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Front-runners for Supreme Court of Canada posts

Two prominent Ontario judges or lawyers will soon be asked to pull up stakes, move to Ottawa and immerse themselves in important cases at the Supreme Court of Canada.

Sources say that nine of those on a confidential list of 12 semi-finalists are judges from the heavily stocked Ontario Court of Appeal. The remaining three are practising lawyers or superior court judges.

The group is neither diverse nor particularly conversant in French, furnishing one theory for why a search committee has had trouble winnowing down the list. To add more pressure to the task, the Supreme Court also requires two judges who are steeped in criminal law, and Mr. Harper is believed to favour youthful candidates who will serve and influence the court for many years.

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The final nominees are likely to include one or two of the following:

Mr. Justice Michael Moldaver, 63: Collegial, down to earth and prolific, he has a vast knowledge of criminal law. Recent hard-hitting speeches to both defence lawyers and prosecutors about streamlining the court system proved controversial, but he is much aligned with the Harper government's views on tough sentencing and sparing use of the Charter of Rights.

Mr. Justice David Doherty, 62: An extremely well-regarded writer, he cannot be pegged as either pro-accused or pro-Crown. His sole handicap, a cantankerous nature, is of less importance on a nine-judge bench. The litmus test may be that he is popular with most colleagues.

Madam Justice Karen Weiler, 66: Fluently bilingual and active in many legal and judicial organizations, she has logged 12 years as a trial judge and 19 years on the Court of Appeal. Well qualified but low profile.

Mr. Justice David Watt, 64: A kerfuffle over irreverent whimsy in some of his rulings overshadowed his encyclopedic knowledge of criminal law and procedure. He has deep experience as a trial judge and a Crown prosecutor.

Mr. Justice John Laskin, 68: The son of legendary former Supreme Court chief justice Bora Laskin, he is well versed in most legal fields and developed into a superb writer during his 17 years on the bench. He is much in demand as a lecturer in judicial writing.

Mr. Justice Robert Sharpe, 65: A former executive legal officer at the Supreme Court as well as dean of law at University of Toronto. Hard-working, bilingual, sociable and a prolific author of books on the courts and legal cases, his appointment would be universally applauded.

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Madame Justice Andromake Karakatsanis, 55: A recent appointment with strong Conservative connections, the majority of her career was in senior civil-service ranks, including a stint as assistant attorney-general and cabinet secretary. It is strongly rumoured she has removed her name from contention because her husband has a debilitating illness.

Mr. Justice Russell Juriansz, 64: An expert with computers and new technology, he is a middle-of-the-road jurist with considerable experience in human rights law. Born in India, he would become the first visible minority judge on the Supreme Court.

Mr. Justice Harry Laforme, 64: The most senior aboriginal judge in the country, he left a thriving practice in aboriginal law in 1994 to spend 10 years as a trial judge. He would become the first aboriginal judge on the Supreme Court.

Many highly-respected judges are surprising for their absence on the list – likely because of advancing age, lack of interest in the job, a liberal judicial record or the fact that they have publicly criticized government policies. They include Mr. Justice Marc Rosenberg, Mr. Justice James McPherson, Madame Justice Eleanore Cronk, Madame Justice Eileen Gillese, Mr. Justice Stephen Goudge and Madam Justice Katryn Feldman.

Of the non-judges on the list, Bay Street lawyer Benjamin Zarnett is considered a likely inclusion.

Other strong candidates, such as Ontario Superior Court Judge David Brown and Mr. Justice Michael Code, are considered likely to be appointed to the Ontario Court of Appeal before they are considered for the Supreme Court bench.

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Editor's note: an earlier version of this story that ran online and in Friday's newspaper incorrectly stated the age of Mr. Justice Robert Sharpe. He is 65.

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About the Author
Justice reporter

Born in Montreal, Aug. 3, 1954. BA (Journalism) Ryerson, 1979. Previously covered environment beat, Queen's Park. Toronto courts bureau from 1981-85. Justice beat from 1985 - present. More

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