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Canadian Judicial Council dismisses complaint about the participation of Chief Justices in finding solutions to delays in the criminal justice system

Ottawa, 8 June 2017 – The Canadian Judicial Council announced today that it had reviewed and disposed of a complaint directed at two members of Council. That complaint related to public interventions made by Chief Justices in respect of possible amendments to the Criminal Code that could result in a more efficient justice system.

In February 2017, the Council received an anonymous complaint naming the Honourable Richard Chartier, Chief Justice of Manitoba and the Honourable Glenn Joyal, Chief Justice of the Court of Queen’s Bench of Manitoba.

The complaint followed media coverage of proposals to eliminate preliminary inquiries in criminal trials.

Media reports noted that the Chief Justices had held discussions with the Attorney General for Manitoba and presented a unified position to the Federal Minister of Justice. The complaint alleged that by working with the government, the Chief Justices contravened the principle of judicial independence and became involved in political discussions. The complainant suggested that by publicly expressing their views, the Chief Justices compromised their impartiality and potentially affected their ability to preside over future Charter challenges in this area.

The complaint was reviewed by the Honourable Michael MacDonald, Chief Justice of Nova Scotia and Chairperson of the Judicial Conduct Committee, in accordance with Council’s Review Procedure. In disposing of the complaint, Chief Justice MacDonald notes that ongoing dialogue between the judiciary and the executive is necessary to improve the administration of justice. Chief Justices, in particular, are expected to comment on matters directly affecting the operation of their courts, and to provide the public with information on the administration of justice. This is in keeping with Ethical Principles for Judges and with the public’s expectations that judges, as well as all participants in the justice system, will devote serious efforts at improving efficiency in all our courts of justice.

While the idea of eliminating preliminary inquiries is not universally supported, it is worthy of debate by all participants in the justice system. Chief Justices Chartier and Joyal can be commended for their efforts at encouraging such a debate. Chief Justice MacDonald, after reviewing all available information in this matter, found that the allegations were without merit; accordingly, he dismissed the complaint.

As the matter involved Council members, an additional step was followed. The complaint and the proposed disposition of the matter was referred to an outside lawyer, Mr Gavin MacKenzie, of MacKenzie Barristers in Toronto. After considering all available information, Mr MacKenzie expressed his agreement with Chief Justice MacDonald’s decision and reasons for dismissing the complaint.

For ease of reference, we are sharing the complaint and the letter dismissing the complaint.

Contact:
Norman Sabourin
Executive Director and Senior General Counsel
(613) 288-1566 ext 313