A Manitoba judge says his name is being improperly used to serve someone’s “agenda” in the dispute between former justice minister and attorney-general Jody Wilson-Raybould and the Liberal government.
Chief Justice Glenn Joyal of the Manitoba Court of Queen’s Bench was a candidate for the Supreme Court of Canada vacancy created by the retirement of former chief justice Beverley McLachlin in December, 2017.
News reports from The Canadian Press and CTV on Monday said Ms. Wilson-Raybould, who has accused the Liberal government of political interference in her role as attorney-general, had pushed for Chief Justice Joyal both to replace Ms. McLachlin on the court and to be chief justice. In a statement, Ms. Wilson-Raybould would not comment on whether she supported Chief Justice Joyal for the court citing the confidentiality of the appointment process.
Supreme Court appointments are decided by the prime minister and the minister of justice is consulted on the matter. Prime Minister Justin Trudeau named Justice Sheilah Martin, an Alberta appeal court judge, to the Supreme Court and Richard Wagner of Quebec as Chief Justice.
Citing unnamed sources, the news reports suggested Mr. Trudeau doubted Ms. Wilson-Raybould’s judgment when she backed the conservative-minded Chief Justice Joyal, who has questioned the Supreme Court’s expansive position on the Charter of Rights and Freedoms. Mr. Trudeau has defended a liberal interpretation of Charter rights.
But in a statement, Chief Justice Joyal said he withdrew his candidacy for personal reasons, “due to my wife’s metastatic breast cancer.” He did not say what date he withdrew. He did not immediately respond Monday night to e-mail questions from The Globe and Mail.
“I fear that someone is using my previous candidacy to the Supreme Court of Canada to further an agenda unrelated to the appointment process,” he said in the statement. “This is wrong.”
Ms. Wilson-Raybould has been at the centre of a political storm since The Globe published allegations on Feb. 7 that senior members of the Prime Minister’s Office put pressure on her to stop SNC-Lavalin, a Quebec engineering firm, from being prosecuted on bribery and fraud charges.
Since then, she has testified at a Commons committee that Mr. Trudeau was among the government officials who pressed her on at least 20 occasions, on the prosecution of SNC-Lavalin, over a four-month period. She was moved out of her post in January to Veterans Affairs, from which she later resigned. The Prime Minister’s principal secretary and the government’s top civil servant have also resigned, and a second cabinet minister, Jane Philpott, resigned in support of Ms. Wilson-Raybould.
Supreme Court candidates apply or are invited to apply to a non-partisan committee. Former prime minister Kim Campbell heads the committee, which submits a short list of three to five names to the prime minister for consideration. The prime minister ultimately decides who will be appointed.
Globe and Mail sources at the time described Chief Justice Joyal as a leading contender. The former prosecutor had first been appointed a provincial court judge in 1998 by the Progressive Conservative government.
He was later appointed during Stephen Harper’s years as prime minister to the province’s Court of Appeal, and then as chief justice of the province’s top trial court. By comparison, Justice Martin had strong small-l liberal credentials as a former law dean, author and feminist with expertise in sexual-assault law. Ms. Wilson-Raybould had named her to Alberta’s Court of Appeal in one of her earliest appointments.
Ms. Wilson-Raybould also denied the news reports.
“There was no conflict," she said in a statement e-mailed to news reporters. “The ultimate decision on appointment to the SCC is always the PMs. In this process there are typically confidential conversations and communications – back and forths between the PM and the MOJAG [minister of justice and attorney-general] on potential candidates for appointment.”
On the specifics of the news report, she declined to comment, citing the confidentiality of the appointment process.
“I am not at liberty to comment on their veracity. I do however find it extremely worrisome that people are asking such questions and where they received any such information. Commentary/reporting in this regard with respect to a SCC appointment(s) could compromise the integrity of the appointments process, our institutions and potentially sitting Justices.”
She added she is proud of both Supreme Court appointments during the Liberal tenure, Justice Martin and Justice Malcolm Rowe of Newfoundland and Labrador.
Peter Russell, an emeritus professor of political science at the University of Toronto, said the justice minister’s role is to quarterback the process, making sure it works properly. In an interview, he said it was unlikely that she would write a 60-page memo in favour of a candidate, as unnamed sources said she did for Chief Justice Joyal.
A spokesman for the Prime Minister’s Office declined to comment.