The federal government should ensure there are at least four women on the Supreme Court of Canada's bench, according to retiring Justice Marie Deschamps, but she doesn't think appointees have to be bilingual on day one of the job.
The 59-year-old Quebec justice, whose retirement took effect Aug. 7, expressed her views on those issues and many more during a wide-ranging interview in her office at the Supreme Court. She said she likes the current gender balance with four out of the nine justices being women, and hopes it stays that way when the government fills vacancies.
The search is underway for her replacement and over the next few weeks Deschamps will be wrapping up her work on cases and preparing to move on to the next chapter in her career.
Deschamps commented during the interview on the idea of politicians being appointed to the bench, whether it's time for the Supreme Court to hear a case on doctor-assisted suicide, her passion for the law and concerns she has about access to justice in Canada. She also talked about why she's leaving, the state of the Supreme Court today, and what lies ahead for her.
Here's an edited version of the conversation.
Q: Why are you leaving now after 10 years at the Supreme Court? What prompted your decision?
A: After 10 years I had the feeling that I was ready to do something else. It's been 10 very intense years and I was ready to do something else, that's it. There was no specific reason. The court at this point is a very good place to work and the people who are now here are good friends, it's nothing negative.
Q: What would you say is the biggest challenge facing the court as a group, as an institution?
A: Presently I don't think there is any specific challenge, or any challenge that's different than other times during the life of the court. As I mentioned, the group here is a very good group, very passionate. We have a chief justice that has been chief for the last 12 years, she masters everything that she needs to do as chief. She is excellent as a chief in reconciling positions of people wherever it's possible. It's a good time at the court so I feel that for my successor it's a good time to come in.
Q: There's a case that might eventually come to the Supreme Court, the assisted suicide case from British Columbia. It's been a long time since the Supreme Court has heard this kind of case, Sue Rodriguez in 1993, was the last time. Is it about time the court hears this issue again?
A: I can't tell whether the permission will be granted … whether this case by itself will be a case that will lend itself well for examining the issue, I can't tell because it's only ... when all the arguments are in writing, when the judgments are read that we can find out whether it's time for the court to take the issue.
Q: Some people say it's time for a debate again, 1993 was a long time ago, do you think it's time for a debate in Canada again?
A: There is a distinction between a debate that ends up in the court and debate in society. The court is the last resort. Normally the court is a place where litigants will go because they need to have the court because there are no other mechanisms, but litigation is not the best way to resolve big social issues. There are other places in society where big social issues can be discussed.
Q: Like where?
A: You have universities where big social issues are discussed, you have legislatures, you have elections, where big social issues are discussed. Courts do not have exclusivity as a forum for a discussion of social issues.
Q: Chief Justice Beverley McLachlin recently expressed concerns about access to justice in Canada. Do you share her concerns?
A: Of course. Because in society there are two groups that can manage their way through the courts: those who are eligible for legal aid and those who have big money. In-between there is a big group of people who will need legal services and for them it's very difficult. We need to find ways ... access to justice is an issue that has been on the table for a long time, I would say, forever, but we need to keep working at it. At present, one of the biggest problems is access to justice for the middle-class people who really have nowhere to turn to. We have to keep working at it.
Q: Do you have any concerns with the appointment of a politician to the bench, straight from Parliament Hill over to a court, any concerns about that?
A: It all depends who is appointed. If the person …has good judgment, good legal experience, the fact that the person has been in politics is not a detriment.
Q: Do you think there should be a cooling off period at all? Should there be a waiting period?
A: Judges follow written and unwritten codes of ethics and my own barometer, my own line of conduct has been whenever I'm not comfortable with deciding an issue and having been involved in [my] previous life in one of the issues is usually a no-no. Codes of ethics are better ways to measure whether someone can or cannot be involved.
Very often, a superficially objective norm like two years cooling off says nothing about the real involvement of someone. Sometimes it can last much longer than two years. Sometimes the person has not been involved even if people would think [he or she] has been. It depends. People have to look at it with some kind of a more contextual approach than just a two- year benchmark.
Q: There are rumours surrounding Public Safety Minister Vic Toews possibly being appointed to the bench in Manitoba. Would it be OK for him to go straight from politics to the bench?
