Will next Supreme Court justice come from Atlantic Canada?
The Supreme Court of Canada in Ottawa is shown on Tuesday, April 14, 2015. (Sean Kilpatrick / THE CANADIAN PRESS)
Kevin Bissett, The Canadian Press
Published Saturday, April 2, 2016 7:15AM EDT
FREDERICTON -- Officials in Newfoundland and Labrador are lobbying to have the next Supreme Court of Canada justice come from their province, but legal experts say the federal government will likely prioritize race or language over geography.
Justice Thomas Cromwell of Nova Scotia will retire in September and it's generally accepted that his replacement will come from Atlantic Canada.
Traditionally, the court has three members from Quebec, three from Ontario, one from British Columbia, one from the west and one from the Maritimes, but there has never been one from Newfoundland and Labrador.
"I think it would be wonderful to have a Supreme Court justice come from Newfoundland and Labrador. To sort of quote Justin Trudeau, but update it, 'Because it's 2016.' So it's time," said Susan LeDrew, president of the Law Society of Newfoundland and Labrador.
LeDrew said it would be good to appoint someone from a non-metropolitan area of the country.
Andrew Parsons, the province's justice minister, has written a letter to the federal government to say it's time Newfoundland and Labrador was represented on the top court.
"As we near the 67th anniversary of Newfoundland and Labrador becoming Canada's 10th province, this government firmly believes that the time has come for a Supreme Court of Canada Justice from this province," he wrote.
"Newfoundland and Labrador has a number of eminently qualified jurists and practitioners who are capable of contributing significantly to the country's highest court."
But Adam Dodek, a law professor at the University of Ottawa, says the federal government has more to consider than Newfoundland's position, such as the experience of the possible candidates, language skills and gender.
Dodek said there has also never been an aboriginal judge on the Supreme Court.
"I think there's a recognition that, even before the truth and reconciliation commission but certainly after it, about the importance of aboriginal law and indigenous issues in Canadian society and certainly on the court," Dodek said.
He said it's the kind of factor that could trump the traditional appointment by region.
"That really has the potential to challenge this historical regional representation. If there is a time to do that then it's probably now or in upcoming appointments," he said.
And then there's language. During the last election campaign, the federal Liberals said all appointees to the high court would be functionally bilingual.
Former Supreme Court of Canada justice Michel Bastarache of New Brunswick said candidates for the court should be fluently bilingual in order to fully understand the technical language and issues.
"I think it's obvious that some people have sat on the court effectively without being bilingual but I think it is obviously a great advantage to be able to read all the documentation in both languages and hear the arguments without interpretation," he said.
None of the legal experts were willing to suggest any specific judges as possible candidates for the high court.
During the election campaign, the Liberals criticized the Harper government for degrading the selection process, and promised to work with the House of Commons to ensure appointing Supreme Court justices is "transparent, inclusive and accountable to Canadians."
Dodek said he expects the process may resemble what's being done with respect to Senate appointments.
He said the government might consider establishing an arm's-length committee that sifts through a more open call for suggested appointees and produces a short list.
"I think having a real process that is open, transparent, accountable and honest would be a step in the right direction," Dodek said.