First of all, good afternoon. This is old home week, in a sense, for me and this committee. This is the third time we've had the opportunity to discuss this very important process. I do regret that I'm not there personally to give you all a valedictory handshake and perhaps a hug, since I'm sure this will be the last meeting during this mandate. I do want to say how much I've appreciated the opportunity to speak with you and hear your points of view on the work of the committee.
To the chair, Mr. Anthony Housefather; the vice-chairs, the Honourable Lisa Raitt and Ms. Tracey Ramsey; and the members of the committee, it is my pleasure to be before you. It was my honour to chair the committee.
I might say that the difference between the work of this committee and the two others is that
we almost always worked in French. You will find this surprising when you hear me speak French. Even though I speak French like a Vancouver native, it was very important to do so to reflect the reality: we were in the process of choosing candidates from the province of Quebec.
I will speak more French, except I'm very tired—I just arrived yesterday from Africa—and I don't really want to
massacre Molière's language in reporting to you.
We did, in fact, do most of our work in French. That was the difference from the other exercises.
I also want to say, as I said to you before about the other two iterations, that every time somebody says to me, “Thank you for your good work as the chair”, I say that the members of the committee made my work quite easy. I think you would be very proud and happy to know what incredible professionalism and dedication to serving Canadians across the country, not just Canadians in Quebec, the members brought to their work. My goal has always been, in these exercises, to ensure that each member of the committee has an opportunity to speak freely for himself or herself so that we get a genuine exchange of ideas and avoid groupthink and any other dynamics that can undermine the quality of decisions. I must say that this was an outstanding group of Canadians who really took their responsibility very seriously. As I said, it made my job easy. I was very proud to serve with them. I can say nothing but the finest things about them in terms of their competence and their character.
Incidentally, as I saw in the other two examples, the two members of the committee who are not lawyers often bring a very important dimension and a very clear understanding of what the court means to the legal life of our country. I admire them very much.
The 2019 process was opened on April 18 to fill the seat. Candidates were required to submit their applications by midnight Pacific time on Friday, May 17. That was a period of four weeks. I think we'll come back and discuss this a little. One of the challenges we face is the timing of this.
Of the three examples or three iterations of this committee's work, two were done to replace judges who took early retirement. For replacing the chief justice, we had more time, because her retirement was anticipated. She retired close to her retirement age. I think one challenge, which I want to come back and make some suggestions about, is that when justices of the Supreme Court of Canada take early retirement, this changes the time frame in which it's sometimes most convenient or appropriate to engage in the search process, particularly if we want to ensure that the court is up to full complement at the beginning of a new season of its work.
The remaining advisory board members were announced only on May 15, but as soon as the process was launched and I was confirmed to be the new chair, I set about making contact with all of the organizations that we contacted in the past iterations, to ask them to communicate with their members about the new opening and to encourage them to consider whether they would like to be considered as candidates for the new seat on the court. I didn't wait for the other committee members to be appointed but began right away to communicate. Again, I have some other comments I'd like to make about that process.
You know, of course, that I'm not going to repeat the requirements of the Supreme Court Act to have three civil law trained judges from Quebec. The quality of candidates was really outstanding. There were 12 candidates, which was perhaps about right. We had, I think, 12 or 14 candidates for the western seat.
The first seat we considered had many more candidates, because that was originally meant to be—and it was—a national competition. I will say that only one of the candidates was a woman. Again, that is something that the committee members were disappointed about. There were no indigenous applicants in this process. I think we want to talk about how we can encourage a broader range of Canadians to apply. I will give you some of my reflections on why we have encountered those issues.
The board members, first of all, convened via teleconference. We then met in Ottawa between May 27 and June 7 to discuss our evaluations and to proceed with our methodology of identifying and looking at candidates individually before we came together again—to avoid groupthink, to avoid too much influence before each of us had the opportunity to independently review.
Before that, though, we came on May 21 to meet with the chief justice. As you know, it's been our tradition to meet with the chief justice before setting out on our business. This was our first opportunity, obviously, to meet with the new chief justice, Chief Justice Wagner. As in the other two cases, we found that our meeting with the chief justice really helped to set us up for our work by reminding us of the reality of life on the Supreme Court of Canada, of what is required and what some of the things are we should be looking for as we interact with our candidates.
