Thank you to the members of the committee, many of whom look a bit tanned. I appreciate that it's summer. I'd like to thank everyone for convening today in August. I recognize that it's summer and that this means you're being pulled away from your ridings and perhaps some personal plans, but I greatly appreciate the opportunity to be able to speak with all of you about the government's approach to the Supreme Court of Canada appointment process, the new selection process that we outlined on August 2.
As you know, the Honourable Justice Thomas Cromwell will be retiring on September 1, 2016, creating a vacancy that we are aiming to fill in this court's fall session. As stated in my mandate letter, the Government of Canada is committed to a Supreme Court of Canada appointments process that is transparent, inclusive, and accountable to Canadians, includes engagements with all parties of the House of Commons as well as consultation with all relevant stakeholders, and ensures that those appointed to the court are functionally bilingual.
My aim today is twofold: first, to outline the new process to you, detailing how it encompasses these and other fundamental values; and second, to hopefully hear the committee's views and perspectives, given your experience and expertise.
Before continuing, I want to emphasize the great sense of responsibility with which our government approaches the Supreme Court of Canada appointment process. This committee knows well that the Supreme Court is an essential pillar of Canada's constitutional architecture. As the final court of appeal on all legal questions, including constitutional questions, the Supreme Court plays a pivotal role in promoting respect for fundamental rights and the rule of law. The way we select judges to the Supreme Court is therefore of the utmost importance. Enhancing the credibility of the appointment process will bolster Canadians' confidence in this fundamental institution.
The appointment of a Supreme Court of Canada justice is one of the most important decisions the Prime Minister makes. The top court's decisions affect us all. They influence our economy, our cultural mores, and our definition of individual and collective rights and responsibilities. Throughout our history, we have most often found and been served by the very best within our legal community, but the process used to appoint Supreme Court justices is opaque, outdated, and in need of an overhaul. We believe Canadians deserve consistent, rigorous processes that are transparent and inclusive and that set a high standard for accountability.
I wish now to briefly describe how these three important values—transparency, inclusiveness, and accountability—play out in the new selection process. I will then note two other factors that are equally crucial, namely, the need to safeguard judicial independence and the desire to identify jurists of the highest calibre who represent the diversity of our country.
A transparent process is one that is clear, open, and easily understood. This requires a clear public explanation of how the process is to operate. We have therefore provided not just a detailed description of the various steps in the process but also information, such as the criteria used to assess candidates and the identity of those doing the assessment. Last week we posted this information online so that Canadians can know and understand how and on what basis the next justice will be selected. My appearance before you today is another important part of this effort to publicly explain the process and to ensure that it is clear to all.
Transparency is also a prerequisite to accountability. If the process and the criteria for decision-making are not publicly known, it is difficult to hold decision-makers to account for the exercise of their responsibilities. As such, this process is designed to be open, transparent, and based on established and publicly available criteria. As I will make clear later in my remarks, you, as members of the justice and human rights committee, will play a crucial role in holding the government to account, both for its selected nominee and for its adherence to an established process.
An inclusive process is one that ensures that the widest range of candidates from the broadest variety of backgrounds is available for selection. It is a process characterized by outreach and engagement. The goal of inclusivity must be reflected in matters such as the manner in which the initial list of candidates is generated. Further, an inclusive process avoids criteria or procedures that can hinder individuals from traditionally under-represented groups from receiving fair and equal consideration in the process.
A further value is the need to safeguard judicial independence, a requirement flowing from the Constitution itself. Judges must be, and be seen to be, fair, impartial, and open-minded, and not beholden to any particular group or interest. Supreme Court justices must in no way be seen to be indebted to or dependent on those who selected or appointed them. The role of an independent, non-partisan advisory board, which I will describe shortly, advances this principle.
Further, the selection process must safeguard the integrity of the Supreme Court and the judiciary in general in order to maintain public confidence. Care must be taken to avoid a process that inadvertently undermines the judiciary as an institution or the reputation of individual judges. This requires, for example, that the confidentiality of applicants be respected and preserved by all those involved in the process. The selection process must be designed to identify individuals with the highest degree of professional excellence and personal suitability. Assessments of candidates must be based on objective criteria that set out the professional capabilities and personal qualities needed to serve effectively as a justice of the Supreme Court of Canada. To this end, consultations and decisions at all stages of the selection process will be guided by assessment criteria that have been published on the website of the Office of the Commissioner for Federal Judicial Affairs, criteria that I will review later in my remarks.
Canadian society is rich in diversity, and this has important consequences for the selection process. Justices of the Supreme Court of Canada must be able to adjudicate complex legal questions affecting those with a wide variety of experiences, backgrounds, and perspectives. For this reason, one of the assessment criteria is the ability to appreciate a diversity of views, perspectives, and life experiences, including those related to groups historically disadvantaged in Canadian society.
