Global legal group condemns Harper for attack on Chief Justice Beverley McLachlin

by: Obert Madondo  | Published Fri. Jul 25, 2014

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

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

A highly-respected international group of judges and lawyers has condemned Prime Minister Stephen Harper for his recent dictatorship-style attack on the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court of Canada, Beverley McLachlin.

The Geneva-based International Commission of Jurists (ICJ) is asking Harper and Justice Minister Peter MacKay to apologize for trying to impugn McLachlin’s integrity.

“The Prime Minister and Minister of Justice could best remedy their encroachment upon the independence and integrity of the judiciary by publicly withdrawing or apologizing for their public criticism of the Chief Justice,” said the group in a recent letter addressed to a group of Canadian lawyers and legal academics. “Canada is under international legal obligation to ensure the independence and impartiality of the judiciary, including under article 14 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, a human rights treaty to which Canada has been party since 1976.”

RELATED: Harper’s Attack on Supreme Court Chief Justice McLachlin Unacceptable

The ICJ was responding to a complaint submitted by the Canadians in early May. In that letter the Canadians had expressed concern about the Conservatives’ spirited smear campaign against McLachlin following the Supreme Court’s rejection of the government’s appointment of Marc Nadon as Quebec’s representative to the Supreme Court of Canada. The appointment was challenged and, in March, the court ruled that Nadon failed to meet the legal requirements set for Quebec appointees to Canada’s highest court under the Supreme Court Act.

After the rejection, Harper, the Prime Minister’s Office (PMO), MacKay and sections of the pro-government corporate media went on the attack.

Speaking to reporters in London, Ont., Harper accused McLachlin of acting inapropriately last July when she advised his office concerning his appointment of Nadon. In his speech Harper also portrayed the chief justice as being political and critical of his government.

A piece published by the National Post on May 1, 2014, suggested that McLachlin had “lobbied the against the appointment of Marc Nadon.”

The ICJ letter highlights the attack made by the PMO in a statement issued May 1, 2014.

“The ICJ considers that a problem arose when the Prime Minister’s Office chose to make a public statement on 1 May 2014 that clearly and publicly criticized the Chief Justice’s actions as inappropriate, particularly by repeatedly emphasizing that neither the Prime Minister nor the Minister of Justice “would ever consider calling a judge where that matter is or could be before the court of competent jurisdiction”. This was unfairly conflating the issue of the executive seeking to influence a court on the merits of a matter in litigation.

“The ICJ considers that the criticism was not well-founded and amounted to an encroachment upon the independence of the judiciary and integrity of the Chief Justice. Such public criticism could only have negative impact on public confidence in the judicial system, and in the moral authority and integrity of the judiciary, and thereby on the independence of the judiciary in Canada.”

Exactly what Harper had dreamed of.

According to The Canadian Press, McLachlin was consulted by the government regarding it’s shortlist of candidates and she “provided her views on the needs of the court.” That’s the truth.

As I blogged earlier, Harper’s unwarranted attack on McLachlin was also an attack on Canadian democracy:

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.

In it’s letter, the ICJ says it tried to get Harper’s view on the issue but received no response from the PMO.

The ICJ closes it letter with a celebration of the strength of the Canadian judiciary.

“This incident will not have a lasting or significant detrimental effect on the independence of the judiciary or rule of law in Canada,” said the letter.

The ICJ, established in 1952, is composed of “60 eminent judges and lawyers from all regions of the world.” It uses its unique expertise to promote and strengthen human rights, the rule of law and the international justice systems.

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.