Manitoba judge inquiry committee cites 'public duty'

The Canadian Judicial Council says its inquiry into the conduct of a Manitoba judge should continue because there is a "public duty" to do so.
Lori Douglas, a Court of Queen's Bench justice, has denied sexually harassing Alex Chapman. (CBC)

The Canadian Judicial Council says its inquiry into the conduct of a Manitoba judge should continue because there is a "public duty" to do so.

Justice Lori Douglas's lawyer, Sheila Block, accused the CJC committee of bias earlier this summer and called for it to be shut down.

The CJC committee took a day to consider the motion but declined it the next morning.

On Tuesday, the CJC released its reasons for the decision.

"We regard the completion of our mandate to be a matter of public duty," the CJC stated in its release.

"It is crucially important that a matter of such social significance and public interest be carried out fairly to its conclusion according to law, and be seen to do so.

"We have not prejudged any issues in this inquiry or any person's credibility. Our minds remain open to persuasion."

The inquiry is currently on a break. It is tentatively scheduled to resume in the fall, although a date must still be set.

However, it is now facing another challenge from Douglas's lawyer. Block filed an application Monday with the Federal Court of Canada to quash the inquiry, citing the same reasons of bias.

The inquiry is examining whether Douglas, an associate chief justice of the Manitoba Court of Queen's Bench, heading up the family court division, should be removed from the bench.

In court documents, Block accuses the panel's lawyer of making sexist and insulting references and distorting the evidence.

She believes George Macintosh, the lawyer who has been asking questions on behalf of the five-member Canadian Judicial Council committee overseeing the inquiry, had engaged in "aggressive and argumentative questions, sexist and insulting references, misstatements and distortions of the evidence and attacks on (Douglas's) character and credibility".

Guy Pratte, the independent lawyer leading the inquiry, filed a similar but separate motion Monday.

He did not ask the Federal Court to end the inquiry, but only to prevent Macintosh from asking any more questions and strike his previous questions from the record.

Pratte said the inquiry committee, which includes the chief justices of Alberta, Prince Edward Island and Newfoundland and Labrador, has over-stepped its bounds by becoming involved in a hearing while also presiding over it.

"The procedure adopted by the committee is beyond its jurisdiction, violates the (Canadian Judicial Council) bylaws and policies and … is inconsistent with the principles of fairness by which the committee is legally bound," Pratte wrote.

Sexually explicit photos posted

In 2003, when Douglas and King were family law lawyers at the same firm, King uploaded sexually explicit photos of Douglas on a website dedicated to interracial sex. Some showed her in bondage gear or performing sex acts.

He also emailed photos to a client named Alexander Chapman and asked him to have sex with Douglas.

Chapman complained to the law firm and King settled the matter within weeks by paying Chapman $25,000 to return all the photos and to never discuss the matter.

Chapman broke that deal in 2010 and complained to the judicial council, insisting Douglas was part of the sexual harassment.

Among the allegations before the inquiry is that Douglas did not disclose the matter when she applied to be a judge. She applied three times before finally being accepted in 2005.

The inquiry is also examining whether the very existence of the photos precludes Douglas from continuing in her job.

Douglas has said all along that her husband acted without her knowledge, and that she should not be punished for her husband's misdeeds.

With files from The Canadian Press