A: As I say, I rely on people not to hear cases in which they've been involved. I have no particular comment on the government appointing politicians. There is experience with other politicians having been appointed and they've been good judges.
There are sufficient mechanisms built in for judges to take a step back and to be able to maintain the standard and the standard is the appearance, not only the actual conflict but appearance of conflict. You have to rely on people to be able to maintain that standard because the consequences are widespread. A judge that comes on the bench will want to maintain the confidence in the administration of justice and one of the first issues is impartiality, independence.
Q: Do you think bilingualism should be a requirement for Supreme Court justice appointees?
A: I think it makes the life of the judge much easier when the judge is bilingual. The end result, I don't think it makes a difference. For the judge to be able to convey their own ideas in the language that everyone will understand, it's better to be bilingual. I have a lot of confidence in the life of the court to be able to convince the judges that this is important. I've seen people come here not being able to speak French and now these people do read French, ask questions in French, they don't use the interpreters, so it's do-able.
Q: So you don't think it has to be a requirement for the job to be bilingual because they can learn French after?
A: I'm a realistic person. Sometimes it's difficult. There are some parts of the country where it's more difficult to have bilingual judges. They might be a qualified candidate and they can learn on the job when they come. In the end, I think it's important that everyone become bilingual.
Q: What about the gender balance on the court? Do you hope that your replacement is a woman? Should that be a factor?
A: I think every court should aim for half and half. I like the way our chief coins it, when we have a critical mass of men or women it's more an equal rapport between the two genders.
It's important that it's balanced. Yes, I do like the present balance. I do like the fact that we are four [women] on the court. And I must say that I have seen the difference. When Justice [Louise] Charron and Justice [Rosalie] Abella were appointed we went from three to four and I have seen some kind of difference. Maybe the personalities are a factor.
I hope that the government will maintain at least four women on the court. Whether the next candidate is a woman or it's the one that follows it will be for the government to decide.
Q: Did you come to the Supreme Court with any goals in mind?
A: Frankly, I didn't feel that I was on a mission. I wanted to contribute to the work of the court and I think I did my best. I was passionate about law, I am still passionate about law. That part is a continuum in all my career. I had the same approach when I was a lawyer, when I was at the [Quebec] court of appeal, and here it intensified. And now I'm just going to another stage.
Q: What is an experience that stands out for you when you reflect on the last 10 years?
A: How working in a team very closely is rewarding. I would not like to finish without saying how important for this teamwork our chief is. She is very good at making sure we work as a team. She always works with her door open, we know that we can go in and pour out our heart and discuss our approach to a case or the difficulties with some of the issues we're facing. When I will leave this building one thing that will stand out is the collegial work we're doing here. It's not the work of one individual judge, it's really what we can achieve as a team.
Q: What's your general feeling as you wind down your time here?
A: I feel good. I still have six months to go, it's more or less business as usual. I still have cases I am working on daily. It will not be any different until I put my name on the last case. I will continue to devote myself with the same passion to the work of the court.
Q: You said it's been an intense decade, can you elaborate on what the lifestyle of a Supreme Court justice is like? What's the workload like?
A: Not all judges have the same way of working so I don't want to talk in general how judges work because everyone has their own way. Everyone knows we have a big workload, that does not mean we don't take time off, at times. Judges do take some holidays but not everyone will take weeks at a time. Some people will take days at a time, others prefer to take one week or 10 days or two weeks. For sure you don't see a judge leaving for a month or two, that's unheard of in my 10 years here.
We all find some time, little moments for ourselves and our families. I don't want to exaggerate what the life at the court is. Besides that, we pretty much devote all our efforts to the work of the court. The work of the court not only means the cases but it also means the way judges live their life as judges now we need to be also present in the community. Part of our work that is less known is this part where we do some kind of outreach. We will accept a number of invitations to go to universities, to speak to groups, to participate in international activities. Just giving the speeches, preparing, writing articles, takes a lot of time too. So we have our cases, in which we are fully engaged and doing the court work, the hearing work, means preparing, participating in the hearing and then doing the research after the hearing, doing the writing or participating in the work of the other judges who will write cases and besides that we have the outreach work.
Q: It sounds like a lot of work.
A: Yes, but when you're passionate about your work it's always fun. One thing I can say about the judges here, we're all passionate about our work ... no one is counting the hours here.
