Harper's behaviour towards chief justice 'beneath the office he holds': Trudeau
Beverly McLachlin, Chief Justice of the Supreme Court of Canada, delivers a speech in Ottawa, Tuesday, Feb. 5, 2013. (Fred Chartrand / THE CANADIAN PRESS)
Andrea Janus, CTVNews.ca
Published Tuesday, May 6, 2014 4:18PM EDT
Prime Minster Stephen Harper’s behaviour toward Supreme Court Justice Beverley McLachlin “is beneath the office he holds,” Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau said Tuesday.
Trudeau made the comments following question period, when he asked the prime minister whether he would “withdraw his unfair and personal accusations against the chief justice.”
Harper has come under fire in recent days after suggesting that McLachlin made an “inappropriate” attempt to contact him about his most recent appointment to the top court, Marc Nadon.
Trudeau accused Harper of a pattern of disrespect towards the country’s democratic institutions, and echoed a call from NDP Leader Tom Mulcair earlier in question period that asked Harper apologize to McLachlin.
“Will the prime minister of Canada withdraw his unfair and personal accusations against the chief justice of the Supreme Court of our land?” Trudeau said.
Harper did not directly answer either leaders’ questions.
Instead, in responding to Trudeau, Harper said it is “because of our respect for the independence of the judiciary that the prime minister does not discuss an issue that might wind up before the courts.
“And that’s why, instead of doing that, we consulted independent experts and acted according to their advice.”
Harper named Nadon to the top court last September. But in March, the Supreme Court ruled Nadon ineligible to sit on the court, saying that as a Federal Court judge he did not meet the criteria for an appointee from Quebec.
Harper and Justice Minister Peter MacKay have both since maintained that they consulted constitutional and legal experts before appointing Nadon, and they all confirmed his eligibility.
Last week, Harper accused McLachlin of trying to make an “inadvisable and inappropriate” phone call to tell him that Nadon may be ineligible to sit on the Supreme Court.
“I think if people thought that the prime minister, other ministers of the government, were consulting judges before them or -- even worse -- consulting judges on cases that might come before them, before the judges themselves had the opportunity to hear the appropriate evidence, I think the entire opposition, entire media and entire legal community would be outraged," Harper said Friday.
McLachlin later issued a statement to say she tried to warn MacKay about Nadon prior to his appointment and before his appointment faced a court challenge from lawyer Rocco Galati. She told MacKay that a problem with Nadon’s eligibility may arise, but said she did not express an opinion on the issue.
She added that she was among those consulted by the parliamentary committee that was reviewing potential candidates, as is common.
On Monday, MacKay took the war of words even further, accusing the top court of going against the Supreme Court Act in ruling Nadon ineligible. The Act stipulates that Quebec appointees to the top court must come from either Quebec’s Court of Appeal or Superior Court, or have been a member of the Quebec bar for at least 10 years.
MacKay told the House Monday that there was nothing in the act that "prohibited the appointment of a Supreme Court judge who had come through the Federal Court."
The federal government has not named a replacement appointee.
On Tuesday, Mulcair asked Harper whether he would abandon Nadon as a candidate.
Harper replied that he has “been already clear” on the matter, “and we will act according to the letter and the spirit of the Supreme Court decision.”