N.L. to remain without Supreme Court of Canada appointment due to lack of bilingual judges

A former minister of justice says the federal government should look at more than bilingualism when searching for a new appointment to the Supreme Court of Canada.

Former provincial justice minister says there are other options

Lawyer and former provincial Justice Minister Jerome Kennedy says bilingualism should not be the main consideration for Supreme Court justices. (CBC)

A former Newfoundland and Labrador justice minister says the federal government should look at more than bilingualism when searching for a new appointment to the Supreme Court of Canada.

Jerome Kennedy said Wednesday there are other options that would clear the way for a person from this province to sit on the country's top court.

Legal convention states the court must have one representative from Atlantic Canada, and Nova Scotia's Justice Thomas Cromwell is set to retire on Sept. 1. 

According to the Globe and Mail, the federal government will not appoint a judge from Newfoundland and Labrador to fill the opening, leaving the province as the only one never to have an appointment to the Supreme Court of Canada.

No one from Newfoundland and Labrador fits the bill for the position, as there are no judges in the province able to hear cases in both official languages. 

Justice Thomas Cromwell is retiring from the country's top court in September 2016, leaving a vacancy for an Atlantic Canadian judge. (Greg Layson/CBC)

Kennedy, who is now practicing law in St. John's, understands that all judges appointed to the Supreme Court of Canada are required to be bilingual, but believes there are other options.

It should be a consideration but not the only, or the major consideration.- Jerome Kennedy

"In a country like Canada, bilingualism is obviously important, but it shouldn't be the only factor in the appointments to the Supreme Court of Canada," Kennedy said.

"There can be instantaneous translation, there are the opportunities for the litigants to present in both English and French. It should be a consideration but not the only, or the major consideration." 

Kennedy said he availed of instantaneous translation at numerous provincial and territorial meetings while serving as justice minister and sees it as a viable option for judges.

"I found it to be very helpful, there didn't appear to be any problems with it, and there were a majority of ministers in those various rooms who didn't speak French," he said. 

"It's not a matter of making an exception, I would simply suggest that it's our turn, by convention, to have an appointment to the Supreme Court of Canada." 

Eliminates eminent justices

The federal government's requirements for Supreme Court judges eliminates eminent justices from across the country from possible appointments according to Kennedy.

"In this day and age, I really don't think that that's necessary, especially where we have three justices from Quebec on the Supreme Court of Canada."

He said many potential appointees to the court are very intelligent individuals who could likely commit to learning French while serving in the Supreme Court.

"I'm not diminishing for one second the importance of being bilingual in our country. What I'm saying is that what we are looking for in the Supreme Court of Canada are the best and brightest legal minds," said Kennedy. 

"So, what should happen, politics shouldn't enter the picture." 

Parsons advocates for N.L. judges

Justice Minister Andrew Parsons wants the next appointment to the Supreme Court of Canada to be a judge from Newfoundland and Labrador. (CBC)

Newfoundland and Labrador's current justice minister, Andrew Parsons, has also advocated for a Supreme Court appointment from the province.

In March, Parsons wrote federal Minister of Justice Jody Wilson-Raybould on behalf of the provincial government.

"We are the only province to have never had an individual appointed to sit as a Supreme Court of Canada Justice, while decisions made by the court have direct impacts on the daily lives of Newfoundlanders and Labradorians," Parsons said in the statement.

"As we near the 67th anniversary of Newfoundland and Labrador becoming Canada's 10th province, this government firmly believes that the time has come for a Supreme Court of Canada justice from this province."

Parsons said this province has a number of qualified candidates for the job.

There was no comment from the federal government on the issue.

With files from Stéfan Thériault