Q: Other justices have also left before the mandatory retirement age of 75, is burnout a concern?
A: In my case, no, I'm certainly not burned out, because I'm looking for work immediately. I'm not looking for any kind of break
Q: What's next for you?
A: I want to concentrate on working with young people, students mostly. I've been offered an office at McGill University, I've been told that the key is ready for me to pick up. I have a place to go, I've offered my help to students there. Last week, I was at the University of Sherbrooke and I met with the dean. I've been an associate professor there for the last six years so I want to intensify my contribution to that university too. So it's this kind of activity I want to concentrate on.
The Huffington Post Canada's <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.ca/althia-raj/" target="_hplink">Ottawa Bureau Chief Althia Raj</a> lists the MPs who stumbled during the Parliamentary session. (CP)
<a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.ca/2011/11/25/rob-anders-sleeping-video_n_1113337.html" target="_hplink">Anders said a car accident was to blame after video of the Calgary MP sleeping</a> in the House of Commons went viral. Then he was accused of falling asleep again, this time during a Veterans Affairs committee meeting. Instead of apologizing to the veterans he'd greeted with a snore, <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.ca/2012/03/06/rob-anders-sleep-video-apology_n_1324139.html" target="_hplink">Anders accused them of being NDP hacks</a>. They said they were card-carrying Conservatives. Anders apologized soon after, <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.ca/2012/03/28/rob-anders-tory-mp-veterans-affairs_n_1386484.html" target="_hplink">but he was booted from the committee</a>. (CP)
Dean Del Mastro
If he hadn't been so <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.ca/2012/03/16/rocobocalls-scandal-dean-del-mastro_n_1354739.html?utm_hp_ref=robocalls-scandal" target="_hplink">sanctimonious</a> about the <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.ca/news/robocalls-scandal" target="_hplink">robocalls scandal</a>, Canadians might feel a bit sorry for the guy. In court documents, <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.ca/news/dean-del-mastro" target="_hplink">Elections Canada seems to suggest Del Mastro committed electoral fraud</a> by over-contributing to his campaign by writing a personal $21,000 cheque for, you guessed it, robocalls. It is alleged his campaign overspent it's allowed limit and tried to hide it. Del Mastro initially appeared genuinely shocked by the allegations but more than two weeks later, as more evidence mounts, he still can't provide <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.ca/2012/06/11/dean-del-mastro-spending-election_n_1587236.html?utm_hp_ref=robocalls-scandal" target="_hplink">answers</a>. (CP)
This NDP MP from Montmorency--Charlevoix--Haute-Côte-Nord <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.ca/2012/04/30/marc-garneau-mail-stolen-jonathan-tremblay_n_1465618.html" target="_hplink">opened mail marked for Liberal MP Marc Garneau</a> and then kept the contents, toy spaceships, for his own purposes. Seriously, he stole mail. And what was with that rat-tail? (Handout)
This minister needs to tone down the rhetoric. <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.ca/2012/05/01/peter-kent-charities-laundering_n_1469641.html" target="_hplink">Accusing charities of laundering money</a> is not only a criminal allegation, it doesn't help his argument. Why doesn't Kent come up with rational reasons to justify the government's actions on the environment? It's one of the reasons no one believes the Conservatives care about the file. (CP)
It isn't the <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.ca/2011/12/15/peter-mackay-hotel-expense-munich-istanbul_n_1151049.html" target="_hplink">expensive hotels</a> but the <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.ca/news/f-35" target="_hplink">F-35 procurement fiasco</a> that really lands this minister in hot water. Did MacKay allow officials to sneak something past him without appropriate scrutiny? Did he knowingly mislead Canadians about the cost of the fighter jets? This minister needs to take control of his department. (CP)
The loose-lipped New Democrat from Winnipeg not only dropped a few <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.ca/2011/11/17/pat-martin-twitter-swearing_n_1099126.html" target="_hplink">F-bombs</a> on <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.ca/2012/03/17/pat-martin-twitter-tweet-stephen-gordon_n_1355308.html" target="_hplink">Twitter </a>this year but was also too quick with his vocal criticism of the robocalls scandal. <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.ca/2012/06/08/racknine-lawsuit-pat-martin_n_1582347.html" target="_hplink">Now he finds himself the subject of a $5 million lawsuit that won't go away</a>, no matter <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.ca/2012/04/16/pat-martin-apology-racknine_n_1428508.html" target="_hplink">how many times he apologizes</a>. (CP)
