact, it seems just more of the same condescension toward the voter so openly on display when Cotler showed up to answer questions about Rosalie Abella and Louise Charron, 24 hours before they were appointed to the country's top court last summer.
The two women were not subjected to any questioning at all. They were not even on hand for the hearing, whose participants were given only a day to review the nominees' past rulings and only one afternoon to question Cotler.
Canada today is a constitutional democracy. Since the adoption in 1982 of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms, courts have become much more vigorous in interpreting our laws. This makes the Supreme Court enormously powerful, so that the selection of members of that body is of critical importance to all Canadians.
It is outrageous that Canadians still find themselves with absolutely no right to know anything about the men and women who are under consideration to sit on that court.
No one is recommending a U.S.-style free-for-all. But frankly, even that might be an improvement, in terms of the "democratic deficit" candidate Martin loved to talk about, over the system that Canadians have now, which is pure pre-glasnost Kremlin. [...]
Supreme Court justices make decisions that directly affect the lives of Canadians. Before anyone is given that power, he or she should be prepared to stand up in an open, public forum and let us see who they are.
© The Gazette (Montreal) 2005
Originally, but no longer, at The Gazette (Montreal)