Chief Justice supports criticism of Kenney
NationalPost.com – news
Aug 13, 2011. By Richard Foot – Halifax
The Chief Justice of the Supreme Court of Canada has added her voice to the legal profession’s condemnation of Immigration Minister Jason Kenney, who sparked an uproar earlier this year on the issue of judicial independence.
Speaking on the matter for the first time, Chief Justice Beverley McLachlin applauded the Canadian Bar Association on Saturday for protesting comments Kenney made last winter, when he said Federal Court judges weren’t toeing the line of the Harper government’s immigration policies.
In a speech to the CBA’s governing council, McLachlin said:
“I was certainly — and I think all judges were — very pleased when an issue arose earlier this year when a minister of the Crown seemed to suggest that some judges were insufficiently solicitous to government policy. We were very, very gratified to see your president writing a powerful public letter to the minister in question, reminding the minister of the importance of public confidence in an impartial judiciary, that bases its decisions on the law and not on government policy.”
In a controversial speech last February to the law faculty at the University of Western Ontario, Kenney said Federal Court judges, who preside over immigration cases, weren’t doing enough to help the government remove immigrants with alleged criminal pasts, and other unwanted refugees, from Canada.
He accused judges of delaying such cases in the court, and of “heavy-handed” interference in decisions made by immigration department officials.
The comments were loudly condemned at the time by immigration lawyers and by Rod Snow, the CBA’s president.
“Your public criticism of judges who follow the law but not the government’s political agenda is an affront to our democracy and freedoms,” Snow said in a letter to Kenney. “Judges cannot enter the public arena to respond to criticism.”
On Saturday, McLachlin entered the arena herself.
“We live in a society with a strong commitment to the rule of law, and one of the elements of our commitment to the rule of law is a deep, cultural belief in and confidence in the judiciary.
“This goes beyond a general idea that we have good judges of integrity, it’s the confidence that brings litigants to choose the courts as a forum for resolving their disputes … and it is what allows them to accept the resulting judgments.
“Citizens have to have the confidence that whatever their problem, whoever’s on the other side … they will have a judge who will give them impartial justice and not be subject to pressures to direct their judgments in a particular way.”
Speaking to reporters after her speech, McLachlin said she has not written or spoken privately to the government about Kenney’s comments, nor will she.
“It’s very important when the Bar speaks out and says this is an important, institutional, democratic value, an independent judiciary, and we need to preserve it. And we’re grateful to the CBA for doing that.”
The CBA is holding its annual meeting in Halifax this week and next.
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