No minorities, one woman sought latest Supreme Court seat: panel chair

OTTAWA — Former prime minister Kim Campbell says Canada could have a broader range of judges applying for spots on the Supreme Court if the government took a longer view rather than scrambling to fill seats opened by unexpected retirements.

Campbell was chair of the Supreme Court appointment advisory body that crafted a short list of nominees for the latest opening. Two weeks ago Prime Minister Justin Trudeau nominated Justice Nicholas Kasirer to succeed Justice Clement Gascon.

Only one woman applied for the job, Campell said. There were no Indigenous candidates, nor did any self-identify as a member of a minority, she said.

Having a broader conversation about what is required for the Supreme Court to operate, and the kinds of judges required, could encourage more people to apply, particularly women and minorities, said Campbell.

“If this were an ongoing conversation as opposed to something that we scramble to do just in the face of an imminent departure from the court and the need to recruit a new candidate, I think this might be something that could broaden the scope of the candidates,” she told the Commons justice committee Thursday morning.

Canada’s soon-to-be newest Supreme Court justice is set to publicly answer questions from federal politicians on Thursday afternoon.

Kasirer, now on the Quebec Court of Appeal, will take part in a question-and-answer session with MPs on the House of Commons justice committee, senators from the Senate legal-affairs committee, and representatives from the Bloc Quebecois, Greens and the People’s Party of Canada.

Genevieve Cartier, dean of the law faculty at the University of Sherbrooke, will moderate the back-and-forth.

But first, Campbell and Justice Minister David Lametti answered questions from MPs about the process that saw Kasirer’s name put on a short list of nominees for the government to consider. Lametti said he talked about candidates with his cabinet colleagues, opposition critics, the justice committee, and Chief Justice Richard Wagner.

Ultimately, Trudeau decided who from the short list would sit on the high court.

Kasirer has served on the Quebec Court of Appeal for a decade, is an expert in civil law, and also spent 20 years as a professor of law at McGill University, including as dean of the law faculty.

In his application for the position, which was made public earlier this month, Kasirer stressed his specialty in Quebec civil law but described himself as a generalist as a judge.

Lametti said that at the start of the process, he required those involved, including the province of Quebec, to sign confidentiality agreements to make sure names didn’t become public after details of the 2017 selection process to replace former chief justice Beverley McLachlin was leaked.

The Canadian Press and CTV reported in March that former justice minister Jody Wilson-Raybould recommended Glenn Joyal, chief justice of Manitoba’s Court of Queen’s Bench, be appointed Supreme Court chief justice. Trudeau disagreed: he elevated Wagner, already on the court, to be chief justice and named Justice Sheilah Martin from Alberta to fill his spot.

The leaks landed in the midst of a furor over Wilson-Raybould’s telling the justice committee that she was improperly pressured last fall to stop the criminal prosecution of engineering giant SNC-Lavalin, and her belief she was moved out of the justice portfolio because of it. The leaks also raised concerns about the integrity of the appointments process.

Lametti said he didn’t know where the leaks came from, but said he took steps in the current process to limit the number of people who had access to information. He had the server holding data on the appointment process from the rest of the Justice Department, among other measures to ensure there was no breach of privacy.

“The disclosure of confidential information regarding candidates for judicial appointments is unacceptable and I want to stress that I took strict measures to ensure that confidentiality was respected,” Lametti said in his opening remarks.

Campbell said there had never been, nor would there be, leaks from her advisory board. She said the board, when it met, would even try to go for dinner in places where no one would know them or know why they were together.

At the end of the meeting, deputy Conservative leader Lisa Raitt tried unsuccessfully to get the justice committee to investigate the leak, with the vote on her motion splitting along partisan lines.

Jordan Press, The Canadian Press

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