POLITICS
03/28/2019 12:57 EDT | Updated 03/28/2019 13:01 EDT

Trudeau: PMO Did Not Leak Stories About Wilson-Raybould’s Supreme Court Pick

Jody Wilson-Raybould, Tories want an investigation into the release of confidential details.

Patrick Doyle / Reuters
Jody Wilson-Raybould watches Prime Minister Justin Trudeau arrive at Rideau Hall of a cabinet shuffle on Jan. 14, 2019.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau says his office did not leak details of a reported split between himself and his former justice minister over a Supreme Court appointment.

But Trudeau would not say Thursday if he would support an investigation into how the media obtained confidential information about the appointment process — a probe Jody Wilson-Raybould says should happen.

"This was not something that my office had any part in leaking," Trudeau told reporters in Halifax. "This is something that degrades people's confidence in our judicial system and they need to know that they can still very much have confidence in our system."

The prime minister also said he condemns "the number of leaks" of confidential information in recent weeks.

Earlier: Opposition MPs outraged after Liberal MPs end justice committee probe into SNC-Lavalin

"I certainly would wish that people who have access to confidential information would keep it confidential."

When asked, days ago, by reporters if his office was behind the leaked details of a Manitoba judge's candidacy for the top court in 2017, Trudeau declined to answer.

CTV News and The Canadian Press reported this week that Wilson-Raybould wanted Glenn Joyal, the chief justice of Manitoba's Court of Queen's Bench, to not only be named to the Supreme Court but also appointed chief justice.

Trudeau, the outlets reported, balked at appointing Joyal because of his past criticism about the court's activism on Charter of Rights and Freedoms issues. According to CTV, Trudeau was concerned Joyal would not protect abortion access and LGBTQ2 rights.

Trudeau later appointed Alberta judge Sheilah Martin to the Supreme Court and promoted sitting justice, Richard Wagner, to chief justice.

Still, the matter became a source of serious friction between Trudeau and Wilson-Raybould, according to "well-placed" sources in the reports. Wilson-Raybould, this week, denied there was conflict, but warned reporting on such conversations "could compromise the integrity of the appointments process and potentially sitting justices."

The Canadian Press
Richard Wagner smiles during a ceremony marking his appointment as chief justice of the Supreme Court of Canada in Ottawa on Feb. 5, 2018.

In another leak, a source told The Globe and Mail that Wilson-Raybould's advocacy on Joyal's behalf was part of a larger plan to see an Indigenous judge replace him on the Manitoba Court of Queen's Bench, which would have been a historic milestone.

Joyal, in a statement, said he took himself out of the running for the coveted top court seat because of his wife's breast cancer. The Canadian Press reported Joyal withdrew his candidacy after Trudeau told Wilson-Raybould he did not support her pick.

Joyal said he feared someone is using his earlier candidacy to "further an agenda unrelated to the appointment process."

The release of private details about the appointment process sparked outrage in the legal community, with the Canadian Bar Association saying such breaches demean "the selection process and ultimately all those who hold the office of judge."

Yet, in the thick of the SNC-Lavalin affair that has damaged Trudeau's government, the reports offered another potential reason as to why the prime minister might have wanted someone other than Wilson-Raybould to serve as attorney general and justice minister.

Wilson-Raybould told a House of Commons justice committee last month that she believes she was removed from the role in January because she would not help SNC-Lavalin secure a remediation agreement to avoid a criminal trial on corruption charges.

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On Wednesday, deputy Conservative Leader Lisa Raitt wrote to Marc Giroux, the federal judicial affairs commissioner, to urge him to investigate the leaks.

Raitt said, in her letter, that it appears "sources close to the prime minister" shared private information to smear Wilson-Raybould's reputation. The controversy "casts a cloud" over the appointments of Martin and Wagner, and harms the "perceived objectivity" of Joyal's past and future judgments, she said.

"A plain reading of the facts strongly suggests that political actors have leaked the content of discussions regarding an appointment to Canada's highest judicial body," Raitt said. "If indeed this is true, it is an egregious case of political interference and one that severely injures the independence of the judiciary."

Giroux said he does not have investigatory powers to probe the matter, but noted he is also "concerned and troubled" by the stories.

Wilson-Raybould says she is not 'the source of any of these stories'

Wilson-Raybould told The Canadian Press the leaks need to stop and urged "some sort of investigation" into the matter.

"I do feel compelled to say that I have not — as some have suggested — been the source of any of these stories, nor have I ever authorized any person to speak on my behalf," Wilson-Raybould said. "I strongly condemn anyone who would speak about or provide information on such sensitive matters.''

Her predecessor as attorney general and justice minister, David Lametti, tweeted Wednesday that he is also "concerned by the publication of details of the most recent Supreme Court justice selection."

Tory Leader Andrew Scheer fired back by asking Lametti why he is tweeting "instead of calling your boss, Justin Trudeau, and asking him why he leaked it."

This is not the first time details surrounding a top court appointment have been shared with media. In 2014, The Globe and Mail obtained a short list of candidates for a top court vacancy that shed light on a public spat between then-prime minister Stephen Harper and the then-chief justice of the Supreme Court Beverley McLachlin.

With files from The Canadian Press