Manitoba

Supreme Court justices grilled by high school students in Winnipeg

Supreme Court justices were on the hot seat Monday, facing a barrage of tough questions from Winnipeg high school students on issues ranging from First Nations land claims to the essence of legality and morality.

Court hearing cases outside of Ottawa for first time in 144-year history

Supreme Court of Canada Justice Russell Brown, right, answers a student question at Miles Macdonell Collegiate in Winnipeg on Monday, joined on stage by Manitoba Court of Appeals Justice William J. Burnett. (Trevor Brine/CBC)

Supreme Court justices were on the hot seat Monday, facing a barrage of tough questions from Winnipeg high school students on issues ranging from First Nations land claims to the essence of legality and morality.

At Miles Macdonell Collegiate — one of nine schools that got visits from a justice Monday — an auditorium full of teens grilled Justice Russell Brown, joined by Manitoba Court of Appeals Justice William J. Burnett.

"Are we getting any softballs this afternoon?" Brown joked, after a student stepped forward with a question about consensus and conflict between Supreme Court justices.

The nine Supreme Court justices are in Winnipeg this week to meet with the public and hear two cases; the first time in the court's 144-year history justices will hear a case outside of Ottawa.

Each justice also visited a Winnipeg high school on Monday. 

Sabiha Imtiaz, left, Lochlan Lubinski, centre, and Sara Mueller, right, are all 16-year-old Grade 11 students at Miles Macdonell Collegiate who helped organize the visit. (Trevor Brine/CBC)

"It was incredible. I was really surprised and really shocked," said Sara Mueller, 16. The Grade 11 student at Miles Mac helped organize Brown's visit.

"They haven't left [in] 144 years, and now they're coming here? Crazy."

Mueller said she's considering law as a career, and wants to see an overhaul of the family law system.

"Honestly, I just want everybody else in our school to have a good experience," said fellow organizer Lochlan Lubinski, 16. "That's what I want the bottom line to be: I want everybody to learn at least one thing today."

The Winnipeg visit is part of an effort to make the Supreme Court more accessible to Canadians. Supreme Court Chief Justice Richard Wagner told reporters on Monday morning he insisted on visiting high school students to engage the younger generation. The justices will also meet with First Nations, Métis and French leaders. 

Ahead of the Q&A at Children Of The Earth High School, Grade 9 student Cornelius Kakegaemic said he'd like to see an Indigenous justice.

Supreme Court of Canada Chief Justice Richard Wagner talks to reporters Monday in Winnipeg. (Angela Johnston/CBC)

"It would be pretty cool if a First Nations person could make it up to Supreme [Court] judge," the 14-year-old said. "We're all equal, right? So why not have a First Nations person up there?"

Wagner told reporters earlier he'd welcome more diversity.

"It's a question of respect. I think that Canadian people should see themselves in their courts and in the Supreme Court. If only for that reason, I would hope that one day we would be able to sit with a colleague of Indigenous origins," he said.

In its history, the court has had 79 male and 10 female justices. It has never had an Indigenous justice.

Students at Children Of The Earth High School listen during a Q&A with Supreme Court of Canada Justice Andromache Karakatsanis on Monday. (Lyzaville Sale/CBC)

Children Of The Earth Grade 9 student Crystal Garson, 14, said she hoped to ask Justice Andromache Karakatsanis about the court's thoughts on missing and murdered Indigenous women and girls. 

Karakatsanis later said the students asked excellent questions.

"I think they probably will think a little bit more carefully next time they hear about the Supreme Court of Canada or about a case or about law. I hope I sparked an interest," she said.

"They've clearly done a great deal of thinking about it."

For the first time in its 144-year history, the Supreme Court of Canada will hear two cases outside of Ottawa this week, and it will happen in Winnipeg. 2:12

With files from Karen Pauls and Angela Johnston