Help wanted: Trudeau overhauls how Canada picks top jurists

AFP
Published Aug 2, 2016, 8:54 pm IST
Updated Aug 2, 2016, 9:06 pm IST
Also for the first time ever, interested lawyers and judges can apply on their own behalf to be justices.
Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau. (Photo: AP)
 Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau. (Photo: AP)

Ottawa: Prime Minister Justin Trudeau announced Tuesday sweeping changes to the way Supreme Court justices are chosen, vowing diversity while scrapping a tradition of regional representation on Canada's top bench.

Also for the first time ever, interested lawyers and judges can apply on their own behalf to be justices.

 

An independent panel led by former prime minister Kim Campbell will sort through applications and provide a shortlist of three to five candidates to the prime minister.

The changes aim to end what critics decried as a partisan and unaccountable selection system described by Trudeau himself as "a secretive backroom process."

"The nine men and women who sit on the Supreme Court bench must be jurists of the highest caliber, they must be functionally bilingual and they must also represent the diversity of our great country," Trudeau said in a Globe and Mail op-ed.

Citing Chief Justice Beverley McLachlin, he added: "If we are to fully meet the challenges of judging in a diverse society, we must work toward a bench that better mirrors the people it judges."

"A diverse bench brings different and valuable perspectives to the decision-making process, whether informed by gender, ethnicity, personal history or the myriad other things that make us who we are," he said.

Under the previous Tory administration, the selection of top judges became mired in controversy after the government's pick was rejected in 2013.

In an unprecedented move, the Supreme Court ruled that the appointee lacked the legal qualifications.

After leaks revealed similar shortcomings of other candidates put forward by Stephen Harper's government, the Tories ended parliament's involvement in the selection process.

Under the new regime, the nominee will be vetted by a parliamentary committee.

Trudeau's advisory panel, meanwhile, includes an aboriginal leader, and lawyers with expertise in gay and other minority rights. Campbell, the panel's chair, was Canada's first female prime minister in 1993.

The nominee will replace retiring Justice Thomas Cromwell, who hails from Nova Scotia province, in September.

Under the old system, the new justice would be picked from the same area, but that won't necessarily be the case now, according to the prime minister's office.

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