Beverley McLachlin says she's moved on from spat with Harper, MacKay

Canada's top justice says she is not concerned that a recent spat with Prime Minister Stephen Harper and Justice Minister Peter MacKay has eroded the respect of politicians for the courts.

Chief justice says it's not uncommon to have 'tensions' between branches of government

Chief justice moves on from PMO spat LIVE

8 years ago
Duration 14:40
Chief Justice Beverley McLachlin tells media at the Canadian Bar Association conference tensions are bound to arise between courts and government.

Canada's top justice says she is not concerned that a recent spat with Prime Minister Stephen Harper and Justice
Minister Peter MacKay has eroded the respect of politicians for the courts.

Beverley McLachlin, chief justice of the Supreme Court, said Thursday it's not uncommon to have occasional tension.

"I think there is a lot of respect out there, personally," McLachlin told reporters in St. John's, where she addressed a meeting of the Canadian Bar Association.

"We have a job to do in our court and we will continue to do it to the best of our ability. ... There's always going to be tensions here and there, but it is part of the process."

Earlier this year, Harper and MacKay suggested McLachlin had behaved inappropriately by trying to flag potential problems with the proposed appointment of Federal Court Judge Marc Nadon to the country's highest court.

A court challenge of the appointment resulted in a ruling that Nadon didn't meet the specific criteria for Quebec judges laid out in the Supreme Court Act. Justice Clement Gascon was later appointed in his place.

The public criticism prompted a rare statement from McLachlin saying she had not tried to weigh in on Nadon's appointment, only to point out potential problems.

During her speech Thursday, McLachlin drew laughter from members of the bar association when she noted that a new member had been sworn in to the court. "I'm sure you're aware of all of this," she said.

Jurists call for apology goes unanswered

McLachlin told reporters that she's ready to get on with the business of the court, despite unanswered calls from the International Commission of Jurists for Harper to retract his comments and for Harper and MacKay to apologize.

"I'm not going to comment on that, I have said what I have to say on that subject and at this point I think the important thing is to turn the page and get on with the important business of our court," she said.

The Geneva-based group of judges and lawyers was asked to looked into the government's comments in a letter of concern from Canadian lawyers and academics. The ICJ said in response McLachlin's integrity has been impugned by the public criticism from the government.

"The criticism was not well founded and amounted to an encroachment upon the independence of the judiciary and integrity of the chief justice," the commission said in a written opinion.

Harper's director of communications said last month the Prime Minister's Office had seen the letter but had nothing to add. MacKay's office also had no comment.

Bar association president Fred Headon said there are lingering concerns that comments made by Harper and MacKay have hurt the confidence of Canadians in the judicial system.

"Anything that undermines confidence can have a very corrosive effect on democracy," he said.

Pending vacancy

The International Commission of Jurists has also urged the government to rethink the process of appointing judges, calling for an "open process with prescribed criteria based on merit and integrity and without discrimination."

There will be another Quebec vacancy on the Supreme Court to fill later this year when Justice Louis LeBel retires after nearly 15 years on the high court.

McLachlin said she's hopeful his replacement will have expertise similar to LeBel, though she declined to comment on the appointment process.

"The Constitution places this in the government's, the prime minister's, hands," she said.

"It is for them to devise a process that they feel comfortable with."