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Top court nominees to face arduous parliamentary hearing

Prime Minister Stephen Harper has nominated two Ontario judges to fill vacancies at the Supreme Court of Canada – Justice Andromache Karakatsanis and Justice Michael J. Moldaver. In this television image Justice Michael Moldaver asks Steven Truscott's lawyer James Lockyer a question during the opening address at the Ontario Court of Appeal in Toronto.

CBC/The Canadian Press/CBC/The Canadian Press

Supreme Court of Canada nominees Mr. Justice Michael Moldaver and Madam Justice Judge Andromache Karakatsanis have just one day left to prep for a nerve-wracking parliamentary hearing where they will field a battery of questions from MPs.

However, the chances are slim that the hearing will develop into a free-wheeling session in which the personal lives and views of the nominees are flushed into the open. Instead, it promises to be a tightly scripted affair where MPs largely avoid touching on hot-button social, legal or political issues.

"I think there will be fair questioning, but I don't think it will be adversarial questioning," said Liberal MP Irwin Cotler, a member of the Supreme Court search committee that prepared a list of six finalists for Prime Minister Stephen Harper to select from.

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Having Liberal and NDP members on the search committee gave them a say in the process as well as a vested interest in the result, Mr. Cotler acknowledged. "At the end of the day, the two people were also recommended by us."

Both nominees are widely seen as being very competent and capable of carrying the intense workload of a Supreme Court of Canada judge.

The most uncomfortable questions Judge Karakatsanis will face may involve her lack of experience as a judge and her political connections to powerful Conservative government figures.

Jacob Ziegel, a University of Toronto law professor, criticized the government Monday for passing over ideal candidates in favour of a relative unknown.

"What I seriously question is the integrity of the process that led to her nomination," Prof. Ziegel said. The possible influence of Conservative heavyweights such as Finance Minister Jim Flaherty, he said, cannot help but cast a shadow over her nomination.

However, Mr. Cotler emphasized that Judge Karakatsanis came highly recommended by leading jurists and legal figures.

"She was at a very high level civil-servant position in the Ontario government," he added. "An understanding of governmental process and intergovernmental relations is something that can only be an asset to the Supreme Court."

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For Judge Moldaver, the trickiest question will involve his public disparagement of defence lawyers who, he said, engage in unnecessary legal motions.

The ad hoc committee process was set up in 2006 to review Mr. Justice Marshall Rothstein's nomination to the court. It will be composed of seven Conservative MPs, four NDP MPs and one Liberal.

Peter Hogg, a highly respected constitutional scholar, is again expected to give introductory comments at the outset of the hearing that will explain the historical significance of the event and the ground rules that will pertain.

After the hearing, Judge Moldaver and Judge Karakatsanis are likely to be sworn in within days. A public swearing-in ceremony will follow in November.

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