Justice Louis LeBel

Justice Louis LeBel is retiring from the Supreme Court of Canada on Nov. 30, the date of his 75th birthday. (Philippe Landreville/Supreme Court of Canada)

Justice Louis LeBel, the most senior puisne (or regular) judge of the Supreme Court of Canada, plans to retire on his 75th birthday on Nov. 30, which will leave two Quebec vacancies on the top court.

His retirement was announced in a news release issued by Chief Justice Beverley McLachlin's office.

In the release McLachlin is quoted saying, "He is a jurist of immense gifts and wisdom, and is a pillar of the court. He is deeply loved and respected by his colleagues and he will be dearly missed.”

LeBel, named to the court by former prime minister Jean Chrétien, has sat on the highest court's bench for almost 15 years. The announcement of his departure means the government has two vacancies on the court for Quebec judges.

The government attempted to fill one spot with Federal Court Justice Marc Nadon, but the court found the three constitutionally mandated Quebec slots must be filled by either current Quebec lawyers or judges from Quebec superior or appeals courts.

Supreme Court justices, who can sit only until age 75, often depart some months before their birthdays, but LeBel has taken his tenure right to the end.

LeBel was born in Quebec City, the son of a lawyer, who excelled at law school and began practising law in Quebec in the early sixties.

It is telling that McLachlin used the phrase "deeply loved" in referring to LeBel. Court observers say LeBel stood out for his wisdom, his sense of humour when questioning lawyers, and his courteous, even courtly, manner.

He is also known as a proponent of the charter and a strong voice for the charter rights of defendants. LeBel is also recognized as an expert in labour law, as well as Quebec's unique civil law code.

No visit to Harper's office

A letter announcing LeBel's upcoming retirement was hand-delivered Friday to Justice Minister Peter MacKay.

McLachlin, who is tied up in court today hearing a case, did not meet with Prime Minister Stephen Harper to personally inform him of LeBel's leaving and discuss the needs of the court in naming a judge to replace him.

It's unusual for a chief justice not to meet with a prime minister to let him know of an upcoming vacancy on the top court.

The lack of a visit may indicate a frostiness between McLachlin and the prime minister, resulting from the fallout from the Nadon appointment.

Nadon was meant to replace former Justice Morris Fish who announced his retirement in April 2013.

When Fish announced his departure, McLachlin visited Harper's office to give him a letter from Fish, as is customary.

In early May, Harper let it be known that he did not wish to speak to McLachlin about potential problems with Nadon's nomination because he said it was improper for him to speak to a judge about a legal matter before a court.

The move was seen as an attack on McLachlin, the longest-sitting chief justice in the top court's history.