Liberals criticized on judicial choices
After promising to bring more transparency to the way it appoints judges in this country, the Liberal government is being accused of doing the opposite.
New federal data show that there were 74 superior court appointments across the country over the past year — split evenly between men and women. Three were Indigenous and nine were visible minorities.
During that period, a total of 441 candidates were screened by government advisory committees with 129 classified as “highly recommended,” 82 as “recommended” and 230 as “unable to recommend.”
However, on Monday, neither the agency that compiled the data, the Office of the Commissioner for Federal Judicial Affairs Canada, nor the office of Justice Minister Jody Wilson-Raybould, would provide a breakdown showing how many of the 74 appointees were drawn from the “highly recommended” pool of candidates versus the “recommended” group.
The Globe and Mail reported that “a number” of judges were drawn from the second tier of candidates.
Murray Rankin, the NDP justice critic, said he doesn’t understand why the Liberals can’t provide more aggregate data. “I’m not entirely sure why we couldn’t know, why we’re not entitled to know, how often the minister is dipping into the merely ‘recommended’ as opposed to the ‘highly recommended’ pool,” he said.
In a statement released through her office, WilsonRaybould said when she makes judicial appointments, she considers a number of factors, including their expertise, the needs of the court and the strength of their application.
“Whether someone is recommended or highly recommended is one factor that I take into account, among many important considerations, in exercising my prerogative to appoint the best candidates to the judiciary.”
An official from her office would not confirm whether judges were indeed drawn from the “recommended” pool of candidates. But the official said a prospective judge’s expertise might be one reason why someone would be drawn from one pool rather than the other.
If someone is required who is strong in family law or in wills and estates, “you need to find somebody to fit that bill.” That might mean pulling someone from the list of “recommended” judges, if none in the “highly recommended” pile are specifically qualified in that area.
The official rejected any suggestion that “recommended” judges are somehow not qualified.
Caroline Masse, a spokeswoman for the Office of the Commissioner for Federal Judicial Affairs Canada, said it chose not to release a more detailed breakdown of the data to protect the privacy of those appointed to the bench.
“Providing a breakdown regarding appointees and whether they were highly recommended or recommended, would breach the candidates’ privacy as it would allow litigants or anyone else to determine whether or not a particular judge was recommended or highly recommended by simply referring to their biography and comparing it to these statistics,” she said in an email.