I think what was interesting for us in talking to Chief Justice Wagner—those are confidential conversations, but I don't think he said anything that he hasn't said to Canadians more broadly—was that, as with the other meetings we had with Chief Justice McLachlin, there was an emphasis on the importance of collegiality. Again, one wants justices who have strong views and who are capable of expressing themselves, but collegiality on the Supreme Court of Canada is not groupthink. It is the ability to try, as much as possible, to create clarity and judgments that become the architecture of Canadian law and that are so important for lower courts and practitioners. This ability to work toward the clearest possible elaboration of the court's views on issues is a very important part of the temperament of a constructive Supreme Court justice.
The other thing that was very interesting was when Chief Justice Wagner talked to us about the uniqueness of the Supreme Court of Canada as both bilingual and bijuridical. Now, we knew, of course, that for our judges, one of the requirements for our candidates has been that they be functionally bilingual. The Supreme Court Act requires that there be three civil law trained judges on the court from Quebec, although Justice Martin is also a civil law trained judge, so the strength of civil law capacity on the court is certainly well established. He made a very interesting comment about how unique this makes our Supreme Court and how, in terms of the way other courts around the world look at our judgments, we have a very special set of competences among our justices. I know that certainly many common law judges enjoy the opportunity to study the civil law because it's a different route, often, to getting to the same answer.
That really put our work in a different context in the sense that we weren't just looking to fulfill the requirements of the Supreme Court Act. We were working on an exercise that helped define our court more broadly in the world as uniquely extremely broad in its juridical competence. I think we felt quite inspired by that notion. Of course, the candidates we interviewed were quite outstanding in that regard.
After meeting with the chief justice and doing our work, we presented our short list to the Prime Minister.
I'm very happy to answer your questions, but I would just like to conclude with this comment. I notice that since 2011 there have been nine nominations, including Justice Kasirer, to the Supreme Court. I remember the first meeting we had with Chief Justice McLachlin. She felt that the ability to commit, say, 10 years to the work on the court was highly valuable for a Supreme Court justice simply because it takes time to ramp up, to get up and running, and to find your feet, but also because continuity and a lack of disruption are very important.
However, clearly, there are reasons for judges to not necessarily serve their full time on the court.
In terms of getting the quickest response from strong candidates to the opportunity to be considered as a candidate for the court when retirements come, or early retirements come, we have talked about a process—and I would be very interested in the views of members of the committee on how this might be approached—as a way of starting an ongoing conversation with members of the Canadian judiciary in all of the provinces and senior members of the profession, about what it means to serve on the Supreme Court of Canada. What are some of the nuances, what are some of the requirements? I say this because it's a very difficult job.
It isn't just that one has to be an outstanding legal thinker, but that one also has to move to the national capital region, to Ottawa, and often at a stage in life when a spouse's career may be at its most active and prominent stage of development, when family obligations make it difficult.
I think that having a broader conversation with people in the profession about what is required to be on the court so that there is greater knowledge of what it actually means might, first of all, enable us to encourage even more people to apply. I think, particularly for women, if they have families and are likely to have spouses who also have careers, this might be something that could overcome some reservations.
If this were an ongoing conversation, as opposed to something that we scramble to do just in the face of an imminent departure from the court and the need to recruit a new candidate, I think it might be something that could broaden the scope of the candidates.
Again, as I've said, we do reach out to a broad range of organizations of lawyers and judges in Canada, but I think that in finding people who are perhaps members of groups that are under-represented, having an ongoing process of making candidacy for the Supreme Court of Canada less daunting and more appealing, or certainly to at least allow for a greater, more informed view, so that people do not come to the court and find that it really is difficult for them to serve and that their expectations are not the reality, is something that we need to think about. I say this because we, again, have an outstanding court and a court that, in the context of world courts, is unique and whose work is highly regarded. We want to ensure that no person—no man or woman or member of any ethnic group or identification in Canada—is ever discouraged from presenting themselves as a candidate because of either a lack of confidence in what it might mean or a lack of knowledge.
I will stop here and will be very happy to answer your questions. I appreciate you, Mr. Chairman, and your committee for accommodating me to be able to speak to you from Vancouver because I sure needed my sleep last night.