Supreme Court docket Chief Justice Richard Wagner had a ringside seat when the U.S. Supreme Court docket descended into disaster final month.
Wagner was on an official go to to Washington, D.C., when a draft majority resolution that would overturn American abortion legal guidelines was leaked to the media, setting off a political storm that also rages south of the border.
“It was catastrophic,” he mentioned in French throughout an interview with Radio-Canada.
“It makes you suppose that there’s nothing sacred in some nations and that an establishment will be weakened in a short time.”
Wagner mentioned that, given the much less polarized nature of the Canadian bench, he would not suppose the same leak would happen inside his court docket — however he argued this occasion demonstrates the fragility of judicial independence.
“Identical to belief. It takes years and years to get individuals to belief establishments, and it takes a single occasion to destroy that belief,” he mentioned from his workplace in Ottawa.
The necessity to preserve and construct that belief is one motive why the Supreme Court docket is ramping up a marketing campaign to elucidate its function in Canada’s democracy to Canadians.
Wagner, who has been on the Supreme Court docket since 2012 and has served as chief justice since 2017, mentioned current international political occasions — just like the Jan. 6, 2021 revolt try in Washington, D.C. — ought to function a warning to Canadians.
“We will by no means say to ourselves, ‘We’ve got judicial independence, we’re in Canada, every little thing is ok, we now have respect for the establishments.’ No, we now have to be looking out,” he mentioned.
“And as quickly as an incident happens that may assault judicial independence, we should react, we should denounce.”
As a part of its outreach marketing campaign, the court docket now publishes plain-language variations of its selections and not too long ago began an Instagram account.
The court docket additionally has began holding hearings exterior of Ottawa. Supreme Court docket justices heard a case in Winnipeg again in 2019. They will hear two instances in Quebec Metropolis in September. Whereas in Quebec, the 9 judges are anticipated to host a free public occasion to reply questions in regards to the function of the court docket.
Wagner mentioned misinformation about Canada’s authorized system was on show this previous winter when protesters gathered in Ottawa for almost a month to struggle COVID-19 restrictions.
Some protesters cited the “First Modification” — which protects freedom of expression in the USA — to assert rights in Canada, he mentioned.
“I’ve all the time mentioned that the rationale for prejudice is a lack of awareness. So the extra info we give individuals, the higher they’ll be capable to type an thought,” Wagner mentioned.
“It is not for judges, judicial independence. It is for residents. That is to make sure that residents perceive that after they come earlier than the courts, they’ll have entry to an neutral and impartial decide whose resolution is not going to depend upon an occult affect.”
Courts beneath assault across the globe
Vanessa MacDonnell, a regulation professor on the College of Ottawa, mentioned authorized programs are beneath assault world wide.
She mentioned Conservatives in the UK have criticized judges’ energy to interpret the Human Rights Act, including it is a part of a sample of “political assaults” towards the courts in that nation.
In 2020, Polish President Andrzej Duda signed into regulation a widely-criticized piece of laws that provides politicians the facility to fantastic and hearth judges whose actions and selections they think about dangerous. Human rights advocates additionally have expressed concern lately about strikes by the Hungarian authorities to restrict judicial independence.
Canadian establishments aren’t immune from assault both, MacDonnell mentioned.
The controversy over Conservative Social gathering management candidate Pierre Poilievre’s vow to fireplace the Financial institution of Canada governor has dominated that management race.
“It solely is sensible that the chief justice of a Supreme Court docket, seeing what is going on elsewhere on the earth and the way shortly the state of affairs can deteriorate, decides that this is a matter to be confronted sooner [rather] than later, proactively fairly than reactively,” MacDonnell mentioned.
Conservative Sen. Claude Carignan, a lawyer who follows authorized points intently, mentioned political occasions in the USA usually have repercussions in Canada. He mentioned he typically hears individuals complicated the function of the Canadian Senate with that of its American counterpart.
“We’re invaded by the discourse of what’s taking place in the USA in our varied media,” he mentioned.
“I believe the Supreme Court docket [of Canada] is correct to need to set up, by way of a sure communication plan, that there are variations with the Supreme Court docket of the USA and that when one sits on the Supreme Court docket of Canada, we’re not there to signify a motion of proper or left, or of purple or blue, however we’re there to evaluate the deserves of the judgment in response to present legal guidelines.”
Openness comes with dangers, knowledgeable warns
Guillaume Rousseau, a professor of regulation on the College of Sherbrooke, mentioned he applauds the trouble lately to make the Supreme Court docket extra accessible. He additionally warned that this method comes with dangers.
Rousseau, who suggested the federal government of Quebec on its controversial secularism regulation, mentioned the justices’ go to to Quebec Metropolis will coincide with the provincial election.
Whereas in Quebec, the Supreme Court docket justices will likely be listening to a case involving a dispute between the federal authorities and Quebec over the legality of house cultivation of hashish.
“It issues the sharing of powers, subsequently the autonomy of Quebec, so it might turn into very delicate,” Rousseau mentioned, talking to Radio-Canada in French.
Nonetheless, “in a democracy, when you have got political energy, it’s clearly very wholesome to do political communication, to elucidate your self, to have a priority for transparency, accessibility for residents,” he added.
‘It will likely be anarchy, finally’
Wagner mentioned he is aware of he is taking a threat by speaking extra brazenly and ceaselessly with the general public and by taking the court docket exterior of Ottawa. He mentioned he nonetheless believes doing nothing can be riskier.
“I believe that the advantages are a lot higher than some criticisms that there may very well be,” he mentioned.
“In the event that they lose religion within the justice system, what is going to occur? Individuals will resolve their issues on the road and it is going to be anarchy, finally, and we utterly lose the calm, the serenity, the well-being of the residents in these instances.”
Wagner spoke to Radio-Canada earlier than the Supreme Court docket not too long ago launched a controversial ruling that mentioned Alexandre Bissonnette, the gunman who killed six individuals in a Quebec Metropolis mosque, can’t wait greater than 25 years earlier than being eligible for parole.
Three main candidates for the management of the federal Conservative Social gathering — Patrick Brown, Poilievre and Jean Charest — have issued statements condemning the choice and pledging to make use of the Structure’s however clause to overturn the ruling ought to they turn into prime minister.
The Liberal authorities mentioned that whereas it helps an extended interval of parole ineligibility in instances just like the mosque capturing, it would respect the Supreme Court docket of Canada’s resolution.