<a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.ca/2012/04/23/bev-oda-savoy-hotel_n_1444818.html" target="_hplink">$16 orange juice</a>. Hundreds more for fancier hotels. Thousands more for limousines. She's the minister in charge of helping starving children. Need we say more? (CP)
First the Public Minister said Canadians who opposed the government's desire to spy on the public whenever it wishes<a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.ca/2012/02/16/vic-toews-youtube-vikileaks-twitter_n_1281633.html?utm_hp_ref=vic-toews" target="_hplink"> were standing with child pornographers</a>. Then, in a radio interview, <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.ca/2012/02/20/vic-toews-lawful-access-bill-c-30_n_1288252.html?utm_hp_ref=vic-toews" target="_hplink">he appeared to have little knowledge of what his bill actually contained</a>. His comments created an uproar and the bill has been shelved -- <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.ca/2012/05/16/bill-c-30-lawful-access-online-surveillance-vic-toews_n_1521477.html?utm_hp_ref=vic-toews" target="_hplink">for now</a>. This week, <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.ca/2012/06/19/canada-border-audio-monitoring-listening_n_1609093.html?utm_hp_ref=vic-toews" target="_hplink">Toews also had to back down from a CBSA plan to spy on travellers in Canadian airports</a>. The government now plans to talk about its proposal with the Privacy Commissioner before moving forward. (CP)
This rookie MP from Saint-Maurice--Champlain <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.ca/2012/01/10/lise-st-denis-ndp-join-liberals_n_1196406.html" target="_hplink">announced in January that she was switching parties and joining the Liberals</a> after spending ten years volunteering with the NDP. She told reporters she ran for the New Democrats but never expected to be elected and infamously declared, in one of the year's least tactful comments: "They voted for Jack Layton. Jack Layton died." St-Denis said she didn't want to spend three years listening to a party defend policies she disagreed with. She pointed to the NDP opposing the mission extension in Libya, opposing public-private partnership for large-scale infrastructure deals and its desire to abolish the Senate. We can only ask, did St-Denis read any of the NDP's policies during her 10 years as a volunteer? We're not sure the Liberals got the best of the batch here... (CP)
This <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.ca/2012/05/23/david-wilks-budget-bill-c-38_n_1540471.html" target="_hplink">B.C. MP from Kootenay--Columbia told his constituents he agreed with them that there were problems with Bill C-38</a>, the Tories' omnibus budget legislation, and said he was prepared to oppose it if other Conservatives joined him. But as soon as the story, and his comments, hit the Web, Wilks did a complete 180, saying he supported the Conservative government's budget bill. Although <a href="http://www.cbc.ca/news/politics/inside-politics-blog/2012/06/david-wilks-still-towing-line-on-budget-bill.html" target="_hplink">he recently told CBC's Julie Van Dusen that after reading the bill he now thinks the legislation is "great for Canada,"</a> we think he either misled his constituents or sold them out after being disciplined by the Prime Minister's Office. (Handout)
Best MPs Of The Session
The Huffington Post Canada's <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.ca/althia-raj/" target="_hplink">Ottawa Bureau Chief Althia Raj</a> lists the MPs who deserve credit for strong performances during the Parliamentary session. (CP)
The Edmonton MP and Public Works Minister didn't have an easy time as environment minister a few years back but now <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.ca/2012/06/19/rona-ambrose-public-works_n_1609668.html?utm_hp_ref=canada-politics" target="_hplink">everything Ambrose touches seems to come out smoothly</a> -- at least, that's what the government hopes. After successfully managing a $33-billion shipbuilding contract that didn't split the country apart, she's now entrusted with ensuring another billion-dollar procurement, the <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.ca/news/f-35" target="_hplink">bungled F-35 jet deal</a> (through the <a href="http://www.cbc.ca/news/politics/story/2012/05/02/pol-f-35-secretariat-name-change.html" target="_hplink">national fighter procurement secretariat</a>), goes smoothly and fairly. (CP)
The NDP MP for Timmins--James Bay <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.ca/charlie-angus/attawapiskat-emergency_b_1104370.html" target="_hplink">drew international attention to the plight of the Attawapiskat First Nation in his northern Ontario riding after writing a blog about it on The Huffington Post Canada</a> this fall. The blog and the public pressure it garnered forced the federal government to take action on a situation it had largely ignored. (CP)
