Politics

Justice minister accidentally tweets that one of his campaign donors will become a judge

Officially, Justice Minister David Lametti appointed five new judges across the country this week. On Twitter, however, Lametti announced three additional appointments — including that of Montreal lawyer Daniel Urbas to Quebec’s Superior Court.

David Lametti's office says the Twitter announcement was sent in error

Justice Minister David Lametti responds to a question in the House of Commons Tuesday, October 20, 2020 in Ottawa. (Adrian Wyld/The Canadian Press)

Officially, Justice Minister David Lametti appointed five new judges across the country this week.

On Twitter, however, Lametti announced three additional appointments — including that of Montreal lawyer Daniel Urbas to Quebec's Superior Court.

The tweets were subsequently deleted. The minister's office says they were posted by mistake by the civil servants managing the account.

In fact, Urbas — who has made political donations to Lametti in the past — has not completed the judicial appointment process.

"These tweets were removed and we have contacted those mentioned to apologize for this very unfortunate error and the inconvenience that this may have caused," said David Taylor, a spokesperson for Lametti.

Political donations

On his website, Urbas describes himself as a litigator, arbitrator and mediator with over 25 years of experience in dispute resolution. He could not be reached for comment.

Lametti and Urbas are both graduates of McGill University's law school.

In 2014, Urbas contributed $1,200 to Lametti's campaign for the Liberal nomination in the riding of LaSalle-Émard-Verdun.

The following year, Urbas made a donation of $1,000 to the federal Liberal association of LaSalle-Émard-Verdun, according to data compiled by Elections Canada.

Lametti won the Liberal nomination and entered the House of Commons in 2015. He became justice minister and attorney general in 2019, replacing Jody Wilson-Raybould.

The appointment of Urbas to the bench would have been the second judicial appointment of an individual who donated money to Lametti's nomination contest.

Last year, Lametti appointed lawyer Philippe Bélanger to the Quebec Superior Court. In 2014 and 2015, Bélanger contributed $1,400 to Lametti's nomination campaign and another $1,500 in 2018 to the Liberal riding association of LaSalle-Émard-Verdun.

'More help for Liberal insiders'

According to the Conservative Party, Urbas' appointment would have been a clear case of favouritism.

"It's clear that Liberal Justice Minister David Lametti is in the process of giving a judicial appointment to a campaign donor, making this the second time that this justice minister has given a judicial appointment to one of his campaign donors," said Conservative MP Michael Barrett in a media statement.

"This is what Canadians can expect with the Trudeau Liberals: more scandals, more help for Liberal insiders, more of the same."

In a statement last year, Lametti said he had raised proactively the question of Bélanger's appointment with the Office of the Conflict of Interest and Ethics Commissioner.

The commissioner subsequently concluded that Lametti did not need to recuse himself from the appointment.

Defining a 'friendship' under ethics law

In an interview with Radio-Canada, Ethics Commissioner Mario Dion said that the question was whether Lametti and Bélanger were "friends" under Canada's ethics laws.

"For there to be a conflict of interest, you have to be involved in a decision that involves a relative or a friend," Dion said. "Making a donation to a political party, or even to a particular riding association, is not at all an indication of friendship."

Conflict of Interest and Ethics Commissioner Mario Dion. (Adrian Wyld/Canadian Press)

As part of the judicial appointment process, federal officials check to see whether the candidates are donors to or supporters of the Liberal Party of Canada or other political parties.

To do this, government employees consult the Liberal Party's private database, known as Liberalist, which contains detailed information on any interactions a candidate may have had with the party.

The opposition has criticized this practice, saying it can be used to identify and reward friends of the party.

The government, on the other hand, says these checks are done after a candidate already has been chosen for a judicial appointment. The goal, says the government, is to be prepared to face questions in the event of controversy over an appointment.

Lametti has insisted repeatedly that judicial appointments are made on merit, with a wider goal of increasing diversity on the bench.

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