PM surprises some with top-court pick
Richard Wagner is Harper’s 5th nomination for Supreme Court
OTTAWA— Defying expectations, Stephen Harper named Richard Wagner of the Quebec Court of Appeal to the Supreme Court of Canada.
The appointment Tuesday means the court is once again down to three women, six men — not the “visionary” image reflected in Claude Le Sauteur’s depiction on a Canadian stamp that Chief Justice Beverley McLachlin once hailed.
Justice Marie Deschamps, who retired in August, had expressed the hope that she would be replaced by another woman.
With several accomplished women on the Quebec Court of Appeal bench, Harper could well re-establish the contingent of four women that was first reached in 2004 and maintained until now.
Before the next anticipated federal election in 2015, Harper will have the opportunity to name two more judges following the mandatory retirements at age 75 of Morris Fish and Louis LeBel.
But some observers, such as Queen’s University law professor Kathleen Lahey, were disappointed by Harper’s move.
“True sex equality should, in this day and age, be reflected in every institution in Canadian society — and particularly in the composition of the top court.”
She noted only eight of the more than 70 appointments in the top court’s history have been women. Wagner, 55, is the son of Claude Wagner, who once lost the leadership of the federal Progressive Conservative party to Joe Clark and the leadership of Quebec’s Liberals to Robert Bourassa. The senior Wagner, seen as a tough provincial lawand-order attorney general, was appointed to the Senate by Pierre Trudeau, and died at 54. Richard Wagner is a graduate of the University of Ottawa’s law school, a former mediator and civil and commercial litigator who became a judge in Quebec in 2004, and joined the appeal court a year and a half ago. He is the fifth top-court nomination Harper has made. Harper said Wagner was picked from a short list after “a rigorous evaluation.” “Held in high esteem by his judicial colleagues and members of his bar association, he is an exceptional candidate with the skills and qualifications needed to serve Canadians well,” Harper said in a statement. Wagner’s curriculum vitae notes that his prior legal practice focused “mainly on professional liability of lawyers, accountants, architects and engineers, and on commercial litigation related to, namely, real estate law, oppression remedies and class action suits.” Wagner was selected by Harper and Justice Minister Rob Nicholson from an unranked short list of three qualified candidates, which had been unanimously approved by a committee of five MPs that included the NDP’s justice critic Françoise Boivin and Liberal MP Stéphane Dion. Wagner is to be questioned by an ad hoc Commons committee Thursday. But the committee does not have any say or veto over the appointment. It will merely pose questions and allow Wagner to introduce himself. In that respect Harper has never gone as far as he once promised to ensure parliamentary transparency and accountability for his judicial picks. The selection process is still largely a closed-door proceeding that defies the transparency Harper once promised for the country’s top court. University of Ottawa law professor Adam Dodek, who has written extensively on the high court, said, “Justice Deschamps’s voice on the court will be missed. She was independent and often brought a different perspective to the issues before the court and worked to bridge the divide between the common law and the civil law in Canada.” Dodek noted that by 2014, the time when the entire Quebec complement will have been replaced, five of the judges will have been on the court for three years or less.
“We are in the midst of a time of significant change.”
Justice Richard Wagner will replace Marie Deschamps, leaving three women on the top court.