Tories seek investigation into leak of Trudeau JWR clash over top court choice
Wilson-Raybould and Trudeau allegedly clashed over whom to appoint to the Supreme Court upon the retirement of Beverley McLachlin as chief justice in 2017.
OTTAWA—The Conservatives are asking for an investigation into leaks of confidential information about Jody Wilson-Raybould’s controversial choice for chief justice of the Supreme Court of Canada—and the former justice minister is echoing their call for an inquiry.
“This has to stop,” Wilson-Raybould said of the leaks in an emailed statement. “And given the seriousness of this matter, I feel that there should be consideration of having some sort of investigation as to the source of this information.”
Conservative justice critic Lisa Raitt sent a letter Wednesday to federal judicial affairs commissioner Marc Giroux asking that he investigate the matter. She argued that it appears “political actors” leaked information about an appointment to the country’s highest court.
If so, Raitt said, it would be “an egregious case of political interference … that severely injures the independence of the judiciary.”
Giroux later responded that he does not have investigatory powers and cannot, therefore, accede to her request. Nevertheless, he took the opportunity to denounce the leaks as “wholly inappropriate.”
“I am deeply concerned and troubled about the release to the media of any confidential information, be it accurate or not, that pertains to judicial appointments to the Supreme Court of Canada, and to some of the finest jurists in our country,” he wrote.
Raitt’s request for an investigation came two days after The Canadian Press and CTV reported that Wilson-Raybould and Prime Minister Justin Trudeau clashed over whom to appoint to the top court upon the retirement of Beverley McLachlin as chief justice in 2017.
Sources, who spoke on condition of anonymity in order to discuss details of the normally confidential process, said Wilson-Raybould urged Trudeau to name Glenn Joyal, chief justice of Manitoba’s Court of Queen’s Bench, to fill both McLachlin’s spot on the bench as a justice from western Canada but also the chief justice role.
They said Trudeau was disturbed to discover that Joyal took a restrictive view of the Charter of Rights and Freedoms and had criticized the top court for liberally interpreting it to include “new rights” not explicitly mentioned in the charter. The court’s broad interpretation has led to things like legalization of same-sex marriage and the striking down of Canada’s abortion law and prohibition on medically assisted dying.
Trudeau ultimately appointed Alberta judge Sheilah Martin to fill the western slot on the Supreme Court and elevated sitting Justice Richard Wagner to the role of chief justice.
Wilson-Raybould said Monday there was “no conflict” with Trudeau on the matter but otherwise declined to comment, saying the selection process for Supreme Court justices is confidential and any disclosure “could compromise the integrity of the appointments process and potentially sitting justices.”
However, on Wednesday, citing an anonymous source, the Globe and Mail reported that Wilson-Raybould recommended Joyal as part of a broader plan to appoint an Indigenous judge to the role of chief justice of Manitoba’s Court of Queen’s Bench—which would have been a first for a superior court in Canada. The newspaper also said Wilson-Raybould believed Joyal held a more liberal view on the charter of rights than Wagner, although the report cited evidence to the contrary.
In her statement Wednesday, Wilson-Raybould said she’s not at liberty to comment on the veracity of reports based on “the leaking of highly confidential information” about the Supreme Court appointment process.
However, she added: “I do feel compelled to say that I have not—as some have suggested—been the source of any of these stories, nor have I ever authorized any person to speak on my behalf. I strongly condemn anyone who would speak about or provide information on such sensitive matters.”
The Prime Minister’s Office issued a similar disclaimer.
“We take the integrity of our institutions seriously. The PMO would never leak who would be considered for a judicial appointment,” Trudeau’s office said.
The Canadian Bar Association and the Manitoba Bar Association have also criticized the disclosure of information about the appointment process.
The leaks suggest Trudeau may have had reasons unrelated to the SNC-Lavalin affair to move Wilson-Raybould out of the prestigious justice portfolio, which he did in a cabinet shuffle in January. She was moved to Veterans Affairs but resigned from cabinet a month later amid allegations that she had been improperly pressured last fall by the Prime Minister’s Office to intervene to stop a criminal prosecution of the Montreal engineering giant.
Wilson-Raybould has since said she believes the move was punishment for her refusal to instruct the director of public prosecutions to negotiate a remediation agreement with SNC-Lavalin, which faces charges of bribery related to contracts in Libya. Such an agreement would have forced the company to pay stiff restitution but saved it from the risk of a criminal conviction, which could threaten the viability of the company.
Raitt said Wednesday that the initial leak about Wilson-Raybould’s choice for chief justice is more proof of Trudeau’s disrespect for the rule of law.
“The SNC-Lavalin affair has raised serious questions about the rule of law in Canada and the degree to which the Prime Minister’s Office has interfered in it,” she said.
“This most recent episode of potential political interference from the PMO only further damages our democratic institutions and values and requires immediate attention.”
Wilson-Raybould, who testified last month on the SNC-Lavalin affair for nearly four hours before the House of Commons justice committee, has now submitted additional written testimony to the committee, along with copies of text messages and emails she referred to in her oral testimony. Her written material must be translated into French before it can be released publicly, which is not expected until Friday afternoon.