Justice Colleen Suche of the Manitoba Court of Queen’s Bench has been rebuked by her superiors and the Canadian Judicial Council for inappropriately giving advice on judicial appointments to the federal government and her husband, Liberal MP Jim Carr.
The CJC investigated Justice Suche’s role in federal appointments after The Globe and Mail revealed in February that she submitted the same recommendations as Mr. Carr to fill court vacancies in Manitoba. Mr. Carr was a senior minister in the cabinet of Prime Minister Justin Trudeau when he and Justice Suche separately lobbied for the identical list of lawyers to the Prime Minister’s Office and to then-justice minister Jody Wilson-Raybould.
The Globe obtained internal e-mails at the time showing that Liberal MPs, ministers and staff members had been involved in vetting judicial candidates since Ottawa revamped the process in 2016, after having accused the previous Conservative government of politicizing appointments.
According to the CJC’s standard of conduct, judges have to “take care that they are not perceived as being advisers to those holding political office or to members of the executive.”
B.C. Supreme Court Chief Justice Christopher E. Hinkson, who is the chair of the CJC’s judicial conduct committee, investigated Justice Suche’s actions and concluded that she "entered an area that is beyond the acceptable ambit for a sitting judge.”
"Chief Justice Hinkson concludes that the conduct of Madame Justice Suche can only lead a reasonable and fair minded and informed member of the public to the conclusion that she has been acting as an adviser to those holding political office,” CJC executive director J. Michael MacDonald said in a letter released Monday. The CJC did not release Justice Hinkson’s report on the investigation.
Justice Suche told the CJC that she offered her views on candidates for judicial appointments to Mr. Carr because he “did not know any of the people.” The CJC added that Justice Suche offered her advice to the government on potential judges in other provinces, including one person she felt “should be approached to make such an application.”
Justice Suche has since agreed to stop communicating with the government on judicial appointments. She will not face further sanction.
The opposition said that the matter shows how the Liberal government takes partisan considerations into account in the judicial appointment process.
“It is important that ministers take every step to ensure that impartiality and independence are upheld in government operations. It is clear that Prime Minister Trudeau and minister Carr failed to do this," Conservative MP James Bezan said.
In a statement, Manitoba Chief Justice Richard Chartier and Manitoba Court of Queen’s Bench Chief Justice Glenn Joyal said that “the impugned conduct on the part of Justice Suche occurred without our authorization.”
The pair said the findings in the case have “reaffirmed long-standing and important demarcation lines that exist to separate the judiciary and the executive branch.”
“These lines are critical, not only to maintaining judicial independence, but also to preserving the integrity of the federal judicial appointment process for all courts across Canada. It is the integrity of that process upon which all Canadians depend,” Chief Justice Chartier and Chief Justice Joyal said.
Peter Russell, an expert on judicial appointments, said the CJC has sent a signal to sitting judges that they can provide impartial input to the government on candidates for appointment, but not act as active participants in the process.
“Judges are not recruiters,” said the professor emeritus of political science at the University of Toronto.
According to the internal e-mails obtained by The Globe in February, Justice Suche and Mr. Carr supported identical lists of candidates in separate communications with the office of Ms. Wilson-Raybould in 2018. The e-mails showed that Mr. Carr, who was minister of natural resources and then international trade during the first Liberal mandate, clashed with Ms. Wilson-Raybould over judicial appointments.
“Carr is calling me – all upset I suspect,” Ms. Wilson-Raybould wrote to her staff in February, 2018, asking for an update on candidates whose appointments were set for cabinet approval.
Later in 2018, Mr. Carr’s office contacted Ms. Wilson-Raybould’s office to express “strong objections” to the fact that she was not recommending the appointment of the same candidates who were being supported by Mr. Carr and Justice Suche.
The PMO’s director of appointments, Hilary Leftick, called on both ministers to come to an agreement, otherwise the appointments in Manitoba could be delayed. When new judges were subsequently announced in the province, the list included three names: the two choices initially supported by Ms. Wilson-Raybould, as well as the top choice of Mr. Carr and Justice Suche.
The government did not comment directly on the CJC’s findings.
“The Canadian Judicial Council is an independent entity responsible for investigating any complaint or allegation with respect to the conduct of a federally appointed judge," said Rachel Rappaport, a spokeswoman for Justice Minister David Lametti. "We trust in the council’s ability to appropriately assess any concerns and make a determination as to whether further action is warranted.”
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