The new 'great dissenter'
Supreme Court Justice Marie Deschamps is emerging as one of the court's most fearless and original thinkers, writes Janice Tibbetts
The Ottawa Citizen
March 8, 2004 Janice Tibbetts
Supreme Court Justice Marie Deschamps, who replaced judicial rebel Claire L'Heureux-Dube, is filling her predecessor's shoes as the court's "great dissenter."
Though junior in rank, Judge Deschamps is not shy about taking on her colleagues, dissenting or writing separate opinions in more cases since joining the court 18 months ago than any other judge.
The 51-year-old Quebecer is particularly emerging as a voice for judicial restraint when she perceives her benchmates have gone too far.
Judge Deschamps also has broken ranks over some of the most contentious social issues the court has dealt with in the last year, including spanking, marijuana, and the validity of separation agreements after divorce.
Her straight-shooting style is already drawing attention in legal circles, where she is winning praise as one of the court's most fearless and original thinkers.
"I think it's fair to say when you see dissents of the type she's writing, you're clearly dealing with a judge who has a pretty innovative outlook to most legal questions," said Toronto lawyer David Stratas, a veteran Supreme Court watcher.
"She is certainly prepared to speak her mind judicially," added Ottawa Supreme Court analyst Eugene Meehan.
As the court's youngest member, the contribution of Judge Deschamps is viewed as particularly significant because she could be on the bench for another 24 years.
In her first 18 months, she has led the pack in dissenting 11 times and signing several separate, but concurring, opinions in which she agreed with the majority but wanted to express her own views.
"In the dynamics of the place, I'm sure it is easier for someone to go along with the majority. It takes some spirit of independence to go your own way," Mr. Stratas said.
Her dissents come during a period that unanimity on the court is at record highs, in part because Chief Justice Beverley McLachlin is striving for more consensus. The court was unanimous in 76 per cent of its 81 cases last year, according to a statistics released last week.
Judge Deschamps appears to be forming a legal alliance with Justice Louis LeBel, another relatively-junior Quebec appointee who has been on the court for just four years. They were colleagues on the Quebec Court of Appeal, where Judge LeBel sat for 15 years and Judge Deschamps for 10.
Judge Deschamps and Judge LeBel teamed up in two rulings late last year when they boldly accused the majority of trying to usurp the role of elected politicians.
© The Ottawa Citizen 2004