The former NDP leadership contender may have lost the <a href="http://huffingtonpost.ca/news/ndp-leadership-race" target="_hplink">leadership race</a> but he earned a lot of respect. His willingness to reach across party lines and work with Liberals may come in handy later on. Watch for him now in his more visible role as NDP house leader. (CP)
After two minority governments, the prime minister is now taking the long view on Canada's future. While he tends to appear more statesmanlike abroad than at home, <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.ca/2012/01/26/harper-davos-immigration-ottawa_n_1233664.html" target="_hplink">his speech in Davos this January signalled his willingness to make tough decisions to ensure long-term economic growth</a>. Harper's suggestions: pension reform, new free trade deals, more intense development of Canada's natural resources, lower health care spending and major immigration reforms. (CP)
He may have taken his lumps for <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.ca/2012/06/19/kenney-hits-reply-all-_n_1609294.html" target="_hplink">calling the deputy premier of Alberta an "asshole,"</a> but one thing we appreciate about Kenney is that he says what he thinks and doesn't mince words. He maintains a delicate balance between currying favours with immigrants and <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.ca/2012/04/22/bill-c-31-human-smuggling-canada-refugees-jason-kenney_n_1444267.html?utm_hp_ref=jason-kenney" target="_hplink">taking a hard line on would-be refugees</a>. While it may appear the hard-working MP sometimes lacks compassion, <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.ca/2012/04/17/jason-kenney-huffington-post-canada-immigration_n_1432940.html?utm_hp_ref=jason-kenney" target="_hplink">his focus on ensuring immigrants serve Canada (rather than the other way around) is good for the economy</a> and should help new immigrants by giving them easier access to quality jobs. (CP)
Megan Leslie & Michelle Rempel
The NDP's environment critic and the environment minister's parliamentary secretary are two smart women who make question period worth watching. Leslie, left, asks intelligent questions and has a knack for baiting her older Conservative colleagues into saying something stupid. Rempel has outshone her minister, Peter Kent by managing to deflect opposition attacks in clever ways without ever putting her foot in her mouth. These are two rising stars. (CP)
The Green Party Leader has shown what one MP can do with a team of volunteers and a lot of heart. Canadians with any knowledge of<a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.ca/news/canada-budget-2012" target="_hplink"> C-38, the Conservative omnibus budget</a>, likely have May to thank. May has been ferocious in her attacks on the bundled bill and her ability to work with opposition parties resulted in the<a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.ca/2012/06/14/bill-c-38-omnibus-budget-amendments-twitter_n_1597755.html" target="_hplink"> longest series of marathon votes Canadians have seen in a long time</a>. (CP)
It's always difficult for politicians to put their personal ambitions aside. <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.ca/2012/06/13/bob-rae-liberal-leadership-run-off_n_1593269.html" target="_hplink">In stepping away from the Liberal leadership race, Rae took another one for the team</a>. Highly regarded by colleagues in and out of his party, he's an effective communicator who kept the Liberals alive in the Commons despite third place status. (CP)
Not only did the Liberal MP for Papineau shame Conservatives across the country when he <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.ca/news/justin-trudeau-boxing" target="_hplink">pummeled Tory Sen. Patrick Brazeau in a nationally televised boxing match</a>, but he re-energized Liberals into believing former goals were possible. Trudeau doesn't yet have the experience, but he's smarter than many people give him credit for and <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.ca/2012/06/20/liberal-leadership-justin-trudeau_n_1613739.html?utm_hp_ref=justin-trudeau" target="_hplink">he could cause the NDP headaches if he decides to throw his hat in the leadership ring</a>. (CP)
Quiet and unassuming, the rookie NDP MP from Aylmer, Que., was thrown into a leadership role she didn't want last August and steered the official opposition through months of difficult polling and stories about her ineffective leadership. Turmel doesn't get enough credit for keeping the NDP caucus (mostly) together after the death of Jack Layton and through the <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.ca/news/ndp-leadership-race" target="_hplink">subsequent leadership race</a>. (CP)