“Why Canada has a new way to choose Supreme Court judges” (The Globe and Mail)

Justin Trudeau (The Globe and Mail):

The appointment of a Supreme Court of Canada justice is one of the most important decisions a prime minister makes.

Parliamentarians are responsible for shaping the laws that define the conduct of our citizens, but when there is disagreement about the application of those laws, it is up to our courts – and ultimately, the Supreme Court – to ensure that those laws are applied fairly and in accordance with our Constitution.

The top court’s decisions affect us all – they influence our economy, our cultural mores and our definition of our individual and collective rights and responsibilities.

The nine women and men who sit on the Supreme Court bench must be jurists of the highest calibre, they must be functionally bilingual and they must also represent the diversity of our great country. As the current Chief Justice, Beverley McLachlin, once said: “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.”

She is right: 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.

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 But the process used to appoint Supreme Court justices is opaque, outdated, and in need of an overhaul.

That is why, today, our government is announcing a new Supreme Court appointment process that is open, transparent and will set a higher standard for accountability.

First, we have opened the application process so that any Canadian lawyer or judge who fits the criteria can apply through the Office of the Commissioner for Federal Judicial Affairs.

Gone are the days of governments – Liberal and Conservative alike – nominating Supreme Court justices through a secretive backroom process. Canadians deserve better. From now on, an independent and non-partisan advisory board will be given the task of identifying suitable candidates.

The board will be chaired by former prime minister Kim Campbell and will consist of seven members. Four will be designated by independent professional organizations: the Canadian Judicial Council, the Canadian Bar Association, the Federation of Law Societies and the Council of Canadian Law Deans; and the remaining three will be prominent Canadians, at least two of whom will be from outside the legal community, appointed by the Minister of Justice.

In future, when one of the three Quebec seats is to be filled, the composition of the advisory board will be adjusted to account for Quebec’s unique legal tradition.

Second, we have committed to an unprecedented level of transparency. The members of the advisory board, the assessment criteria, the questionnaire that all applicants must answer and certain answers provided to the questionnaire by the Prime Minister’s eventual nominee, will all be made public to Canadians.

Finally, members of Parliament will have the opportunity to actively participate in the appointment process and directly engage with the nominee – before she or he is appointed to the Supreme Court.

The Minister of Justice will appear before a House of Commons committee to explain the new selection process. Then, once the shortlist of candidates has been compiled by the advisory board, the minister will consult the Chief Justice of Canada, the applicable provincial and territorial attorneys-general, members of the House’s justice and human rights committee, the Senate’s legal and constitutional affairs committee, and the Opposition justice critics.

Once the nominee has been announced, participating MPs will be given a week to prepare for a special justice and human-rights committee hearing, where the Minister of Justice and the chair of the appointments committee will explain why the nominee was selected. To further meet our commitment to transparency, we will invite the members of the House and Senate committees, and representatives of all parties with seats in the House, to take part in a Q&A session with the nominee, moderated by a law professor.

For more than 140 years, Canadians have looked to their Supreme Court to provide wise counsel – to protect our rights while holding us each accountable to our responsibilities. And our court has served us well.

The changes our government announces today respect the court’s central role in the administration of justice, while at the same time offering the kind of rigorous review that such an important decision demands.

By making the appointment process more open and transparent, Canadians can be reassured that all members of the Supreme Court are both fully qualified and fully accountable to those they serve.

The appointment of a Supreme Court justice is one of the most important decisions a prime minister makes. It is time we made that decision together.

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