MPs to question new Supreme Court pick
Last Updated Mon, 20 Feb 2006 11:16:05 EST CBC News
The next person nominated to sit on the Supreme Court of Canada will have to appear at a televised hearing before a committee of members of Parliament, Prime Minister Stephen Harper said Monday.
[FONT=verdana,arial]Prime Minister Stephen Harper, Monday.
"There will be two rounds of questioning by committee members for three hours in total," Harper told a news conference in Ottawa. The committee will be made up of 12 members of Parliament, chosen from each of the four parties represented in the House of Commons in such a way that no party holds a majority.
The proposed new judge on Canada's highest court will be named on Thursday.
Harper said the committee will not have the power to confirm or quash the nomination after it questions the prospective judge four days later, on Feb. 27. He reserves that right for himself, as prime minister, and pledged to announce his decision on March 1.
"I will take account of the committee hearings," he added. "They will be a factor in our final decision."
The prime minister dismissed reporters' questions about whether a prospective judge might refuse to be questioned in a way unprecedented in Canadian legal circles, though confirmation hearings have long been the practice in the United States.
"I don't expect that," said Harper, who said he expects the MPs' questions to be respectful and non-partisan. "We will certainly make it clear that the nominee must be prepared to submit to the entire process.
"Sitting on the Supreme Court of Canada is a sufficient capstone to one's career that one should be prepared to answer [some] questions."
New justice will replace retiring Major
The retirement of Justice John Major has created a vacancy on the country's top court, and Harper's Conservatives are filling it quickly.
"Given the importance of the work the court carries out, we must act quickly to fill the vacancy that exists," Harper said.
Leading up to the Jan. 23 election, the Conservatives promised a free vote in the House of Commons on the appointment of new Supreme Court justices.
However, Parliament is not expected to sit until April 3, and Chief Justice Beverley McLachlin has urged that the new judge be appointed before then because the court has a heavy workload.
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Traditionally, law societies, legal experts and the federal justice minister are consulted before the prime minister appoints a judge from a short list of qualified candidates.
The Liberal government under former prime minister Paul Martin added another level of consultation to the process the last time two vacancies had to be filled, in 2004.
[FONT=verdana,arial]The Justices of Canada's Supreme Court during a time when former Justice John Major was sitting with the court.
An ad-hoc committee of MPs from all parties was allowed to question the justice minister about candidates.
When Martin's government was defeated, the process was being refined further.
Another advisory committee of MPs from all parties, as well as a variety of people from within and outside the justice community, came up with a short list of three candidates to replace Major.
New Conservative Justice Minister Vic Toews was on that committee, and Harper confirmed Monday that he will choose the nominee from that list of three.
Asked why he did not continue with the process introduced by the Liberals, which McLachlin has endorsed, Harper said, "In our judgment as a party, this was not sufficiently open."
Since Major was from Alberta, the new justice is also expected to be from the Prairie provinces.
The annual salary of a Supreme Court justice is $257,800; the chief justice is paid $278,400.