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Prime Minister denies disrespecting Chief Justice

Canada's Prime Minister Stephen Harper speaks during Question Period in the House of Commons on Parliament Hill in Ottawa May 6, 2014.

CHRIS WATTIE/REUTERS

Prime Minister Stephen Harper rejects the notion that he has shown disrespect to Supreme Court of Canada Chief Justice Beverley McLachlin, and refuses to withdraw, clarify or apologize for his assertion that she acted improperly.

Opposition Leader Thomas Mulcair asked Mr. Harper to respond to an open letter published in The Globe and Mail in which 11 past presidents of the Canadian Bar Association said the Prime Minister's statements could intimidate Supreme Court judges or harm their ability to render justice objectively and fairly.

"Will the Prime Minister apologize to the Chief Justice and Canadians for his unprecedented and inexplicable attack on one of our most respected democratic institutions?" Mr. Mulcair asked.

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Mr. Harper said he categorically rejects "the premise of that question," and said he acted appropriately. "It's because of our respect for the independence of the judiciary that the Prime Minister does not discuss an issue that might wind up before the court."

The Prime Minister's Office said in a news release last week that Chief Justice McLachlin sought to involve him in an inappropriate conversation about a case that eventually came before the Supreme Court – on the eligibility of a Federal Court judge for one of the three Quebec spots on the court. The Chief Justice replied in a statement from the court that she had done nothing wrong, that the judge was not appointed until two months after her conversation flagging the "potential issue" with Justice Minister Peter MacKay, and that she decided against talking with Mr. Harper about it.

Speaking in the House of Commons for the first time about the dispute, Mr. Harper said that rather than speak to Chief Justice McLachlin about the eligibility issue, he consulted legal and constitutional experts.

The question of eligibility "was a matter that could go before the court. In fact, the government later referred the matter to the court." The judges ruled 6-1 that Mr. Harper's choice for the Supreme Court, Justice Marc Nadon of the Federal Court of Appeal, was not eligible because he lacked current Quebec qualifications.

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