A group of 13 lawyers have written a letter of complaint to the Canadian Judicial Council about comments by Supreme Court of Canada Chief Justice Richard Wagner regarding the Ottawa trucker convoy.
The complaint quotes a full page of excerpts from an April 9 Le Devoir article where Wager said the convoy was “the beginning of anarchy…to take other citizens hostage, to take the law into their own hands, not to respect the mechanism…That, I find worrying.”
The convoy included people of “good faith” and others who were “remotely guided”, according to Wagner.
“It doesn’t inspire good feelings in me. I find that disturbing,” Wagner said, adding that the convoy was fueled, not just by diesel, but by “misunderstanding” and “a certain ignorance” of the rule of law.
The judge likened the convoy to a situation that would “undermine democracy and judicial independence…[and] maintaining respect for institutions, in maintaining the rule of law.”
Four Notice of Applications regarding the trucker convoy have been filed with the Federal Court and may eventually reach the Supreme Court.
In the complaint letter, the lawyers warned, “The Chief Justice’s views expressed in the Le Devoir article fit within the legal definition of a reasonable apprehension of bias and an appearance of partiality. We submit that the Chief Justice’s remarks will undermine Canadians’ confidence in the independence of the Supreme Court of Canada in particular, and in the judiciary, generally…
“We further submit that the confidence of the litigants in the capacity of the judicial system to impartially and fairly determine the issues raised in the four (4) Notices of Application filed, plus any other Notices of Applications to be filed, will be undermined.”
The letter cited Ethical Principles for Judges, published by the Canadian Judicial Council in 2021, which applies to federal judges, including those on the Supreme Court of Canada.
Those principles call upon judges to “ensure that their conduct at all times maintains and enhances confidence in their impartiality and that of the judiciary” and “avoid using words or conduct, in and out of court, that might give rise to a reasonable perception of bias.”
The principles also say, “A judge should not involve himself or herself inappropriately in public controversies…. If a judge enters the political arena and participates in public debates — either by expressing opinions on controversial subjects, [or] entering into disputes with public figures in the community, he or she will not be seen to be acting judicially when presiding as a judge in court.”
Western Standard contributor Karen Selick, Queen’s Law Professor Bruce Pardy, and Justice Centre for Constitutional Freedoms lawyer Keith Wilson, Q.C. were among the signatories.
One of the 13 signatories spoke to Western Standard on the condition of anonymity.
“I had heard the Chief Justice's comments and I thought, ‘This is not what you're supposed to be doing as a Chief Justice.’ So I was just ticked off by the apparent hypocrisy,” they said.
“The thing speaks for itself. Is it not newsworthy that a group of lawyers has filed a complaint against the Chief Justice?”
The interviewee expressed doubts about the complaints process due to a “worrisome” problem.
“You know who the head of the Canadian Judicial Council is, right? It's the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court of Canada! So we have no idea what he's going to do about a complaint about himself."
“We don't have any idea how this is going to play out or whether he'll do anything, or just quietly respond in a few months saying, ‘Well, we've considered the complaint, but it has no merit. Thanks very much.’”
The interviewee hoped the court of public opinion might censure the judge, since more formal consequences seem unlikely.
“How do you complain against the guy who is at the top of the heap in the whole judiciary in the country and also at the top of the heap in the complaints department?” they asked.
“He deserves some bad publicity. He deserves some public dressing down from ordinary people who think that this is not the way he should conduct himself because we don't think he's going to actually do anything to punish himself.”
The CJC is composed of Canada’s nine chief justices and thirteen senior judges. Former Pierre Trudeau housing minister Paul Cosgrove in 2009 and Alberta judge Robin Camp in 2014 were the only 21St Century justices the CJC recommended for removal.
Both resigned before Parliament could vote on their futures.