Former federal justice minister Jody Wilson-Raybould is calling for an investigation into confidentiality breaches over the Supreme Court appointment process. It was reported this week that she recommended a Manitoba judge for chief justice of Canada’s highest court and that Prime Minister Justin Trudeau rejected that recommendation.
Separately, Conservative justice critic Lisa Raitt said it appears “sources close to the Prime Minister” were behind the breaches. Ms. Raitt said Wednesday that the confidentiality breaches are another case of “potential political interference” after the Prime Minister’s Office pressed Ms. Wilson-Raybould on the prosecution of SNC-Lavalin.
Justice Minister David Lametti, who replaced Ms. Wilson-Raybould in that role in January, tweeted several hours after his predecessor’s call for an investigation that he was "concerned by the publication of details of the most recent #SupremeCourt justice selection. The integrity of our process depends on confidentiality for all parties involved. Canadians should have complete confidence in the administration of justice.” However, when his office was asked how it would deal with the matter, a spokesman replied: “Nothing to add to the tweet.”
A spokeswoman for the Prime Minister’s Office denied it had any involvement in the breaches of confidentiality. “We take the integrity of our institutions seriously,” Chantal Gagnon said in an e-mail. “The PMO would never leak who would be considered for a judicial appointment.”
Reflecting the importance put on preserving the judicial candidates’ privacy, members of the independent advisory board that screens Supreme Court applicants are required to sign confidentiality agreements. The Trudeau government created the process. The leaks involve deliberations at a stage in the process after the board chose a shortlist for the Prime Minister’s consideration.
The dispute over leaks from that process comes after Ms. Wilson-Raybould publicly accused the Prime Minister and senior officials of putting improper pressure on her when she was attorney-general to support a negotiated settlement for Quebec engineering company SNC-Lavalin, which faces charges of bribery and fraud.
The Globe and Mail first reported allegations of political interference on Feb. 7; Ms. Wilson-Raybould told a Commons committee late last month that she had come under sustained pressure for four months. She was moved to Veterans Affairs in January, and resigned from cabinet in February.
Ms. Wilson-Raybould said Wednesday that she could not comment on whether the news reports about her recommendation were accurate. “I do feel compelled to say that I have not − as some have suggested − been the source of any of these stories, nor have I ever authorized any person to speak on my behalf,” she said in a statement. “I strongly condemn anyone who would speak about or provide information on such sensitive matters.”
She said she supports “some kind of investigation” into the leaks, because they “could compromise the integrity of the appointment process.”
This week, CTV and The Canadian Press reported that Mr. Trudeau had questioned Ms. Wilson-Raybould’s judgment after she proposed installing Chief Justice Glenn Joyal of the Manitoba Court of Queen’s Bench as Supreme Court chief justice, replacing Beverley McLachlin, who retired. Instead, Mr. Trudeau chose Justice Richard Wagner to be Chief Justice, and Alberta Court of Appeal Justice Sheilah Martin to fill the position Ms. McLachlin had vacated from the West.
Chief Justice Joyal has given speeches outlining a conservative judicial philosophy. He issued a statement earlier this week saying he had withdrawn from consideration during the process for personal reasons related to his wife’s health.
The Globe later confirmed Ms. Wilson-Raybould’s recommendation and reported that it was part of a broader plan in which the first Indigenous chief justice of a superior court would have been appointed to fill the position left vacant by Chief Justice Joyal.
Ms. Raitt called on the federal agency that oversees the appointment process to investigate the confidentiality breaches. But Marc Giroux, who heads the Office of the Commissioner for Federal Judicial Affairs, said that while he is deeply troubled by the confidentiality breaches, his agency has no authority to investigate them. His office provides administrative support to government in the Supreme Court appointment process.
A “plain reading of the facts” led Ms. Raitt to conclude someone near the Prime Minister leaked confidential information about Supreme Court appointments to the media, thus damaging judicial independence and the reputation of the judges involved, she said.
“If this is indeed true, it is an egregious case of political interference and one that severely injures the independence of the judiciary,” Ms. Raitt said in a publicly released letter to Mr. Giroux.
“Further it casts a cloud over the appointments of Justice Sheilah Martin and Chief Justice Richard Wagner, both of whom were appointed instead of Judge Joyal, and harms the perceived objectivity of Judge Joyal’s past and future judgments.”
Mr. Giroux said in his reply that his agency is an intermediary between the judiciary and executive, but unlike other federal agencies, lacks investigatory power.
The leaks have distressed the Canadian legal community. The Manitoba Bar Association, in a statement by its president, Mark Toews, said that comments criticizing Chief Justice Joyal as homophobic and anti-abortion − as former Liberal MP Sheila Copps described him in a tweet − are completely wrong.
He added: “It is, in the end, highly regrettable that Chief Justice Joyal was forced to respond and disclose deeply personal and confidential information.”
Emma Cunliffe, who teaches at the Allard School of Law at the University of British Columbia, said she was appalled by the confidentiality breaches. “The process only works if everybody has faith in its integrity and its confidentiality,” she said in an interview.
On Tuesday, Ms. Wilson-Raybould submitted 44 pages of additional information to the justice committee to rebut testimony from previous witnesses including Michael Wernick, the Clerk of the Privy Council, and Mr. Trudeau’s former principal secretary, Gerald Butts.
The documents, which include copies of e-mails and text messages, have to be translated into French before they are provided to committee members and released to the public. That could take as late as Friday afternoon.
In a March 21 letter to Liberal MP Anthony Housefather, chair of the justice committee, Ms. Wilson-Raybould said her submission will also include “relevant facts and evidence in my possession that further clarify statements I made and elucidate the accuracy and nature of statements by witnesses in testimony that came after my testimony.”
With a report from Robert Fife in Ottawa.