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Nunavut's 2 vacant judge positions won't be filled until next year

'What we have thought to do over the course of the last two appointments, was to appoint justices in those jurisdictions that were in the greatest need,' says Jody Wilson-Raybould.

Federal minister focused on appointing judges in 'jurisdictions that were in the greatest need'

Federal Justice Minister Jody Wilson-Raybould. 'What we have thought to do over the course of the last two appointments, was to appoint justices in those jurisdictions that were in the greatest need,' she told CBC. (Adrian Wyld/Canadian Press )

Federal Justice Minister Jody Wilson-Raybould knows Nunavut is in need of more judges, but says there were more urgent needs elsewhere in Canada. That's why the territory didn't receive any new judicial appointments this year, she told CBC News in an exclusive interview on the topic.

Last December, former Senior Judge Robert Kilpatrick made a plea to the federal government for more judges, warning that court circuits would be cancelled. This year, the Nunavut Court of Justice cancelled two criminal circuits and cut 16 criminal docket weeks in anticipation of a high workload on its judiciary.

Wilson-Raybould made her first appointments in June, and again last month, promoting a total of 39 judges across six different provinces, plus the Federal Court of Appeal and the Federal Tax Court.

But despite Nunavut's advisory committee meeting in April and submitting names, none were chosen to fill the two vacancies on Nunavut's six-judge bench.

"What we have thought to do over the course of the last two appointments, was to appoint justices in those jurisdictions that were in the greatest need," Wilson-Raybould said, adding her office did an analysis of needs across the country.

"The need is great across the country, but in particular jurisdictions, as reflected by the appointments that were made, we sought to address some of those gaps."

'We're disappointed'

Wilson-Raybould's reasoning is news to the Government of Nunavut's deputy minister of Justice, Bill MacKay.

"In our view the need in Nunavut is pretty high," MacKay said. "We feel [the vacancies] have hindered our ability to administer justice in the territory."

MacKay said he was hopeful Nunavut would get a new judge in the latest round of appointments. Now, the territory will have to wait until the federal government completes its overhaul of the judicial appointments process, meant to make judiciaries more diverse and the process more transparent.

"Certainly we're disappointed," MacKay said. "I assume the [judicial advisory committee] sent some nominations to the minister, and instead of considering those nominations they've decided to hit restart.

"On the other hand, we're willing to engage in the new process and hope that it won't take too long to unfold."

Some good news

Nunavut's stretched judiciary could soon get some relief, though. Wilson-Raybould confirmed she'll be making an announcement about the appointment of deputy judges "in the very near future, if not imminently."

Deputy judges are judges from other jurisdictions who can come up to Nunavut to sit in on matters, allowing the judiciary to work on larger, more complex cases.

Wilson-Raybould also seems to be moving particularly quick on forming Nunavut's new judicial advisory committee, which will serve under the new appointments process. The deadline to apply is today. Wilson-Raybould will pick three applicants to serve on the new seven-member committee.

"Those appointments can be reflective of the diversity of the committee," Wilson-Raybould said.

"The intent of the new process is to be as open and transparent as we can in terms of ensuring as reaching as many people in the country, to ensuring we aren't just going to the traditional pipeline in identifying potential judges."

Wilson-Raybould didn't have a timeline on when Nunavut could have a new judge. The territory's last appointment came in June 2015, when Justice Paul Bychok was brought out of retirement to serve.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Nick Murray

Reporter

Nick Murray is a CBC News reporter, based in Iqaluit since 2015. He specializes in investigative reporting and access to information legislation. A graduate from St. Thomas University's journalism program, he's also covered four Olympic Games as a senior writer with CBC Sports.

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