Harper’s Attack on Supreme Court Chief Justice McLachlin Unacceptable

Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s attack on Supreme Court Chief Justice Beverley McLachlin is an attack on Canadian women, Canadians and Canadian democracy. It’s unacceptable!

by: Obert Madondo  | Published May 4, 2014

Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper. (PHOTO: The Prime Minister's Office)

Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper. (PHOTO: The Prime Minister’s Office)

Prime Minister Stephen Harper is so desperate for political capital he’s willing to publicly smear the Supreme Court of Canada and its Chief Justice, Beverley McLachlin. He’s willing to create antagonism between the executive and judicial branches of government. To ultimately silence the judiciary.

Speaking to reporters in London, Ont., on Friday, Harper accused McLachlin of acting inappropriately last July when she advised his office concerning his appointment of Justice Marc Nadon as the Quebec representative on the Supreme Court.

To be clear, there was communication between the Chief Justice’s office and the PMO and other governmental entities. However, Harper’s version of what happened betrays a calculated effort to kill the public’s confidence in the office of the Chief Justice.

First, Harper portrayed McLachlin’s calling his office and other government officials as inappropriate. He accused the Chief Justice of professional misconduct.

Second, Harper conveniently expunged from his story the fact that the communication involved a host of other players and not just the PMO and Justice Minister Peter MacKay.

McLachlin’s communication was transparent and above board. And, it was part of a process that was already underway.

According to The Canadian Press, before the call, McLachlin had been “consulted by the parliamentary committee regarding the government’s shortlist of candidates.” And, in her communication, McLachlin “provided her views on the needs of the court.”

McLachlin’s own response to Harper’s attack clarified things with:

“At no time did I express any opinion as to the merits of the eligibility issue. It is customary for chief justices to be consulted during the appointment process and there is nothing inappropriate in raising a potential issue affecting a future appointment.”

And also with:

“Given the potential impact on the Court, I wished to ensure that the government was aware of the eligibility issue.”

As a matter of fact, in March, the Supreme Court rejected Nadon’s appointment on the grounds that he did not meet the legal requirements set for Quebec appointees to Canada’s highest court under the Supreme Court Act.

Most importantly, the Chief Justice’s office contacted both the Justice Minister and PMO before Justice Nadon was selected. That makes the prime minister’s attempt to make us believe that the Chief Justice tried to influence the appointment ridiculous.

The Canadian Bar Association has called Harper’s attack “disturbing” and urged the prime minister to “acknowledge that the chief justice of the Supreme Court has done nothing wrong.”

Adam Dodek, the vice-dean of the University of Ottawa law school and leading Supreme Court expert, also exonerates McLachlin. He told The Canadian Press: “There is nothing unusual about contacts between the chief justice and the minister of the justice and the prime minister. Indeed, regular contact is healthy for the relationship between the branches of government and the administration of the country’s top court.”

Instead of acting like the leader of a democratic country, Harper is acting like some Third World tyrant determined to silence every voice that challenges his power.

Harper’s attack is disturbingly personal and vindictive. It follows a string of defeats at the hands of the Supreme Court, which culminated in last month’s rejection of his attempt to unilaterally reform the Senate .

Harper had asked the court to decide whether he could altogether eliminate the need to consult premiers and reform Senate unilaterally. In other words, Harper wanted to eliminate the need for dialogue.

The Court said NO.

Harper’s attack also smells like a pre-emptive strike. As the The Globe and Mail reported Sunday:

The Prime Minister’s Office is rejecting a call from Canada’s legal community to clarify its statement about the Supreme Court, leaving unresolved an allegation that the Chief Justice behaved improperly.

The unprecedented dispute comes as the country’s top court prepares for additional constitutional challenges to laws that were passed by the Conservative government. The court agreed last month to hear a case dealing with mandatory minimum sentences for illegal gun possession, while another Conservative law forcing criminals to pay a victim surcharge fee has been flouted by some judges and may reach the Supreme Court.

McLachlin has four more years as the Chief Justice. The National Post’s John Ivison suggests that Harper and the “the Conservatives are trying to make life so uncomfortable that she decides to retire early.”

Harper’s attack on Chief Justice McLachlin is an attack on Canadians and Canadian democracy. If Harper can silence the Chief Justice of Canada’s highest court, he can potentially silence his most formidable political opponent. And the rest of us. That’s something Canadian democracy cannot not afford.

Obert Madondo is an Ottawa-based progressive blogger, and the founder and editor of The Canadian Progressive. Follow him on Twitter.com/Obiemad

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Obert Madondo

Publisher and editor
Obert Madondo is an Ottawa-based independent journalist and progressive political blogger. He's the publisher and editor of The Canadian Progressive.