Federal judicial affairs commissioner says he can't probe Supreme Court appointment leaks
Published Wednesday, March 27, 2019 2:07PM EDT
Last Updated Wednesday, March 27, 2019 8:33PM EDT
OTTAWA -- The Federal Judicial Affairs Commissioner has shot down the possibility of an investigation into leaked reports about years-old tension between Jody Wilson-Raybould and Prime Minister Justin Trudeau over her choice of a Supreme Court justice.
In a statement responding to a letter from the Conservatives asking for an investigation into the leaks as a breach of confidentiality, commissioner Marc Giroux said that while he is "deeply concerned and troubled about the release to the media of any confidential information," his office does not have the ability to launch investigations.
Giroux said that he is "not in a position" to take on the matter because his office’s mandate is generally meant to administer the federal Judges Act. It is also involved in the administration of the independent advisory board for Supreme Court appointments, though he notes that this arms-length body is not referenced in the leaked stories.
"Essentially, my office is the intermediary between the judiciary and the executive," and is "unlike certain other federal organizations whose mandates are essentially to investigate," Giroux said.
This comes after Wilson-Raybould added her voice to the federal Conservatives' call for an investigation. In a statement to CTV News on Wednesday, the once attorney-general of Canada and current Liberal MP said that she thinks that "some sort of investigation" into the leaks should be considered.
"This has to stop 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," Wilson-Raybould said.
As CTV News and The Canadian Press reported on Monday, Wilson-Raybould wanted Manitoba Justice Glenn D. Joyal to not only fill a vacancy on the top court, but to be appointed to the chief justice role. Trudeau had concerns with her judgment in regards to her pick, and ultimately rejected it. The sources familiar with the matter speaking to CTV News cited this 2017 disagreement as the point when relations between the two began to fray.
In a contrasting leak to The Globe and Mail published late Tuesday, an unnamed source said that Wilson-Raybould's pick of Joyal was part of a "broader succession plan" that would have seen Canada's first Indigenous chief justice of a superior court, appointed in Manitoba. CTV News has not independently confirmed this report.
Joyal, in a statement, confirmed that he applied for the seat on the court but said he later withdrew his name from consideration for personal reasons, namely his wife's metastatic breast cancer. He said he feared that someone was using his previous candidacy to "further an agenda unrelated to the appointment process."
In her new statement, Wilson-Raybould said that she was not the source, nor did she authorize anyone to speak on her behalf in regards to these Supreme Court appointment stories. "I strongly condemn anyone who would speak about or provide information on such sensitive matters," she said.
The Prime Minister's Office said that "PMO would never leak who would be considered for a judicial appointment," in a statement issued Wednesday.
Reports about the past tiff came amid the still-simmering SNC-Lavalin scandal, centred on allegations from Wilson-Raybould that she faced pressure to seek a remediation agreement rather than pursuing a criminal trial over corruption and fraud charges facing the Quebec construction and engineering firm. It was not the first time reports have been published containing information from unnamed sources that appeared to be aimed at casting a contrasting light on Wilson-Raybould.
Now, the Conservatives are calling on current Justice Minister and Attorney General David Lametti to launch an investigation, after Lametti weighed in on the issue, tweeting that he was "concerned by the publication of details of the most recent #SupremeCourt justice selection."
He said that the "integrity of our process depends on confidentiality for all parties involved."
Conservative Leader Andrew Scheer pounced on Lametti’s comments, asking if they’d launch an investigation. "Canada's justice system demands more than tweets, leaks, and smears. Canadians deserve much better," Scheer said, in a series of tweets. "How about you do more than just express your concern and do something about it? Have you launched an investigation into who leaked it?" Scheer asked.
Tories wanted leaks looked into
The Conservatives were the first to come out Wednesday to say they wanted the matter looked into.
In a letter to Giroux dated Tuesday, Deputy Conservative Leader Lisa Raitt said that the apparent disclosure of confidential information from "political actors," regarding an appointment to Canada’s top court is an "egregious case of political interference and one that severely injures the independence of the judiciary."
In an interview on CTV News Channel, Raitt said leaks of this nature could act as an impediment to other judges who might want to put their name forward for future appointments.
"This process is supposed to be air-tight… because it upholds the confidence we have in the judges that we appoint, and now it's just thrown wide open," Raitt said.
Raitt has pointed to Trudeau’s office as the likeliest source of the leak, something, as mentioned above, that the PMO has since denied. She said given the small circle of people who would be privy to these conversations, it had to be "someone close" to Trudeau.
Asked to comment on the reports on Tuesday, Trudeau said that Canadians should continue to have confidence in the independence of the justice system, but offered little else, saying that it’s ultimately the prime minister’s decision about Supreme Court appointments.
"Canadians can have confidence in our government’s respect for the institutions, for the Supreme Court. Canadians have confidence in the strength of our judiciary in this country, and I have no further comment to make on this issue," Trudeau said.
On Tuesday, MPs who were in Ottawa, unsuccessfully attempting to start a second committee study of the SNC-Lavalin scandal, expressed concern about the leak.
Opposition MPs said it looked like a desperate attempt to further smear Wilson-Raybould.
Conservative MP Peter Kent described the leak of "highly sensitive, confidential information" a smear that he thinks is "an attempt to distract" from the ongoing SNC-Lavalin scandal.
Liberal MP Nate Erskine-Smith called it "outrageous," saying it "undermines the confidence in the judicial selection process and appointment process."
Justice Committee receives Wilson-Raybould evidence
The House Justice Committee that had been studying the SNC-Lavalin affair confirmed Wednesday that it had received new evidence from Wilson-Raybould.
Last week she said she would be providing the committee with additional evidence such as texts and emails, in addition to offering up a further written statement on the affair, even though its probe has concluded.
This information will be in addition but related to her hours of stunning testimony on Feb. 27 in which she alleged she faced high-level "veiled threats" and political interference in the criminal prosecution of SNC-Lavalin.
"In the course of my testimony there was a request for me to provide further information… Having taken that request under advisement, I will provide copies of messages that I referred to in my testimony," Wilson-Raybould said in a letter to the committee. "I do hope my response to the Committee’s specific request and the additional information will assist the Committee in completing its study on this important matter and in preparing its final report," she wrote.
The opposition wanted to invite her back, something Wilson-Raybould was open to, but after hearing a contradicting story from former top Trudeau adviser, and repeat appearances from senior bureaucrats, the Liberal MPs on the House Justice Committee shut down their study of the matter saying that they’d heard all they needed to.
Though, committee chair Anthony Housefather has said that just because the committee is getting new information, it doesn’t mean their study will be revived.
He said there have been "many occasions" where committee members complete a study on a topic or a bill and additional submissions are received after the committee is finished hearing from witnesses.
Clerk of the committee has confirmed to CTV News Wednesday morning that her submission has been received and it is now in the process of being translated and redacted for any personal information, like phone numbers or private email addresses. Housefather said he expects that to happen at 3 p.m. Friday.
With files from CTV News' Senior Political Correspondent Glen McGregor and CTV News' Michel Boyer