The Canadian Council of Law Deans has joined a growing chorus from the legal community condemning the Conservative government’s criticisms of Supreme Court Chief Justice Beverley McLachlin.
The council, representing all 23 deans of the country’s law schools, said it is gravely concerned that criticism from Prime Minister Stephen Harper and Justice Minister Peter MacKay could harm the independence of the country’s top court.
The Prime Minister’s Office issued a statement last week accusing the Chief Justice of trying to involve Mr. Harper in an inappropriate conversation about a case that could come before the court – on the eligibility of a Federal Court judge for appointment to the Supreme Court. Both Mr. Harper and Mr. MacKay repeated that assertion in the House of Commons this week.
But the deans said “the facts that have come to light confirm, to the contrary, that the Chief Justice’s actions were beyond reproach and consistent with the dignity of her office.”
The deans urged the Prime Minister and Mr. MacKay to “immediately and unequivocally withdraw any statement that could be understood as impugning the integrity of the Chief Justice and the independence of the Supreme Court of Canada.”
They went on to point to the legal community’s wide opposition to the PMO’s statement. The Canadian Bar Association (representing 37,000 lawyers and judges), the Advocates Society and 11 former presidents of the Canadian Bar Association, have issued similar calls on the Prime Minister to withdraw his criticisms of Chief Justice McLachlin.
“There are very few issues on which all members of the legal community spontaneously agree,” the deans said.
“The unanimous condemnation of the government’s statements regarding Chief Justice McLachlin reflects our shared sentiment that this is an unfortunate and unprecedented attack on one of the most important institutions of Canada’s constitutional democracy.”
Chief Justice McLachlin issued a statement last week in response to the PMO’s assertions, saying that she had spoken to Mr. MacKay two months before the Prime Minister named Justice Marc Nadon of the Federal Court of Appeal to the Supreme Court. Her call was meant to flag a potential legal issue, not comment on the merits of that issue, she said.
The government eventually asked the court to rule on Justice Nadon’s eligibility, and the court rejected him, by a 6-1 count. Chief Justice McLachlin was in the majority.