Top court nominee Justice Nicholas Kasirer says he has what it takes to join the SCC
Justice minister says he took steps to ensure confidentiality of potential nominees after previous leak
Supreme Court of Canada nominee Justice Nicholas Kasirer said today he's ideally suited to take a seat on Canada's top court because he loves being a judge and has the skills for the job — and it's the perfect time in his personal life to make the leap.
Kasirer made the comments this afternoon as he was questioned by MPs and senators on his nomination. Earlier in the day, Attorney General David Lametti and former prime minister Kim Campbell were questioned by MPs about both Kasirer's nomination and the leaking of a 2017 nominee's name.
"I love my work," Kasirer said.
"In reviewing the aptitudes identified by government, beyond those imposed by law, I felt that my ten years of experience at the court and my life at the university, my interest in civil law, were aspects that might be of interest to the prime minister."
Kasirer, a Quebec Court of Appeal judge who was nominated July 10 to the top court, told MPs on the justice committee, senators on the Senate legal affairs committee and MPs from the Bloc Quebecois, the Green Party and the People's Party of Canada that it's also the perfect time for him to take the job.
"It's a good time for my family to undertake this," he said. "I have three children at university. My partner (is) an artist and has worked in Ottawa before, and that weighed quite heavily in my choice."
Kasirer was nominated to Canada's top court through the new appointment process for Supreme Court justices announced by Prime Minister Justin Trudeau in August 2016.
A non-partisan advisory board — chaired by Campbell — helps identify potential jurists "of the highest calibre" who are functionally bilingual and ready to serve on the Supreme Court.
The board prepares a non-binding short list for the justice minister and the prime minister to review before a final selection is made.
Making 'space' for Indigenous legal traditions
Kasirer said his personality was shaped by growing up in a tightly knit and supportive family that remained close despite the death of his parents. He said the values he learned from his father — a medical doctor with a specific interest in front-line health care delivery — helped to shape his outlook and sense of justice.
Throughout his life, he said, he was fortunate to have a string of strong dedicated mentors to help him along the way in his career.
Asked how he would incorporate Indigenous legal traditions into his work on the Supreme Court, Kasirer said Canada's top court already has allowed for the impact of First Nations legal orders.
"It's not controversial to say that Indigenous legal traditions, and of course there are multiple traditions — that's law. And the Supreme Court has said that, for example, in understanding aboriginal title, space must be made for that," he said.
A call for more diversity
Earlier in the day, In her opening remarks before the committee, Campbell said there were 12 candidates for this most recent vacancy on the top court, and only one was a woman. There were no Indigenous candidates for the post.
Campbell said committee members wanted to see a more diverse selection of candidates going forward, although she said the calibre of the potential nominees was "outstanding."
Campbell suggested that, rather than opening applications whenever a vacancy pops up, federal officials could have ongoing discussions with the judiciary and the wider legal community about the need for the Supreme Court to encourage more people to apply, particularly women and minorities.
"If this were an ongoing conversation, as opposed to something that we scramble to do just in the face of an imminent departure from the court and the need to recruit a new candidate, I think this might be something that could broaden the scope of the candidates," Campbell said by video conference from B.C.
She also said that some of the people who applied for the nomination the first two times she chaired the committee were legally qualified to hold the post — but were rejected because they did not meet the bilingualism requirement. This time, Campbell said, all 12 candidates met the bilingualism requirement.
Privacy measures taken
Lametti said that, given the concerns that "have rightly been raised" about improper disclosures during the 2017 selection process, he took steps to ensure the selection process remained confidential this time.
Lametti was referring to Mar. 25 reports by CTV and The Canadian Press which revealed that Prime Minister Trudeau and then-justice minister Jody Wilson-Raybould were at odds in 2017 over whether Manitoba Superior Court Chief Justice Glenn Joyal should be appointed to the Supreme Court.
The CP story that revealed Joyal's name said sources spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to talk about internal discussions regarding a Supreme Court appointment, which typically are considered highly confidential.
The story said Joyal's views on the Charter of Rights issues led to "significant disagreement" between the prime minister and the justice minister. Trudeau's office and Wilson-Raybould denied being the source of the leaks.
Complying with privacy investigation
"The disclosure of confidential information regarding candidates for judicial appointments is unacceptable," Lametti said today. "I want to stress that I took strict measures to ensure that confidentiality was respected."
Lametti said members of the advisory board had to sign a confidentiality agreement prior to their appointment.
Under questioning by Conservative MP Lisa Raitt, Campbell said that the Joyal leak did not come from her committee. Members of the committee used securely controlled tables and left documents in a locked meeting room and she and other members were very careful to ensure confidentiality was respected, she said.
Lametti said his office would comply fully with the privacy commissioner's ongoing investigation into the source of the leak.
A motion put forward by Raitt calling on the committee to investigate the Joyal leak was defeated by the committee's Liberal majority in a vote.
- All 12 candidates for this Supreme Court of Canada vacancy met the bilingualism. An earlier version of this story contained incorrect information.Jul 25, 2019 2:31 PM ET
With files from The Canadian Press