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3 August 2016

Appointment of Supreme Court Judges: an opportunity to be seized

Philippe Couillard responds to the new process for the appointment of Judges to the Supreme Court of Canada, announced yesterday by Prime Minister Justin Trudeau.

August 2, 2016 | Montréal  The Premier of Québec.

Yesterday, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau made public the new process for the appointment of judges to the Supreme Court of Canada. He reminded us then of the essential mission of this institution of the federation and of the importance of having its composition reflect all of society’s diversity.

Francophones participated in the founding and building of Canada. The willingness to appoint only bilingual judges from now on is a way of assuring Québecers as well as the millions of Canadian women and men who speak French that they will be seen, heard and understood in this Court. As we approach its 150th anniversary, this decision enables us to make our common institutions better reflect an essential component of our federation. I welcome this decision.

The increased transparency and independence of this new process also constitute elements of progress. In these areas, let us keep in mind that in order to select the best candidates, Québec has already set up a process which provides that the Minister of Justice forms a selection committee composed of representatives of the legal field and representatives of the public, which submits its recommendations to the Secretariat for the selection of candidates for judicial office, which supports the Minister of Justice.

I would also like to focus on the different mechanism that will be set up for the appointment of the three judges from Québec, who sit on the Supreme Court. They are the voice of our civil law tradition there and are a part of our specificity. By providing for this, the Prime Minister of Canada recognizes and reasserts the distinct character of Québec. Here is another welcome manifestation of the asymmetry that enables Québec to take its rightful place within the Canadian federation.

Because the Supreme Court also belongs to both levels of government, we must now work “together” in a constructive way to define this mechanism.

Here it is important to recall another role of the Supreme Court, namely that of being the final arbiter of disputes between the federal and provincial levels of government. For Québec, the only State whose common and official language is French, the full exercise of all its areas of jurisdiction was one of the conditions of its joining the federation, a gain that we have since been defending emphatically.

The Gouvernement du Québec must have a determining role to play in the consultative process that will lead to the recommendation of the three judges for Québec, thereby reflecting its status as a government and as a partner in the federation. The same applies to the selection of the Committee members. This appears necessary in order for the mechanism that is to be developed to provide an adequate response to the specificity of civil law, and to the distinct legal traditions and social values of Québec, as was recently stated by the Supreme Court of Canada.

The way is now open to a discussion and a collaboration that will enable our governments to develop a different mechanism for Québec that will achieve these objectives. As was so aptly stated by the Supreme Court itself, “the federalism principle on which Canada’s constitutional framework rests demands nothing less”.

Philippe Couillard
Member for Roberval and Premier of Québec