Prime Minister Stephen Harper has named Quebec trial lawyer Suzanne Côté to the Supreme Court of Canada.

She replaces Justice Louis LeBel, who will retire from the Supreme Court of Canada on Sunday when he turns 75

Côté is the seventh justice Harper has appointed to the country's highest court. The nine-judge top court will now include four women, including Chief Justice Beverley McLachlin.

Côté, head of the Montreal litigation group at Osler, Hoskin & Harcourt LLP, is the second woman chosen by Harper and the first woman to be appointed directly from private practice.

NDP justice critic Françoise Boivin says she's still concerned about the process for choosing a Supreme Court justice after the government's failed attempt to nominate Marc Nadon, but that she's pleased with the nomination of Côté.

"Suzanne Côté has a very good reputation in Quebec. She's a brilliant lawyer. [I have] no problem with that nomination on that aspect. The fact that Quebec seems on board with the government satisfies me," she said.

Boivin said the consultations seem limited to the usual suspects despite the government's assertion it consulted widely. 

No judicial appointment process

Liberal MP Irwin Cotler, a former federal justice minister, also praised Côté, saying she is well-respected.

"The problem is still the lack of any judicial appointment process," he said.

Cotler says there has been no consultation or advisory panel set up, no public or parliamentary input, and no public criteria laid out.

"In a word, this has been very regressive in terms of the process. I thought that 10 years ago we had corrected these concerns," Cotler said, referring to a now-defunct committee of MPs who would create a shortlist for the prime minister's consideration.

The press release from the Prime Minister's Office calls Côté "one of the most experienced litigators in the country with extensive expertise in civil and commercial litigation over a distinguished 34-year career."

McLachlin echoed the comments about Côté's expertise.

"Ms. Côté is appointed directly from the Bar of Quebec, after a distinguished career as an advocate," said McLachlin in a press release. "I look forward to her contributions to the Court."

Specialist in commercial litigation

Côté studied at Laval University, and has taught at the University of Quebec at Rimouski, the University of Montreal and the Bar of Quebec (École du Barreau du Québec.)

As a lawyer, she pleads before all jurisdictions, including the Supreme Court of Canada.

According to her law firm's website, she specializes in:

  • Breach of commercial contracts.
  • Representation of banks.
  • Bankruptcy and insolvency.
  • Shareholder disputes.
  • Competition Act
  • Real estate matters including commercial leasing, manufacturer’s liability, class actions.

Previous Quebec appointment controversial

Quebec is constitutionally guaranteed three of the nine seats on the Supreme Court, because its civil law code differs from that of the rest of the country. Candidates must be either judges sitting on the province's Superior Court or lawyers with at least 10 years of experience as current members of the Quebec bar.

In March, Nadon was declared void retroactively, and was deemed to have never been sworn in. 

Nadon was a Federal Court judge at the time of his appointment and did not meet the requirements, prompting a court challenge to his appointment. 

Clément Gascon was named later in the spring to fill the seat after the controversy.

Boivin says the government can now breathe a sigh of relief, but suggested the fight Harper picked with McLachlin over Nadon's attempted appointment will continue to reverberate.

"I think if the government will pay a price for this or always be viewed as the one who tried really hard to attack the integrity of the court, that I think will never be over," she said.