PoliticsDemocracy Watch calls for investigation into selection of judges by Trudeau government

Democracy Watch calls for investigation into selection of judges by Trudeau government

Democracy Watch calls for investigation into selection of judges by Trudeau government
Photo by Bill Oxford on Unsplash

Today, Democracy Watch sent a letter to federal Ethics Commissioner Mario Dion calling on him to ensure an independent investigation and ruling on recent Trudeau Cabinet appointments of judges who have connections to Cabinet Minister Dominic LeBlanc. They have also called on the them to suspend the appointment of all judicial and watchdog appointments until the appointment process is changed to be actually independent and merit-based. 

As first reported by CBC New Brunswick, Justice Charles LeBlond who was appointed to the New Brunswick Court of Appeal, and Justice Arthur Doyle and Justice Robert Dysart who were appointed to the New Brunswick Court of Queen’s Bench all donated to help Minister LeBlanc pay off his debt from his 2008 Liberal Party leadership race campaign. GlobalNews.ca reported other donations made by these three justices to Minister LeBlanc’s riding association, and to the Liberal Party.

These outlets also reported that Jacques Pinet, the husband of Tracey DeWare, who was appointed Chief Justice of the Court of Queen’s Bench by Prime Minister Trudeau in June, also donated to Minister LeBlanc’s campaign, among other donations to the Liberal Party. CBC also reported that the couple purchased a seaside home from Minister LeBlanc in 2013 for $430,000, located next to Minister LeBlanc’s summerhouse.

Democracy Watch also revealed that, according to Minister LeBlanc’s federal ethics disclosure registration, sometime in 2017, a Jacques Pinet, Vice-President, Assumption Life Insurance Co. of New Brunswick, gave Minister LeBlanc a gift of 3 days hospitality at Ledges Lodge, Doarktown, New Brunswick. If this is the same Jacques Pinet who is married to Chief Justice DeWare, it would only compound the appearance of conflict of interest for Minister LeBlanc.

The Globe and Mail reported that Minister LeBlanc participated in the decisions for all of these appointments, while recusing himself from the appointment of one other judge who is a relative of his.

“Dominic LeBlanc should be investigated to determine if he violated the federal ethics law by participating in the decisions to appoint these judges,” said Duff Conacher, Co-founder of Democracy Watch. “Ethics Commissioner Dion cannot do the investigation as he was handpicked by the Trudeau Cabinet through a secretive, dishonest process that is being challenged in courts, and his senior lawyer is LeBlanc’s sister-in-law. Commissioner Dion must delegate the investigation to someone independent of his office and all political parties.”

Section 4 and subsection 6(1) of the COIA together prohibit public office holders like Cabinet ministers from making or taking part in decisions when they have an opportunity to further their own, their family’s or their friends private interests, or improperly furthering another person’s interests (and section 9 prohibits trying to influence such decision). Democracy Watch’s position is that appointing someone as a judge furthers their private interest, and that “friends” should be defined by the Ethics Commissioner as including political friends such as significant supporters of the governing party.

In any case, donations and gifts and friend relationships make it improper for a minister to take part in a decision that affects someone.

While the Trudeau Liberals added the goal of diversity for appointments, and reduced the number of members chosen by the Minister of Justice from four to three out of seven judicial advisory committee members, the committees still produce long lists of candidates which allow the Minister and Cabinet to appoint essentially whomever they want as a judge.

For quasi-judicial positions like key government watchdogs, Liberal Cabinet ministers still choose all advisory committee members and control the appointment process completely.

“The Trudeau Liberal Cabinet appointment system is essentially the same as the Harper Conservatives used, and it allows Cabinet ministers to choose their own Liberal party cronies as judges, and to choose lapdogs instead of watchdogs,” said Conacher. “To stop this dangerously undemocratic and unethical appointment process for judges and watchdogs, the appointment process should be suspended until, as in the UK and Ontario, a fully independent public appointment commission is created to conduct public, merit-based searches for nominees and send a short list to Cabinet, with Cabinet required to choose from the list.”

Federal NDP MP Charlie Angus issued a statement that criticized the LeBlanc-related appointments and said “It is time for this patronage to end” but the NDP’s 2019 federal election platform does not include any promise to change the appointment process to prevent patronage and crony appointments (See pp. 100-102 for the very few, vague democratic reform promises the NDP has made).

Conservative Party leader Andrew Scheer was also quoted criticizing the appointments, but said nothing in 2009 when the Harper Conservatives appointed several donors as judges nor in 2006 they broke their election promise to establish an independent Public Appointments Commission.

Also, Democracy Watch filed a complaint in April 2017 about former Conservative Minister of Justice Peter MacKay appointing some of his friends as judges, including his former Cabinet colleague Vic Toews (Toews was finally found guilty in April 2017 by the Ethics Commissioner of violating the federal ethics law). The Scheer Conservatives have not issued their 2019 federal election platform.

Democracy Watch also called on federal politicians to change the law to ensure all Cabinet appointees who watch over the government or oversee key democracy laws and processes (especially every Officer of Parliament) be only allowed to serve one term.

“Like judges, all government and democracy watchdogs must only serve one term, with no possibility that the government can reappoint them, to ensure watchdogs don’t try to please the government in order to keep their job,” said Conacher.

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