Diversity within the Supreme Court itself is important for two main reasons: first, bringing together individuals with various perspectives and life experiences enriches the collegial decision-making process of the court; second, a Supreme Court that reflects the diversity of the society it serves enhances public confidence in the court. The assessment criteria therefore require that candidates be considered with a view towards ensuring that members of the Supreme Court are reasonably reflective of the diversity of Canadian society.
The selection process that I will now describe is designed to concretely embody these values and objectives.
At the heart of the process is an independent, non-partisan advisory board tasked with identifying suitable candidates for appointment.
The seven-member board is chaired by former Prime Minister Kim Campbell, also a former justice minister and Canadian consul general, and currently the founding principal of the Peter Lougheed college at the University of Alberta.
The board also includes four members nominated by independent professional organizations. These are Richard J. Scott, former chief justice of the Manitoba Court of Appeal and currently counsel in a Winnipeg law firm, nominated by the Canadian Judicial Council; Susan Ursel, a senior partner with a Toronto law firm, who also provides legal research support to Envisioning Global LGBT Human Rights, nominated by the Canadian Bar Association; Jeff Hirsch, president of the Federation of Law Societies of Canada and partner in a Winnipeg law firm, nominated by the Federation of Law Societies; and Camille Cameron, dean of the Schulich School of Law at Dalhousie University and president of the Canadian Council of Law Deans, nominated by the Canadian Council of Law Deans.
The advisory board also includes two government-appointed non-lawyers chosen for their outstanding community leadership and involvement: Stephen Kakfwi, former premier of the Northwest Territories and president of the Dene Nation, currently working to improve the recognition and realities of aboriginal peoples within Canada; and Lili-Anna Pereša, president and executive director of Centraide of Greater Montreal.
We believe that the involvement of respected stakeholder organizations is important to ensuring the objectivity and independence of the process. Representation from the legal community on the advisory board provides critical input into assessing the professional qualifications of candidates. The lay members provide valuable input and help bring diversity of views to the advisory board's deliberations.
Unlike earlier processes, the advisory board will not take as its starting point an initial list of candidates proposed by the government, but it will consider individuals who have submitted their candidacies through an open application process. The open nature of this process is unprecedented. To ensure as broad and diverse a pool of candidates as possible, the advisory board may also proactively encourage outstanding candidates to apply. For the public who may be watching, I encourage you to identify qualified candidates and encourage them to put their names forward. I will continue to repeat that message in all different forums.
The application process will be open to Canadians from across the country. The government is mindful of the important custom of regional representation, and it values the importance of regional diversity on the court. The Prime Minister has specifically asked the advisory board to provide a list of three to five qualified and functionally bilingual candidates, and that includes candidates from Atlantic Canada. In making that selection, he has asked that the board consider the custom of regional representation on the court.
In assessing candidates, the advisory board will be guided by assessment criteria that have been made public and by our government's commitment to ensure that the Supreme Court nominees are functionally bilingual. As part of the assessment process, the advisory board will consult with the Chief Justice of Canada and any key stakeholders that the members consider appropriate. I expect the board's consultations to be wide and all-encompassing.
While the objectives of openness and transparency will inform all steps of the process, current aspects of the process, such as the deliberations of the advisory board, will remain confidential. This protects the privacy interests of candidates and allows for full and frank discussion of all candidates.
To promote transparency, the advisory board will provide a report to the Prime Minister within one month of a vacancy being filled, outlining information about the process, including statistics related to applications received, the manner in which the board executed its mandate, and the costs associated with the process. This report, which must be made public, may also contain recommendations to improve the process.
Upon concluding its assessment, the advisory board will submit a short list of three to five candidates for the Prime Minister's consideration and will include an explanation as to how these individuals meet the statutory requirements and the assessment criteria. All candidates on the short list must be functionally bilingual, as confirmed through an objective assessment administered by the Office of the Commissioner for Federal Judicial Affairs.
I will then consult on the short list of candidates with the Chief Justice of Canada, relevant provincial and territorial Attorneys General, cabinet colleagues, and opposition critics, as well as members of this committee and the Standing Senate Committee on Legal and Constitutional Affairs. The purposes of my consultations on this short list will be to develop my recommendation to the Prime Minister as to who the government's choice should be. The Prime Minister and I anticipate that choosing from a list of eminently qualified jurists will be a difficult and humbling task, and we will greatly value your views.
After the Prime Minister announces the government's nominee, I will appear with the chairperson of the advisory board before this committee to explain how the process unfolded and how our nominee meets the assessment criteria. The main purpose will be to allow you, as parliamentarians, to hold the government to account for the manner in which the nominee has been selected. There will be a week between the announcement of the nominee and the hearing in order to give committee members time to prepare.
