OTTAWA — Being a good listener and ensuring people know that they’ve been heard are keys to earning public confidence as a judge, Supreme Court nominee Sheilah Martin said Tuesday during a question-and-answer session with parliamentarians.
Martin, who was named last week as the Trudeau government’s latest high court appointee, stressed the importance of thoughtfully considering all sides as an independent arbiter.
“I think judges need to show respect to get respect,” she said. “And it has been my personal goal to be respectful in court, and to listen patiently and to let things unfold.”
Martin said she hopes her written judgments make it clear that a losing party’s arguments have been fully understood. “I want to write that way, so that somebody would say, ‘Oh, OK, I was in good hands.’”
Tuesday’s session included members of the House of Commons justice committee and the Senate legal and constitutional affairs committee, as well as representatives of the Bloc Quebecois and the Green party.
Martin was politely peppered with questions about the Charter of Rights and Freedoms, jurors, victims, the environment, terrorism and sexual assault. She carefully phrased her answers to avoid any appearance of bias.
University of Ottawa law professor Francois Larocque, moderator of the session, warned at the outset that Martin could not comment on matters that might come before the Supreme Court, nor cases she has already presided over as a provincial and territorial judge.
Larocque billed it as a chance to get to know Martin better rather than a cross-examination — an opportunity for MPs and senators to ensure Martin “has the proverbial right stuff” to sit on Canada’s highest court.
Martin displayed her comfort in both of Canada’s official languages, revealed an abiding love of teaching and showed flashes of wit.
Asked about the legacy she wanted to leave, Martin replied, “I would hope that people said that I listened carefully, and that I was a deep thinker and that I had really nice hair.”
Martin grew up in Montreal was trained in both civil and common law before moving to Alberta to pursue her career as an educator, lawyer and judge.
From 1991 to 1996 she was acting dean and then dean of the University of Calgary’s faculty of law. Martin went on to practise criminal and constitutional law, and became a judge in 2005.
She served on the Court of Queen’s Bench of Alberta in Calgary until June 2016 when she was appointed as a judge of the Courts of Appeal of Alberta, the Northwest Territories and Nunavut.
Martin is also mother to seven children — proof, she said, that she’s capable of multitasking and resolving disputes.
Last year, the Liberal government brought in a new Supreme Court appointment process to encourage more openness and diversity, which also requires justices to be functionally bilingual.
In making the appointment, the Prime Minister’s Office underscored Martin’s emphasis on education, equality rights and increasing the number of under-represented groups in the legal world.
As a lawyer and academic, Martin was part of a team working on redress for harm experienced by tens of thousands of Indigenous children at residential schools. She said delving into the abuse, isolation and loneliness suffered by the pupils reinforced in her mind the responsibility to learn about the lives of others.