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.

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from Canada

© PressReader. All rights reserved.