It was "both unjustified and unfair" for a Chinese-Canadian organization to accuse a senior Ontario judge of displaying racism during a court hearing last summer, the Canadian Judicial Council concluded yesterday.
Rejecting a complaint against Mr. Justice James MacPherson of the Ontario Court of Appeal, the council said blunt and potentially painful questions are common in appeal hearings, and necessarily so. It is wrong to interpret them as a reflection of a judge's personal views, said Jeannie Thomas, the council's executive director.
"The probing of argument by judges is usually directed at getting to its core or gist," Ms. Thomas said in a letter to the complainants, the Chinese Canadian National Council.
"These exchanges are often simplistic and blunt. Spontaneous analogies are often raised. Many of Mr. Justice MacPherson's remarks reflect these dynamics. To extrapolate from that language that Mr. Justice MacPherson views Chinese Canadians as inferior is both unjustified and unfair to him."
The ruling will provide comfort to appellate judges across the country, who frequently engage in jousting matches with lawyers on either side of an appeal.
Ms. Thomas was writing on behalf of Nova Scotia Chief Justice Constance Glube, who investigated the complaint for the governing body of Canada's judiciary.
The CCNC lodged its complaint last July, shortly after the court heard oral arguments involving a class action launched by descendants of those subjected to the repressive head tax.
The CCNC said Judge MacPherson reduced a couple of its members to tears by stereotyping Chinese Canadians in an offensive manner. They said that he suggested other groups had suffered greater wrongs and that those subject to the tax had been content to pay it to get into a country like Canada.
In September, Judge MacPherson and two colleagues ruled against the class action. Only then did Ontario Chief Justice Roy McMurtry inform Judge MacPherson about the complaint.
The judicial council's letter yesterday made two concessions to the complainants. It said that:
Judges are held to a very high standard when it comes to uttering inappropriate language, and that Judge MacPherson obviously understood this by delivering a sincere apology for any harm he unintentionally had caused.
Chief Justice Glube found "unnecessary" a particular comment in which Judge MacPherson had cited a particular classical cellist as an example of a successful descendant of a head-tax immigrant.