Trudeau nominates Quebec jurist Nicholas Kasirer to the Supreme Court of Canada

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has tapped Quebec lawyer and judge Nicholas Kasirer to fill a pending vacancy on the Supreme Court of Canada, his office said in a statement Wednesday.
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has tapped Quebec judge Nicholas Kasirer to fill a pending vacancy on the Supreme Court of Canada, his office said in a statement Wednesday. (Michel Caron/Université de Sherbrooke)

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has tapped Quebec judge Nicholas Kasirer to fill a pending vacancy on the Supreme Court of Canada, his office said in a statement Wednesday.

"I am happy to announce the nomination of Justice Kasirer to the Supreme Court of Canada. Canada's Supreme Court is respected around the world for its strength, independence, and judicial excellence. With his outstanding legal and academic experience, gained over a distinguished thirty-year career, I know Justice Kasirer will be an asset to our country's highest court," the prime minister said in the statement.

Kasirer, a graduate of McGill University, was a professor at McGill's faculty of law between 1989 and 2009. There he taught classes on the law of obligations, property law, family law, and wills and estates law in both civil and common law.

He served as the dean of the McGill Faculty of Law from 2003 to 2009.

In 2009, the former Conservative government appointed him to serve as a judge on Quebec Court of Appeal, the province's highest court. Kasirer, among Quebec's most respected jurists, was also suggested as a possible Supreme Court pick in 2014 after the top court rejected a different Conservative appointment, Justice Marc Nadon, for a job on the bench.

The co-author of more than a dozen books on legal matters, Kasirer also teaches a seminar for newly appointed federal judges.

Kasirer is poised to replace Justice Clément Gascon as one of three judges from Quebec on the high court. Gascon has said he will retire from his post early in September. Members of the Quebec bar or superior judiciary, by law, must hold three of the nine positions on the Supreme Court.

Trudeau announced a new appointment process for Supreme Court justices in August 2016 with a plan to appoint a non-partisan advisory board — chaired by former Progressive Conservative prime minister Kim Campbell — to help 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.

Until December 2018, Kasirer himself was a member of the federal advisory committee on judicial appointments, according to his application for the Supreme Court, made public Wednesday. He chaired the Quebec-West committee between December 2016 and December 2018.

"Having recently served two years on a judicial appointments committee, I sense that Canadians want judges who are modest of temperament and who, in proposing themselves for public service, see their most significant contribution to the law lying ahead of them rather more than as a trophy on an office shelf," Kasirer wrote.

"My work as a professor and a judge has been anchored in a profoundly-felt passion for Quebec private law, for the sheer beauty of its exposition in the Civil Code, the richness and diversity of its scholarly and judicial sources, as well as its links to Quebec history and to contemporary social fact."

Before Kasirer can take his seat, Justice Minister David Lametti and a representative of the advisory board will appear before a special July 25 meeting of the House of Commons justice committee to explain why Kasirer is the best person for the job.

Then, members of the same House committee — as well as members of the Senate's legal and constitutional affairs committee and representatives of the Bloc Québécois, the Green Party of Canada and the People's Party of Canada — will be invited to take part in a question and answer session with the nominee, which also will be held on July 25. The session will be moderated by a law professor.

While those MPs and senators will be able to question Kasirer on his legal experience and job readiness, his appointment does not depend on a vote by those parliamentarians. In Canada, the appointment of a Supreme Court justice is made by the Governor General on the advice of the prime minister alone.

While principally known for his expertise in private law — the part of the legal system that involves relationships between individuals, such as the law of contracts or torts, rather than between individuals and the state — he said he is very much a "generalist."

"I have written extensively in criminal law, constitutional and administrative law, commercial law, and in cases involving fundamental rights, including the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms," he said.

In his application, Kasirer said he understands some Canadians are concerned about judges that "make law" — known in some circles as judicial activism — but he defended the role of judges in striking down laws and rewriting statutes that violate fundamental freedoms.

"Striking the right balance between these competing calls to caution and to courage is a central challenge in the exercise of judicial responsibility in a constitutional democracy. In my experience, they are not incompatible — there is an immense satisfaction in moving law resolutely forward, but only so far forward as is necessary to solve the problem at hand, leaving the rest for another day," he wrote.


John Paul Tasker

Senior writer

J.P. Tasker is a journalist in CBC's parliamentary bureau who reports for digital, radio and television. He is also a regular panellist on CBC News Network's Power & Politics. He covers the Conservative Party, Canada-U.S. relations, Crown-Indigenous affairs, climate change, health policy and the Senate. You can send story ideas and tips to J.P. at john.tasker@cbc.ca.

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