Stephen Harper’s statement about the chief justice is a supreme mistake

Photo by Nick Lachance
Photo by Nick Lachance

When Chief Justice Beverley McLachlin placed a phone call to the Minister of Justice Peter MacKay, she probably did not think it would spark this much uproar. However, nine months after the phone call was made, both Prime Minister Stephen Harper and MacKay have publicly condemned her and accused her of misconduct.

McLachlin’s phone call was prompted by the possibility of a constitutional problem with the appointment to the court of Judge Marc Nadon. McLachlin, acting well within her duties as chief justice of the nation, was compelled to make this problem known to Harper, who had appointed Nadon.

The problem here is not one of the ineptitude of the appointed judge, but one of simple protocol. Nadon, a federal court judge at the time, was appointed to fill in a seat at the Supreme Court constitutionally reserved for a judge from Quebec.

However, Nadon was neither a sitting judge in the Quebec Court of Appeal and Superior Court, nor a current member of the Quebec bar. As such, he was not qualified to hold a Quebec Supreme Court seat.

There are many implications and dimensions to Harper’s accusations. While it is possible that Harper and MacKay genuinely believe McLachlin’s call was inappropriate, the facts of the matter prove otherwise.

Moreover, if Harper sincerely believed in Mclachlin’s apparent misconduct, he would not have waited nine months to voice his disapproval.

It is very possible that Harper’s actions were made in retaliation to the government’s current five-case losing streak at the Supreme Court, one of which was the eventual displacement of Justice Marc Nadon. If this is true, then it can be concluded that Harper’s actions were an attempt at revolting, childishly, against the Supreme Court.

It is the opinion of many that in the event that Mclachlin’s phone call was inappropriate, such professional conversations should never be made public, lest we witness a fresh new wave of incongruity between the executive and judicial branches of government.

Scenarios such as this have the power to instil doubt about the integrity and independence of the judicial system. More importantly, they have the power to corrupt the long held judicial principles of impartiality and non-partisanship.

The obvious way to remedy this wrong is for the Prime Minister to retract his statement, and perhaps issue an apology to the Chief Justice.

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