Decision affirms power of courts to review the discipline of judges

OTTAWA — The authority of the Federal Court to review disciplinary measures meted out to judges was effectively affirmed Thursday when the Supreme Court of Canada declined to delve into the matter.

The top court announced it wouldn’t hear the Canadian Judicial Council’s argument that its recommendations should be immune to scrutiny from the Federal Court.

The dispute flowed from a long-running effort to have a Quebec Superior Court judge, Michel Girouard, removed from the bench over his behaviour.

The judicial council, composed of senior judges from across Canada, was created by Parliament almost half a century ago. It has authority over federally appointed judges and is the forum to which any Canadian can turn if he or she objects to a judge’s conduct.

A council recommendation as to whether a judge should be removed from the bench is referred to the federal justice minister.

A 2012 complaint alleged Girouard, while he was still a lawyer, had bought illegal drugs from a client. An inquiry committee rejected the allegations but cited contradictions and implausibilities in Girouard’s testimony.

A second complaint about Girouard’s credibility during the initial proceedings led a majority of judges on the council to recommend last year that he should lose his job.

Girouard asked the Federal Court to set aside the recommendation he be tossed from the bench.

The judicial council argued the court lacked authority to review the matter, maintaining the council is not a federal board, commission or other tribunal subject to such scrutiny.

Federal Court Justice Simon Noel firmly disagreed, ruling that no one was above the law.

“It is inconceivable that a single body, with no independent supervision and beyond the reach of all judicial review, may decide a person’s fate on its own,” Noel wrote in his decision.

“However prestigious and experienced a body may be, it is not immune from human error, and may commit a major violation of the principles of procedural fairness that only an external tribunal, such as the Federal Court in this case, can remedy.”

The Federal Court of Appeal upheld the ruling in May, saying the judicial council’s actions and decisions are administrative in nature and therefore open to court scrutiny.

The appeal-court decision prompted the judicial council to seek a hearing in the Supreme Court. Following its usual practice, the top court gave no reason Thursday for declining to hear the case.

In response, the council said it hopes the Liberal government will move quickly to draft legislative changes to bring “added clarity and efficiency” to the process by which complaints about judicial conduct are reviewed.

“We have not yet seen the government’s proposed legislation,” said council spokeswoman Johanna Laporte. “However, I do know that everyone involved recognizes the need to improve and clarify the process.”

Supreme Court Chief Justice Richard Wagner has sought reforms to the judicial conduct process that require changes to the Judges Act, noted Rachel Rappaport, a spokeswoman for Justice Minister David Lametti.

“Our government is working with the Canadian Association of Superior Court Judges and the Canadian Judicial Council to determine the best means of legislative reform to improve the accountability, transparency, fairness and efficiency of the existing process,” she added.

In an October ruling, Justice Paul Rouleau of the Federal Court found the council’s recommendation concerning Girouard’s removal was justified and transparent.

He wrote that in light of the entire record before the council, “it was reasonable to conclude that Justice Girouard was guilty of misconduct, and that the integrity of Justice Girouard was irremediably compromised to the point that the public’s confidence in the judiciary was undermined.”

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Dec. 12, 2019.

Jim Bronskill , The Canadian Press

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

Trudeau to seek 10 days of paid sick leave for all Canadian workers

Paid sick leave is key to keeping COVID-19 spread under control, prime minister says

Sylvan Lake waiting for better days

COVID-19 has put the tourism season on hold for Sylvan Lake, but… Continue reading

Alleged impaired driver charged after he rams police car

The suspect vehicle purposefully crashed into a parked police vehicle, pushing it into the ditch.

‘It’s awful’: Calgary homeless sleeping outdoors over fears of catching COVID-19

CALGARY — Gordon Kelter has something to fear more than not having… Continue reading

VIDEO: Procession to honour Snowbirds Capt. Jennifer Casey comes to Halifax

Snowbirds service member died in a crash in Kamloops one week ago

Alberta government website has latest COVID-19 statistics

Red Deer Advocate readers can stay up to date on the COVID-19… Continue reading

44% fewer passengers flew on Canadian airlines in March 2020 than in 2019

COVID-19 pandemic has hit airlines hard as travel remains low

David Marsden: Jason Kenney is all hat, no cattle

There are few character failings more unappealing than those of people who… Continue reading

Global warming critics find themselves under attack

Re: “Tropical storms offer glimpse of our evolving environment,” Gwynne Dyer, Opinion,… Continue reading

Scheer has quickly made a hash of Harper’s legacy

By the time Andrew Scheer hands over the Conservative party to a… Continue reading

Bayern, Dortmund warm up for quietest ever Bundesliga duel

BERLIN — Canada’s Alphonso Davies rose to the occasion on Saturday as… Continue reading

Ace Canadian esports driver Brooks tearing up the track online during COVID-19

TORONTO — Andrew Brooks could write a travelogue that would make a… Continue reading

Canadian Screen Awards to reveal winners tonight through Thursday

TORONTO — The Canadian Screen Awards will reveal this year’s winners in… Continue reading

Most Read