Keep Atlantic representation on top court, says Canadian Bar Association

The head of the group representing Canada's lawyers is calling on the federal government to continue to ensure all regions of the country, including Atlantic Canada, are represented on the Supreme Court of Canada.

Liberals urged to amend proposed changes to selection process for Supreme Court

The Liberal government's proposed changes to the way Supreme Court justices are selected do not guarantee having at least one representative from Atlantic Canada. (Adrian Wyld/Canadian Press)

The head of the group representing Canada's lawyers is calling on the federal government to continue to ensure all regions of the country, including Atlantic Canada, are represented on the Supreme Court of Canada.

Janet Fuhrer, the president of the 36,000-member Canadian Bar Association, said in a letter Wednesday to Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and Justice Minister Jody Wilson-Raybould that the Supreme Court should embrace all aspects of Canada's diversity.

"Our highest court must continue to represent all regions of Canada, including Atlantic Canada," wrote Fuhrer.

"Consequently, we urge you to amend the mandate of the advisory board outlined in your Aug. 4, 2016, letter, to ensure that the Atlantic Canada vacancy is filled by a meritorious candidate from that region."

The association's comments come following Trudeau's announcement last week of changes to the process for applying to the top court.

Those changes included opening the process so any qualified Canadian lawyer or judge who is functionally bilingual and "representative of the diversity of our great country" can apply.
Supreme Court Justice Thomas Cromwell, a Nova Scotian and the only justice hailing from the Atlantic provinces, will retire in September. (Philippe Landreville/Supreme Court of Canada Collection)

But absent was any assurance that the advisory board recommending candidates would continue with the long-standing custom of ensuring Atlantic Canada would have at least one member on the top court.

Justice Thomas Cromwell, a Nova Scotian and the only justice hailing from the Atlantic provinces, will retire from the bench in September.

The Prime Minister's Office confirmed that there is no guarantee that Cromwell's seat will go to someone from the region, though Wilson-Raybould said during an interview with CBC's Power & Politics that regional representation will be kept in mind during the selection process.

Atlantic leaders disappointed

Political leaders in Atlantic Canada have questioned the lack of commitment to representation, with both Nova Scotia Premier Stephen McNeil and Newfoundland and Labrador Justice Minister Andrew Parsons expressing their disappointment.

Conservative MP Lisa Raitt, a native Cape Bretoner, said the Liberals were treating the region like a "backwater."

Wilson-Raybould is scheduled to appear in Ottawa before the standing committee on justice and human rights Thursday to discuss the new process for selecting Supreme Court justices.

Corrections

  • An earlier version of this story said that the Canadian Bar Association represented judges and lawyers. In fact, it does not represent judges. It is a professional organization for lawyers.
    Aug 11, 2016 11:02 AM ET