In addition to this hearing, the nominee will take part in a question-and-answer session moderated by a law professor, with members of this committee, the Standing Senate Committee on Legal and Constitutional Affairs, and representatives from the Bloc Québécois and the Green Party. The will review and consider any views of the committee prior to making his final selection.
Before concluding, I would like to briefly discuss the assessment criteria that will guide all decisions throughout this process.
The assessment criteria relate to the skills, experience, and qualities candidates need to excel. The criteria also relate to the institutional needs of the Supreme Court. As I noted earlier, these criteria have been published on the website of the Office of the Commissioner for Federal Judicial Affairs. I encourage you to visit this website, given that the document in which the criteria are set out sets out the rationale for why each criterion has been included.
Candidates will be assessed based on the following personal skills and experience: demonstrated superior knowledge of the law; superior analytical skills; ability to resolve complex legal problems; awareness of, and the ability to synthesize information about, the social context in which legal disputes arise; clarity of thought, particularly as demonstrated through written expression; the ability to work under significant time pressures requiring diligent review of voluminous materials in any area of law; and a commitment to public service.
Applicants will also be assessed on the following personal qualities: irreproachable personal and professional integrity; respect and consideration for others; the ability to appreciate a diversity of views, perspectives, and life experiences, including those relating to historically disadvantaged groups in Canadian society; moral courage; discretion; and open-mindedness.
Finally, in carrying out their assessments, the advisory board will consider the following institutional needs of the court: ensuring a reasonable balance between public and private law enterprise, bearing in mind the historic patterns of distribution between those areas in Supreme Court appeals; expertise in any specific subject matter that regularly features in appeals and is currently under-represented on the court; and ensuring that members of the Supreme Court are reasonably reflective of the diversity of Canadian society.
The government is confident that in the application process, these assessment criteria will lead to the identification of outstanding candidates for our highest court.
In conclusion, I wish to again thank you for coming here and convening today on this matter that is of the utmost importance to Canadians. I look forward to appearing before you again on the same matter. Certainly, Mr. Chair, I would be happy to take questions, and further to that I would be happy to hear any perspectives or contributions that the members care to provide.
I'd like to welcome the minister to the committee and thank her for being here today.
I'd like to begin by setting the backdrop, if I may, with a quick recap of the summer all of us parliamentarians have been experiencing. I think we're witnessing a fundamental shift in the executive branch's attitude towards the legislative branch, and, as we are seeing, it's becoming quite the problem. Allow me to explain.
We have the government's decision to deploy troops to Latvia without the least bit of discussion in Parliament, despite the fact that, when they were part of the opposition, the Liberals were very vocal about the need to consult Parliament on any decision to send our troops abroad. Then, we have the talks that took place in the Prime Minister's very own office with the parliamentary budget officer—not the Prime Minister's budget officer, I would point out, but indeed the parliamentary budget officer. No matter what example we use, we've seen this strong trend building yet again. In this case, a mere letter was sent out, not to every newspaper simultaneously, but to just two of them, The Globe and Mail, which published the letter in its print edition, and La Presse, which obviously no longer puts out a print edition on weekdays.
I tried to understand the legal nature of what we have before us today. I searched high and low to see what the law says about statutory instruments, but to no avail. I found a reference to publication in the Canada Gazette, but there's no mention of publication in the Gazette. We are trying, unsuccessfully, to figure out whether this involves a substantive change, as the Supreme Court indicated in Nadon. In its decision, the court deemed such a substantive change ultra vires of Parliament itself. The ultra vires finding is even more applicable when you have the executive branch making substantive changes of this nature. As my Conservative colleague, a former attorney general, pointed out, the century-old convention of appointing judges from regions of the country such as Atlantic Canada cannot simply be flouted as though it were business as usual. What we're dealing with here is completely short-lived.
My first question for the minister has to do with one of the first criteria she talked about today, that is, that a judge be able to understand and read both official languages. On that point, I want to thank the former member for Acadie—Bathurst, Yvon Godin, who fought so persistently to make bilingualism a requirement for the appointment of judges to the Supreme Court.
I have been in Parliament for nine years, and this is at least the third completely different set of criteria for judicial appointments to the Supreme Court I have seen in that time. If the minister is indeed sincere when she says she wants judges to be bilingual, why has she still done nothing about it? The Liberals have been in power for nearly a year. We've known since March that Justice Cromwell was retiring, and yet this is all being done in haste. It's a completely short-lived solution. There is absolutely nothing permanent about the process being announced today.
If the minister feels so strongly about making bilingualism a condition of judicial appointments to the Supreme Court, why, then, was she content to have the Prime Minister submit a simple letter to two newspapers? Given her party's majority in the House of Commons, why did she not use her authority to enshrine the process in law? Why be satisfied with such a short-lived solution?