New Brunswick

Supreme Court should keep Atlantic Canada seat, says retired justice

Michel Bastarache, a retired Supreme Court of Canada justice from New Brunswick, says it would be "a great error" for the federal government not to maintain a seat on the country's highest court for someone from Atlantic Canada.

Michel Bastarache says each part of country has unique characteristics, perspective is important

A former Supreme Court of Canada justice from New Brunswick says it would be "a great error" for the federal government not to maintain a seat on the country's highest court for someone from Atlantic Canada. 1:37

A former Supreme Court of Canada justice from New Brunswick says it would be "a great error" for the federal government not to maintain a seat on the country's highest court for someone from Atlantic Canada.

Michel Bastarache, who retired from the court in 2008 and was replaced by the now-retiring Justice Thomas Cromwell of Nova Scotia, contends the government should respect the tradition of regional representation.

"I think it is very important because this is a very big country and I think there are very special characteristics to the population of each part of the country," said Bastarache.

Atlantic Canada has long been guaranteed one seat on the court, but in August Prime Minister Justin Trudeau announced the application process to become a Supreme Court justice will be open so that any qualified bilingual Canadian lawyer or judge can apply.

Bastarache disagrees with the change and on Monday added his voice to the chorus calling for a seat to be reserved for someone from the East Coast.

"You have to remember the Supreme Court is dealing with all of the major social issues in the country and when you are a judge sitting there, you have to make value judgements, and I think that these are conditioned by your knowledge of the population, of the way of thinking of people in each different region of the country, and that it's important to get the Atlantic perspective," he said.

People who come from that part of the country are the only ones who can really judge in a meaningful way how these decisions are going to impact the population itself.- Michel Bastarache, retired Supreme Court justice

It's not just a symbolic gesture, said Bastarache. It can have a practical affect on the administration of justice.

"As I said, you're making value judgments and in doing that, basically you're looking at the implication of decisions on the population, on really how the social context, how it's going to be affected.

"And in that sense, people who come from that part of the country are the only ones who can really judge in a meaningful way how these decisions are going to impact the population itself," he said.

Bastarache also noted Atlantic Canada is not very well represented in other major institutions because of the size of its population. "So I think you shouldn't shut them out from getting an important voice on the Supreme Court of Canada."

There are many fine jurists right across the country and the Atlantic region has its share to choose from, he added.

​Earlier this week, four Nova Scotia senators sent Trudeau an open letter calling on him to ensure Atlantic Canada holds onto a seat.

Senators James Cowan, Jane Cordy, Terry Mercer and Wilfred Moore said losing that seat "has the potential to undermine the relationship between Atlantic Canada and our federal government."

Members of Parliament from all parties had previously voted unanimously in favour of an opposition motion calling on the government to "respect the custom of regional representation" when making appointments to the country's top court.

With files from Harry Forestell