An Ontario Superior Court judge who launched a three-week inquiry into journalist Stevie Cameron's role as an RCMP confidential informant says he is unhappy it has taken him 2½ years to complete his ruling -- but it won't take much longer.
"The time has passed, and I'd like to get it out as fast as I can," Mr. Justice Edward Then said in an interview yesterday. "It has been difficult, with the way things have piled up and with what I have on my plate, but I intend to have it out by the end of March."
Judge Then launched the case in early 2004 to determine whether a court order he had issued three years earlier -- to keep Ms. Cameron's name out of court documents at the fraud trial of Eurocopter Canada -- had brought the administration of justice into disrepute.
He was particularly keen to know whether the RCMP misled the court or acted in bad faith when it swore affidavits to obtain search warrants.
However, the issue proved to be exceedingly complex and multi-layered, Judge Then said: "It is not a run-of-the-mill matter. If I could deal with it quickly, believe me, I'd do it in a nanosecond."
In its "Ethical Principles for Judges," the Canadian Judicial Council urges judges to carry out their duties promptly, because, in many cases, lives are on hold and reputations are at stake. Except in "special circumstances," it says, reserved judgments should be rendered within six months.
However, Judge Then said yesterday that he never viewed the Cameron inquiry as having the status and urgency of a normal court judgment. He said that any need for haste was scaled back even further after criminal charges were dismissed against Eurocopter and two of its officers in 2005 -- leaving every aspect of the case completed except the Cameron matter.
"I took it on my own hook -- and it was important to me at that time," he said. "Basically, because it didn't have any particular effect on the case, I've put it on the back burner, to be honest with you. But having said that, you're right -- it has been a long time."
Judge Then acknowledged that Ms. Cameron and some members of the RCMP have been left in limbo for a long time. "Both those interested parties have some interest in their reputations," he said. "I'm sensitive to that. Had it impacted in particular on the prosecution, I would not have let it drag on. . . ."
William Kaplan, the author of a book on the case -- A Secret Trial: Brian Mulroney, Stevie Cameron and the Public Trust -- said yesterday that it is hard to understand the length of the delay.
"With the greatest respect to the judge, I understand the terrible workload our judges have to contend with on a day-to-day basis, but the judge said he was concerned about whether the administration of justice had been misled or provided with inaccurate information," Mr. Kaplan said.
"This is an extremely long time, especially given that the judge himself called the inquiry into Ms. Cameron's status as a confidential informant."
Fraud charges against Eurocopter and two of its executives were thrown out in 2005 after a preliminary inquiry.