This open letter is signed by 17 former presidents of the Canadian Bar Asociation: Simon V. Potter, Bernard Amyot, Thomas G. Heintzman, L. Yves Fortier, D. Kevin Carroll, Brian A. Tabor, J. Guy Joubert, J.J. Camp, Trinda L. Ernst, Robert Brun, Rod Snow, Paul Fraser, Daphné Dumont, Russell Lusk, Wayne Chapman, Gordon F. Proudfoot and Susan T. McGrath.
We are past presidents of the Canadian Bar Association and wish to express our deep concern with the federal government's plan to erect a monument to the victims of communism right next to the Supreme Court of Canada building.
We do not wish to deal here with the aesthetic issues, raised by others, as to the proposed monument's artistic merit or as to any consistency between it and the Wellington Street surroundings proposed for it. We do note, though, that the National Capital Commission's Design Committee was unanimously opposed to the monument being placed there.
We do not wish to deal either with the good sense of the decision apparently made a few years ago to deprive the National Capital Commission of the power to decide these issues, and the transfer of responsibility to the Department of Canadian Heritage.
We write as lawyers concerned by the decision to install a permanent political message on the very doorstep of the highest court in the land.
It is fitting that the Supreme Court of Canada is located near the Parliament buildings and across the street from the Department of Justice. Together, these buildings and institutions represent the three distinct, independent pillars of our democracy – the judicial, legislative and executive branches.
It is ill conceived, however, to add an imposing sculpture signalling a strong political message, controversial or not, literally in the face of the very institution which is the final arbiter in Canada of disputes involving Canadians, the federal and provincial governments, and foreign litigants.
The citizens of this country approach the Supreme Court of Canada up the majestic stairs in front of the courthouse. If this monument is erected, they will do so under the shadow of a state-imposed message of this monument. No citizen should feel that his or her case is being heard under such a shadow. Even a fervent anti-communist can, and should, oppose making any of our courthouses, let alone our Supreme Court house, the venue for state-imposed messages of political preference or of political opprobrium.
If the proposed monument is judged worthy of the public expense and worthy of such a footprint, let it be a footprint many, many steps away from Canada's Supreme Court.
Eds notes: An earlier version of this article incorrectly described the government ministry in charge as Heritage Canada when, in fact, it is the Department of Canadian Heritage.