Remove Toews from the bench for conflicts of interest, say ethics experts

Manitoba Justice Vic Toews was found guilty of breaking federal conflict of interest rules by working for two Manitoba First Nations after leaving politics.

Former MP's work as lobbyist for two First Nations violated federal rules, they say

Justice Vic Toews work following politics prompted complaints of a conflict of interest. (CBC News )

There are calls for Queens Bench Justice Vic Toews to be removed from the bench for violating federal conflict of interest rules.

Canada's ethics commissioner has found that the former Conservative cabinet minister broke the rules by doing consulting work for two Manitoba First Nations after he left office. Toews also breached rules requiring a two-year cooling off period for acting as a consultant to the Norway House Cree Nation through a company owned by his wife.

Toews was also found guilty in 2005 of violating Manitoba's Elections Act.

The complaint to the Ethics Commissioner was made in March 2015 after a CBC News investigation.

Removed from the bench?

Toews retired from federal politics in July 2013. He served as Minister of Justice, president of the Treasury Board and Minister of Public Safety in several Conservative cabinets. He worked as a lobbyist and consultant in 2013.

He was appointed to the Manitoba Court of Queens Bench in March of 2014. 

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Democracy-Watch founder Duff Conacher says Toews' conduct should earn him dismissal from the bench. (CBC News )
Duff Conacher, co-founder of Democracy Watch and visiting professor at the University of Ottawa, says Toews' activities following his political career and the Ethics Commissioner's decision should prompt an investigation by the Canadian Judicial Council — and Toews should lose his judgeship.

"These are fundamental good governance rules that Vic Toews has violated and … as a result I think the Canadian Judicial Council should be examining his activities and I think this is grounds to have him dismissed as a judge," Conacher says.

Conacher said unless Toews is removed from the bench, the only penalty he will pay is in the court of public opinion. The violations under federal conflict of interest rules are not criminal and carry no fines.

"There is no penalty. He will continue to receive his full pension and his severance as a minister when he left office remains intact. Which is too weak a penalty — to be reported to have violated the law — to discourage people from violating the law," Conacher says.

Conacher's view is shared by University of Manitoba ethics professor Arthur Schafer. 

Ethics professor Arthur Schafer says Toews showed 'poor judgment' and a 'lack of respect for the law.' (CBC News)
"The rules of the Conflict of Interest Act as they pertain to Mr. Toews are so clear that even a first-year law student wouldn't be in any doubt that what Mr. Toews did was prohibited," Schafer  says.

Schafer calls Toews conduct "highly questionable" and said that Manitobans will likely ask whether "someone with such poor judgment" should sit as a judge.

Martin 'gratified'

Former Winnipeg Centre MP Pat Martin filed the complaint, and said he was "gratified that the ethics commissioner stuck with this, for a number of years." 

Toews's conduct  "doesn't stand up to any ethics standards, especially for a lawyer, a former justice minister and a judge," Martin said Friday. "In my view, a judge has to be held to the highest ethical standard." 
Former NDP MP Pat Martin filed the complaint against Toews.

Martin said now, there should be a review into how Toews made it to the bench. 

"I think there has to be consequences when the ethics commissioner finds you violated the conflict of interest codes as a public office holder," Martin said. "I think at the very least, Mr. Toews should recuse himself until there can be an inquiry as to his suitability to sit on the bench."

In 2007, Toews approved the transfer of the Kapyong Barracks land, a portion of Canadian Forces Base Winnipeg, to the Canada Lands Company.

That decision was challenged in court by several First Nations, including the Peguis First Nation, and Toews was named a respondent in the legal proceedings.

Vic Toews met with Peguis lawyer about Kapyong settlement: Court documents

9 years ago
Duration 3:08
Within months of leaving cabinet, former treasury board president Vic Toews met with with a lawyer representing Peguis First Nation on several occasions regarding a settlement of the Kapyong lands, according to court documents.

The Federal Court ruled in 2012 that the government had failed to adequately consult First Nations, and set aside the transfer. Toews subsequently acted on behalf of the Peguis First Nation by providing strategic advice to their legal counsel, and by meeting with municipal and provincial officials on the Kapyong file.

Asked for comment Friday, Peguis First Nation Chief Glenn Hudson said "Jeff Rath hired Vic Toews, not Peguis."

The conduct of judges in Canada is the responsibility of the Canadian Judicial Council.

CBC News asked the council for what the complaint procedure is for a sitting judge and was given a written response.

"Council's complaints procedures allow that 'The executive director may review any matter involving the conduct of a superior court judge that comes to his attention.' We may have more to say in the coming days," wrote Johanna Laporte, director of communications for the Canadian Judicial Council.

CBC News has asked for comment from Justice Vic Toews and Manitoba Chief Justice Glenn Joyal. A justice official said neither could be reached for comment on Friday.

Rules governing the conduct of judges also allow Manitoba's Attorney General to file a complaint to the CJC.

A spokesperson for Justice Minister and Attorney General Heather Stefanson said in a statement that requesting an inquiry into judicial conduct of a superior court judge would be an "extraordinarily rare action for a provincial attorney general."

"Our government will review the findings of the federal ethics commissioner and consider if there is an effect on the administration of justice in Manitoba," the statement said.

A spokesperson for the federal Minister of Justice Jody Wilson-Raybould said her office would need to read the report before commenting. 


Sean Kavanagh

Former CBC reporter

Sean Kavanagh was a reporter for CBC Manitoba from 2003-21. He covered some of the seminal events in Manitoba, from floods to elections.