The Supreme Court of Canada is facing a significant "void" as two of its judges - Mr. Justice Ian Binnie and Madam Justice Louise Charron - announced their impending retirements.
In a release from the court Friday, Madam Justice Beverley McLachlin announced that Justice Charron's retirement will be effective August 30, 2011, with Justice Binnie's scheduled for the same day.
"Justice Binnie's retirement will take effect upon the same date or, if there is a delay in the nomination process, so soon thereafter as his replacement is appointed," she said.
"The departure of Justices Binnie and Charron will leave an important void on the court," Chief Justice McLachlin said. "Both have served the court with great wisdom and dedication and have made significant and lasting contributions to the administration of justice in Canada. They are valued colleagues and friends. We will miss them."
In a prepared statement, Justice Binnie said: "It has been an honour and a privilege to serve on the Supreme Court of Canada since January 1998. Much as I will miss the work and my colleagues, I am now well into my fourteenth year on the Court and the time has come to return to Toronto to pick up some of the threads of an earlier existence.
"I deeply appreciate the opportunities given to me to participate in the administration of justice in so many different capacities over more than 44 years and I thank those who from time to time made it possible".
Justice Charron said that her reasons for leaving the court are simple. "I have recently turned 60," she said. "My husband and I both enjoy good health. We have a great family and wonderful friends. I have been a judge for 23 years now and the seventh anniversary of my appointment to the Court, August 30 next, seems like the perfect time to move on."
Justice Binnie was appointed to the Supreme Court of Canada on January 8, 1998. Justice Charron was appointed to the Supreme Court of Canada on August 30, 2004.
"I am certain that the Canadian government will give priority consideration to the appointment of two new justices of the Supreme Court with all the care and deliberation that is required in the circumstances," Chief Justice McLachlin said.
A forceful judge with a sharp intellect and a vast spectrum of experience in the law, Judge Binnie quickly became a strong leader on the court after being drawn straight from the ranks of his law practice.
As a lawyer, Judge Binnie argued numerous important cases on behalf of the federal government. A top lawyer with the firm of McCarthy Tetrault, he was an expert in civil and constitutional law, and wrote many decisions fleshing out key criminal rights in the Charter of Rights and Freedoms.
He occupied a centrist position on the court and was a prolific writer known for his clean prose and the wit he injected into his decisions.
Judge Charron was a hard-working, low-profile judge with a reputation for conservatism when it came to the rights of the accused. She could usually be found in the majority position on court rulings.
A private-member's bill last year requiring Supreme Court judges to be proficient in both French and English did not pass last year, so Prime Minister Harper is likely to be sensitive to how easily the issue could flair up in Quebec if he were to make a false move.
There will be pressure on Mr. Harper and Justice Minister Rob Nicholson to replace Judge Binnie with a practising lawyer; a niche that many regard as critically important in order to keep the court current with the realities of law on the ground.
Strong candidates who are currently practicing lawyers are Guy Pratte, Sheila Block, Linda Rothstein and Chris Bredt.
Still, at least one of the new appointees is very likely to come from the Ontario Court of Appeal, considered by many to be the strongest bench in the country.
If Judge Charron's replacement is a woman, strong consideration is likely to be given to Madam Justice Eleanore Cronk, Madam Justice Eileen Gillese and Madam Justice Gloria Epstein.
Ontario Court of Appeal judges who are proficient in French include: Mr. Justice Paul Rouleau, Mr. Justice Robert Sharpe, Mr. Justice Robert Blair and Madam Justice Andromache Karakatsanis.
All are considered possibilities for a Supreme Court appointment, particularly Judge Karakasanis, whose quick legal intellect, Greek heritage, Conservative connections and gender are thought to be attributes.
Ontario Court of Appeal Justice David Doherty and Mr. Justice Marc Rosenberg are perenially strong candidates for elevation, but their liberal approaches to sentencing and criminal rights may not accord with what Mr. Harper is looking for.
Among other oft-considered candidates, Mr. Justice James MacPherson has a strong background in constitutional law and is seen as a centrist on criminal law issues, while Mr. Justice John Laskin is an excellent writer with long experience as an appellate judge.
"I would say that the Ontario Court of Appeal is one of the strongest and deepest courts in the country," said University of Ottawa law professor Adam Dodek, a former clerk at the Supreme Court.
He noted that should Mr. Harper look to the ranks of Ontario's Ministry of the Attorney-General, lawyer Janet Minor is considered exceptionally intelligent, hard working and very well versed in constitutional law.
Another candidate to become the first Greek-Canadian member of the Court - Mr. Justice David Stratas of the Federal Court of Appeal - poses an interesting choice for Mr. Harper. A leading constitutional lawyer for many years with conservative tendencies and a prodigious appetitite for work, Judge Stratas has only one thing against him: his level of court.
According to loose convention, there is one seat on the Supreme Court for a judge drawn from the Federal Court ranks - a seat currently occupied by Judge Rothstein. However, should Mr. Harper have little interest in the convention, Judge Stratas goes to the top of many legal experts' lists.
Another candidate - Ontario Court of Appeal Judge Michael Moldaver - could vault to the top of the list on account of frequently-expressed antipathy to time-consuming Charter arguments and decisions that expand the scope of the Charter. Plain-speaking and personable, Judge Moldaver would be considered a persuasive and collegial candidate for the Supreme Court.