Marc Nadon appeared before a special Commons committee for the selection of a Supreme Court of Canada justice on Parliament Hill in Ottawa Wednesday afternoon.

An all–party panel of 12 MPs led by Justice Minister Peter MacKay questioned Nadon for almost three hours before his confirmation to the country's highest court.

Prime Minister Stephen Harper nominated Nadon on Monday to replace Justice Morris Fish, a Jean Chrétien appointee from Quebec who resigned from the Supreme Court on Aug. 31.

Nadon said it was with "great humility" that he accepted Harper's offer to replace Fish as the next Supreme Court judge.

Nadon said he came from humble beginnings, the son of parents who valued the importance of post-secondary education — an opportunity they did not have.

The new justice said that as a youth his ambition in life was to play hockey. Nadon said he was drafted by the Detroit Red Wings at the age of 14.

Nadon conceded he is neither an Ottawa Senators fan nor a Montreal Canadiens fan, an admission he joked could be "fatal" in the nation's capital.

He said his father read him "the riot act" around age 16 and forced him to decide whether he wanted to study or play hockey.

Nadon chose the books over Canada's national winter pastime. 

Legal opinion sought  

Harper's nomination fills a Quebec-designated seat, though Nadon is currently a judge of the Federal Court of Appeal where he has served since 2001.

MacKay said Nadon's nomination was the result of extensive consultation with prominent members of the legal community including the chief justice of Canada and the chief justice of Quebec.

The justice minister noted that because "there has not been an appointment from the Federal Court directly to the Supreme Court of Canada," the government asked former Supreme Court of Canada justice Ian Binnie for a legal opinion on Nadon's eligibility to sit on the high court in one of three Quebec-designated seats.

MacKay said that Binnie's legal opinion was "clear and unequivocal."

"Binnie stated that as long as the candidate had been a member of the Quebec bar for at least 10 years he or she would qualify for an appointment to the Supreme Court of Canada as a representative of the province of Quebec," MacKay said.

NDP justice critic Françoise Boivin noted that Nadon was the first justice nominee to come with a legal opinion.

Nadon also served as a judge of the Federal Court of Canada, trial division and as an ex officio member of the Federal Court of Appeal from 1993-2001. In 1994, Nadon was appointed judge of the Court Martial Appeal Court of Canada and, in 1998, a judicial member of the Competition Tribunal.

Nadon is considered an expert in maritime and transportation law, among other areas.

Gender parity on the top court

Before Boivin turned her attention to Nadon, she looked MacKay in the eye and said he would have another opportunity to even out the gender balance on the high court next year when Justice Louis LeBel leaves the bench after reaching the mandatory retirement age of 75.

Nadon's nomination has elicited criticism from the Opposition New Democrats who say the Supreme Court ought to reflect the fact than more women than men currently graduate from Canada's law schools.

Nadon's confirmation today will bring the number of men sitting on the high bench to six, compared with three women.

In an exclusive interview with CBC chief correspondent Peter Mansbridge, Canada's Chief Justice Beverley McLachlin said she personally favours gender parity on the top court but stopped short of criticizing Harper's choice.

"I'm all in favour of gender parity," McLachlin said.

MPs were told they were not allowed to question Nadon on matters that are currently before the courts or to ask him for his personal opinion on controversial subjects. They were also told not to ask Nadon to justify decisions he made in previous rulings.

That did not stop Boivin from asking Nadon about his dissenting opinion in a 2-1 ruling that ordered the Canadian government to press for the return of Omar Khadr from a U.S. military detention centre in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.

Nor did it stop Liberal justice critic Irwin Cotler from asking Nadon about his decision not to deport Leon Mugesera who, in 2001, stood accused of inciting the 1994 massacre in Rwanda.

But Conservative MP Shelly Glover intervened, telling the MPs "I just hope we don't breach the spirit of what we're here for." 

Nadon's appearance before the committee was a sheer formality and his confirmation was expected to be announced shortly.