About a week ago I got a news release from the Prime Minister’s Office (PMO) announcing a new appointment process for Supreme Court Justices. The process would see an independent non-partisan Advisory board look out for the selection of judges.
The candidates would be open to the “suitable candidates who are jurists of the highest caliber, functionally bilingual, and representative of the diversity of this great country.” The new process includes a questionnaire that all potential judges would have to answer. The candidates would have appear before a panel of MP’s, and Senators for a Q& A before getting the appointment.
What’s the difference?
The Supreme Court of Canada is made up of 8 judges+ 1 Chief Justice. They are appointed by the Governor-General on the advice of the Prime Minister. There is a legal requirement that three come from Quebec for expertise on the Quebec Civil Code. The remaining 6 breakdown to: 3 from Ontario, 2 from Western Canada, and 1 from Atlantic Canada. A list of seven candidates is submitted to an “ad hoc” parliamentary committee who reviews it, and makes a recommendation to the Prime Minister.
It has become accepted that a judge from the same geographic area would replacing a retiring judge. So if a judge from Alberta were to resign, they would be replaced by someone from Western Canada. There is some question as to whether this process can go ahead. Former Prime Minister Stephen Harper tried replacing a judge from New Brunswick, with one from Quebec. He was shot down by the court.
This opens up the process, and ditches the geography component. There is potential here for a wider array of candidates to achieve that goal of being more diverse.
Diversity’s a good thing, what’s the fuss about?
Atlantic Canada is comprised of New Brunswick, Nova Scotia, Prince Edward Island, and Newfoundland & Labrador. The new, wide open process could leave an entire region without a voice on the Supreme Court.
If you think about it, the entire legislative system (House of Commons, and Senate) is built around population. These provinces have usually had a lower population than the rest of the country, so the number of seats and senators have also been lower. The Supreme Court represents a chance to be heard, and influence the laws. It’s a chance at addressing the natural imbalance in the system.