New Brunswick

Chief justice moves 2 judges in wake of Bill 21 failing to pass

Just days after the controversial Bill 21 failed to pass the New Brunswick Legislature, the senior judge fighting the legislation has used his power to relocate two other judges.

One judge moved to Moncton, the other to Woodstock

The Fredericton court house, justice centre. (CBC)

Just days after controversial Bill 21 failed to pass the New Brunswick Legislature, the senior judge fighting the legislation has used his power to relocate two other judges sitting in the court.

Justice Tracey DeWare has been transferred from Woodstock to Moncton. (Stewart McKelvey)
Chief Justice David Smith of the Court of Queen's Bench confirmed Tuesday that he has moved Justice Richard Petrie from Saint John to Woodstock and Justice Tracey DeWare from Woodstock to Moncton.

The transfers were effective July 9, one day after the legislature adjourned without passing a Liberal bill that would force Smith to get approval from the justice minister for such moves.

In an email to CBC News, Smith's executive secretary Marie-France Durelle, wrote that Petrie was moved "pursuant to his request" last December and DeWare was moved "pursuant to her request" in October 2012.
Justice Richard Petrie is moving from Saint John to Woodstock. (Stewart McElvey)

Petrie is originally from Fredericton and DeWare is originally from Moncton. Both justices were appointed by the previous Conservative government of Stephen Harper.

DeWare replaces Justice Brigitte Robichaud, who moved to supernumerary status, essentially a part-time role as a judge, on July 9.

Business as usual

Progressive Conservative MLA Ted Flemming, who fought Bill 21 in the legislature, said Smith's moves were completely normal.

"It's just the chief justice doing what he does, in consultation with his justices, without interference from government."

Flemming said there wasn't anything suspicious about Smith making the transfers the day after the legislature broke for the summer, though he said Smith would have been criticized for doing it before it was clear Bill 21 wouldn't pass.

"With the death of Bill 21, it's business as usual," Flemming said. "It's the judicial branch of government doing their business as they always have. So it's a kind of non-story story."

Court of Queen's Bench Chief Justice David Smith has transferred 2 more judges after Bill 21 failed to pass in the New Brunswick Legislature. Prior to this, he had moved 13 judges since becoming chief justice in 1998. (Acadia University)
Smith went public in February with his objection to Bill 21, saying giving the justice minister a veto over his power to move judges amounted to violating the independence of the courts.

He has hinted that he may go to court to block the legislation if it passes.

The Liberals did not include the bill on a list of legislation subject to time allocation in the final week of the legislature, a procedural move that shortened debate and forced bills on the list to a vote by July 8.

They say they will bring Bill 21 back in the next session.

Theory disproved

In May, Liberal cabinet minister Donald Arseneault suggested Smith was planning to move a former PC minister, Marie-Claude Blais, now a Court of Queen's Bench justice in Saint John.

"He's been moving a lot of people around," Arseneault said at the time. "Who's probably next? Who's looking to go to Moncton? One that just got named in Saint John, Marie-Claude Blais."

But Smith's transfer of DeWare disproves that theory.

Flemming, meanwhile, speculated during a debate in the legislature that the Liberal legislation "smacks of somebody wanting to be a judge and wanting to decide where they want to live" without Smith being able to transfer them.

And NDP leader Dominic Cardy implied during a CBC political panel that the Liberals were trying to protect a political friend, already sitting as a judge, from being moved by Smith.

"That person may wish to avoid being posted to, or avoid being re-posted to, somewhere," said Cardy.

The justice department didn't respond Tuesday to a request for a comment on Smith's two transfers and whether minister Denis Landry would have vetoed them if Bill 21 had passed.