Hamilton judge who wore Trump hat no longer allowed to hear cases

Ontario Justice Bernd Zabel, who caused controversy by wearing a hat bearing the words 'Make America Great Again' in court after Donald Trump's election, is no longer allowed to hear cases.

Justice Bernd Zabel's future on the bench remains uncertain

Donald Trump's 'Make America Great Again' line was front and centre en route to his U.S. presidential election win in November. A Hamilton judge who wore a hat bearing those words is now no longer allowed to hear cases. (Jae C. Hong/Associated Press)

A Canadian judge who wore a "Make America Great Again" hat in court is no longer allowed to hear cases.

On Nov. 9, the day after Donald Trump won the U.S. presidential election, Justice Bernd Zabel walked into a Hamilton courtroom wearing the red cap bearing Trump's campaign slogan. Zabel then removed it and placed it on the bench in front of him, the Globe and Mail reported. The judge returned with it after the morning break.

Kate Andrew, a spokeswoman for the Ontario Court of Justice, confirmed "Justice Zabel stopped being assigned to preside in court December 21, 2016," but could not elaborate about Zabel's future as a judge or whether his suspension is tied to the Trump hat incident.

Ward 3 Coun. Matthew Green said at the time that he wanted to see a judicial conduct review of Zabel's actions. 

About a week after the incident, the Hamilton Spectator reported that Zabel apologized in court, saying, "I wish to apologize for my misguided attempt to mark a moment in history by humour in the courtroom following the surprising result in the United States election."

"His apology does not give him impunity from the remainder of the process," Green told CBC News at the time.

The Toronto Star reported that Zabel, shortly after the incident, said, "Brief appearance with the hat. Pissed off the rest of the judges because they all voted for Hillary so ..."

"I was the only Trump supporter up there, but that's OK."

A number of Zabel's critics have said these remarks undermine his apology and explanation that the hat was meant to be humorous.

Zabel's behaviour was also condemned by Gus Van Harten, an Osgoode Hall law professor, who called it "childish" and "clearly unbecoming" of a judge.

Furthermore, University of Windsor law professor David Tanovich told CBC that Zabel's remarks clearly amount to "an explicit political statement."

"We are also filing a supplementary complaint to highlight that his in-court Nov. 9 statement is compelling evidence that he wore the Trump hat as a political statement and endorsement of Trump's values and ideology," Tanovich said in an email.

The Canadian Judicial Council's website reads, "Judges should strive to conduct themselves in a way that will sustain and contribute to public respect and confidence in their integrity, impartiality and good judgment."

Zabel is not the only person in Hamilton to draw negative attention involving "MAGA" while conducting official business.

David Serwatuk, a member of Hamilton city council's Committee of Adjustment had the Trump hat on the table in front of him during a meeting on Nov. 17. The action drew criticism from Hamilton Mayor Fred Eisenberger, among others, who said it was an inappropriate setting for "any kind of political posturing." Serwatuk later apologized.


To encourage thoughtful and respectful conversations, first and last names will appear with each submission to CBC/Radio-Canada's online communities (except in children and youth-oriented communities). Pseudonyms will no longer be permitted.

By submitting a comment, you accept that CBC has the right to reproduce and publish that comment in whole or in part, in any manner CBC chooses. Please note that CBC does not endorse the opinions expressed in comments. Comments on this story are moderated according to our Submission Guidelines. Comments are welcome while open. We reserve the right to close comments at any time.

Become a CBC Member

Join the conversation  Create account

Already have an account?