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A portrait of Supreme Court justices hangs in the foyer of the court building in Ottawa. Chief Justice Beverley McLachlin (front row) (Chris Wattie / Reuters)
A portrait of Supreme Court justices hangs in the foyer of the court building in Ottawa. Chief Justice Beverley McLachlin (front row) (Chris Wattie / Reuters)

THE CONVERSATION

May 10: This week’s Talking Point – the PM vs. the Chief Justice – and other letters to the editor Add to ...

The PM says the Chief Justice tried to involve him in a conversation about the eligibility of a federal judge to sit on the Supreme Court. The Chief Justice says she did nothing wrong. Readers, print and digital, deliver their verdict in the he-said, she-said case

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The Prime Minister’s suggestion that the Chief Justice acted inappropriately in relation to a pending appointment to the Supreme Court is wholly without merit.

It is common and appropriate for a Chief Justice to be consulted about the needs of the court when a vacancy arises and before the nomination of any specific individual. In fact, the protocol for Supreme Court appointments calls for the Chief Justice to be consulted.

As part of these discussions, it would be expected that the Chief Justice would raise any issues that could affect who is eligible for appointment to the court. Any ministers for whom we worked would have wanted to be alerted to the issue so it could be considered before filling the vacancy. By all accounts, this is exactly what the Chief Justice sought to do.

All of us who are associated with the administration of justice have an ethical and in some cases a legal duty to protect the integrity of the judicial branch of government. It is for this reason that we felt it was important to point out that the Chief Justice’s actions here were not only appropriate but also what has been and should be expected of someone in her position.

Brent Cotter, former deputy minister of justice, Saskatchewan; Adam Dodek, former chief of staff to Ontario’s attorney-general; Bruce MacFarlane, former deputy attorney-general, Manitoba; Allan Seckel, former deputy attorney-general, B.C.; George Thomson, former deputy attorney-general, Ontario, former federal deputy attorney-general and deputy minister of justice

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The issue is not so much the virtue or lack of it of our Prime Minister, it is that we dare not challenge the Supreme Court. The judges have taken on legislative powers which were never meant for them. Liberals would scream bloody blue murder if our robed masters ruled abortion illegal.

It isn’t a conservative/liberal thing, it is a constitutional thing.

Randy Gough, Toronto

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If the myth of an activist court jells in the public mind, the Supreme Court’s standing will be harmed for years to come.

One cannot help but wonder if this was the Prime Minister’s underlying objective – to tarnish not just our Chief Justice, but also the credibility of the institution.

This attack by a sitting Prime Minister heralds a low point in the relationship between courts and the executive and risks damaging the credibility of not just one, but two of the pillars of Canada’s constitutional democracy.

Julie Jai, lawyer, Toronto

Why isn’t the government being taken to task for pushing forward against expert advice with five very expensive Supreme Court cases? Why is a government that squanders millions on a string of failed decisions still considered a guardian of taxpayers’ dollars?

Mike Kocsis, Wolfe Island, Ont.

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Stephen Harper’s office tells us that “neither the Prime Minister nor the Minister of Justice would ever call a sitting judge on a matter that is or may be before their court.” I find this rich coming from the Prime Minister who, on Sept. 23, 2013 – the very morning Omar Khadr was to make his first appearance in a Canadian court – held a press conference to warn that his government would “vigorously defend against any attempts, in court, to lessen [Mr. Khadr’s] punishment for these heinous acts.”

Apparently Mr. Harper will not call a sitting judge, but he is quite content to communicate overt instructions through the national media.

It is no small coincidence that one of Marc Nadon’s few noteworthy judgments was a dissenting opinion on one of Mr. Khadr’s legal victories against this government – two of which were upheld by the Supreme Court.

The circle is complete.

Robert Betty, Edmonton

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An independent judiciary is an essential part of a constitutional democracy, but that does not mean the judiciary is a sacred cow above scrutiny and criticism. The government of the day has a responsibility to oversee the functioning of the court, which is maintained by taxpayer funds. Therefore, I support the criticism by Stephen Harper and Justice Minister Peter MacKay.

Jiti Khanna, Vancouver

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Stephen Harper’s comments were intended for the Conservatives’ base to explain the government’s recent losses, not to add to informed public discussion. There is an entrenched Tory belief that the apparatus of the state – including the Supreme Court – is all part of a liberal conspiracy to thwart the will of the people.

This government conducts itself in a way that deliberately sets its legislative agenda on a collision course with the Constitution.

When the court subsequently upholds the law, the Tories point in righteous indignation, further entrenching their base. It’s great politics and rotten governance.

Stephen Thompson, Mont-Saint-Hilaire, Que.

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The Supreme Court is dominated by Stephen Harper’s own appointees. Even the Chief Justice is a Tory appointee, an Albertan named to the bench by Brain Mulroney. So, clearly, the court was not acting in a partisan manner when it rebuffed the government’s attempts to end-run the Constitution. If the PM thinks he’s playing to his base, this member of that base is not impressed.

Helen Williams, Calgary

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We give our PMs a wide locus of power, but it does have its legal limits. One is that the prime minister is to ensure there are three judges on the Supreme Court from the Quebec courts or bar.

Mr. Harper bungled the Nadon appointment. He didn’t need to mess things up so badly, but seems captive to an unbelievably shallow understanding of the terms of our federation – and the legal mores of our country.

Our Chief Justice is deeply respected by the legal community, at home and abroad. For Mr. Harper to add her to his list of drive-by smears is disgusting and foolish. Canadians have had quite enough of his inability to respect lawful checks on his power.

He is a prime minister, not an absolute monarch. The sooner he understands the difference, the better for Canada.

Penny Gill, Dundas, Ont.

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ON REFLECTION Letters to the editor

For Tory eyes only

Re Online Creeps (editorial, May 9): How ironic that the Harper government that mines social media sites and makes 800,000 requests a year for our phone and Internet information is the same government that prefers the inaccurate data of a voluntary long-form census. The difference between these two approaches to data privacy is that the first produces data the government uses for its own purposes and is not made public, whereas aggregated census data is available to everyone, including critics of the government’s policies.

Lewis Auerbach, Ottawa

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CBC, by the numbers

Re Fourth Estate Problems, A Fifth Estate Departure: Linden MacIntyre Leaves CBC Amid Labour Woes – May 8): High drama: a Giller-award-winning author falls on his sword for the sake of his troops.

It could have been a great series. However, based on Fifth Estate staffing numbers, it appears that it would have taken 20 editorial staff and three co-hosts to produce it – and therein lie the failings of the CBC: The private sector does it cheaper and better.

Ted Griffith, Toronto

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Voter pains in Ontario

An Ontario election campaign featuring the leaders of the Fiberals, Naive Dreamers Party and the Regressive Conservatives is just too painful (This Is The Age Of The Abrasive And Inappropriate Politician – Life & Arts, May 8).

Any way we could cancel it – for less than the cost of a power plant, of course?

Robin Moss, Ancaster, Ont.

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Ask the teachers

Re Imagine the Uproar If We Weeded Out Bad Teachers (May 9): If teachers unions think they are being bullied into submission, why not let their members decide the issue with a straight-up, secret vote on a few yes/no questions?

Should teachers be held accountable to reasonable performance standards? Should teachers be measured for effectiveness? Should remuneration reflect performance? Can administrators be trusted to evaluate teachers fairly?

The results might be enlightening in more ways than one.

George Kraemer, Moncton

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