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The Globe and Mail

Quebec makes push for repatriation documents

Justice Ronald Martland, left, and Justice Roland Ritchie, right, listen to Chief Justice Bora Laskin read the Supreme Court's decision on the federal government's constitutional package in Ottawa on Oct. 3, 1981.

Fred Chartrand/CP

The Quebec government is turning to the federal access to information law in its attempt to retrieve documents related to the controversy over the Supreme Court of Canada's role in 1981 repatriation of the Constitution.

Last week, the Quebec National Assembly unanimously adopted a motion asking Ottawa to release all documents pertaining to the issue. Quebec has yet to receive a response from the Harper government, and is becoming increasingly impatient.

In a recent book, historian Frédéric Bastien alleged that former Supreme Court chief justice Bora Laskin informed British and Canadian officials of the court's deliberations on whether the federal government could repatriate the Constitution without the consent of the provinces. The allegations were based on documents recently declassified in Great Britain.

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If the allegations are accurate, Mr. Laskin would have breached a fundamental rule in democracy regarding the separation of the judiciary and executive by keeping former prime minister Pierre Trudeau and the British government informed of the court deliberations.

"We don't find it normal that we have to go through London to get access to the information," Quebec Minister for Intergovernmental Affairs Alexandre Cloutier said as he held up copies of the documents, entirely blacked out, that Mr. Bastien said he received from the federal government during his research.

Access to information requests have been submitted to the Privy Council and the departments of Justice and Foreign Affairs. Quebec is asking for all information, analytical notes, correspondence, minutes of meetings, legal advice and working documents pertaining to the 1981 Supreme Court of Canada reference on the repatriation of the Constitution. It also wants all information, meeting notes, conversations and communications between Mr. Laskin and Supreme Court justice Willard Estey with key senior members of the Canadian and British governments. Under the access to information law, Ottawa has 30 days to respond.

"As for the Supreme Court, we continue to demand a public intervention," Mr. Cloutier said. "It must confirm that it will conduct an independent inquiry [into the conduct of Mr. Laskin and Mr. Estey]."

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