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Irwin Cotler, MP

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The Conservatives have watered down the Supreme Court appointments process

Posted on September 19, 2014

The following letter to the editor appeared in The Globe and Mail:

Your Thursday editorial (Process, Abused – Sept. 18) gave Prime Minister Stephen Harper credit for announcing last year “that selection panels of MPs from the major political parties would assess candidates being considered for the Supreme Court of Canada, in consultation with leading judges and lawyers.” The editorial referred to this announcement as “changes … in accord with the Conservatives’ often professed aspirations for reform and transparency.”

In fact, selection panels of MPs have been used to assess and recommend candidates since the process that resulted in the appointments of Justices Abella and Charron, which I oversaw as justice minister in 2004. At that time, the panel included not only MPs of all parties but eminent members of the legal community, the selection criteria were made public at the outset, and I took questions from MPs at the parliamentary committee that convened once the nominations were announced – something no Conservative justice minister has done.

As such, the “changes” described last year by the Prime Minister amount to a watering-down of the process, rather than an improvement. The government told us this week that its process is now “under reconsideration.” Hopefully, after this “reconsideration,” the government will revert to a process that is truly inclusive, representative, accountable and transparent. Yet, with less than two months until the court’s next vacancy, it is running out of time.

Irwin Cotler, MP for Mount Royal

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