Judges review sparks outrage

Thu, August 26, 2004

TEMPERS FLARED and a shouting match erupted during the meeting of a committee reviewing the appointments of two women judges to the Supreme Court of Canada. The ad hoc committee, made up of seven MPs and two legal experts, met for three hours yesterday.

Justice Minister Irwin Cotler immediately came under fire for failing to extend an invitation to Ontario Court of Appeal justices Rosalie Abella and Louise Charron, who have been given the nod by the federal government to fill two vacancies on the Supreme Court.

Much of yesterday's meeting got bogged down with MPs focusing on the process and mandate of the committee, rather than discussing the merits of Abella and Charron and why the government chose them.

Conservative MP Vic Toews hit a nerve when he challenged Cotler over the fact the two nominees weren't asked to come before the committee.

"This promise of transparency appears to have been abandoned for what is, in fact, a rubber stamp process," Toews said, denying MPs wanted to hold an "inquisition" into the appointments of the two justices.

Cotler defended the government's decision not to have Abella and Charron questioned by the committee.

"I could not ask them because there were the rules of procedure understood and agreed to by all the parties that only the minister of justice would come before this committee," Cotler shouted at Toews.

Later Cotler confirmed it was the government's idea that he appear as the only witness to the committee -- a position that was agreed to by all the other political parties.

Meanwhile, prominent Toronto lawyer Julian Porter, who attended the committee for the Law Society of Upper Canada, noted no one offered any objection to the choice of Abella and Charron.