New Supreme Court justice says she brings experience ‘from the trenches’

‘You learn to get on top of issues and make the decisions that you need to to keep the wheels of justice going,’ Mary Moreau said

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OTTAWA – Canada’s newest Supreme Court Justice told MPs said she would be bringing experience “from the trenches” of the country’s legal system, experience she hopes will be valuable in improving the system.

Last week, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau nominated Mary Moreau to serve as a Supreme Court Justice replacing former justice Russell Brown who stepped down in the spring. Moreau has been the Chief Justice of the Court of King’s Bench since 2017, and a justice on that court since 1994.

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Moreau said she is bringing that experience as a working justice to the highest court in the land.

“When you’re in the middle of a murder trial, and there’s an issue of admissibility, and you’ve got to deal with it, because there’s a jury of 12 or, now we can have juries have 14 waiting in the back room,” she said to a panel of MPs and Senators on Thursday. “You learn to get on top of issues and make the decisions that you need to to keep the wheels of justice going.”

As part of the process the Trudeau government instituted in 2016, new justices come before a panel of MPs and Senators for a question and answer session, but there is no vote on the new justice and the prime minister has the final call on the appointment.

The MPs and Senators on the panel are prohibited from asking questions about Moreau’s past decisions or about past or future Supreme Court decisions. Several MPs did ask her about the place of victims in the criminal system. She said she understands the frustrations victim’s feel, and believes judges can do their best to explain decisions, even the unpopular ones.

“I think that’s where judges come in, to articulate well, the reasons why they are in some cases, finding accused guilty and others as importantly why they have been acquitted.”

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Moreau will be the sixth member of the Supreme Court Trudeau has appointed to the bench. Her appointment makes the Supreme Court majority female for the first time in its history.

Moreau said she is pleased about the new milestone, but hopes more and more women find careers in the law.

“It’s a real thrill to think that depending on what happens next, I may be part of a court that is actually majority women,” she said. “What will be a really neat thing if I might say is when it’s not remarkable that a majority of the court is women.”

While MPs asked questions of Moreau at Thursday’s session, it will be overseen by Érik Labelle Eastaugh, Dean at the Faculty of Law of the Université de Moncton, who acted like the chair of a parliamentary committee.

Before the session with Moreau, MPs on the House of Commons Justice Committee spoke with Justice Minister Arif Virani and H. Wade MacLauchlan, a former PEI premier who heads the advisory committee that helps select new justices.

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Conservative MP Frank Caputo took no issue with Moreau’s appointment, but he told Virani he believes MPs should be in charge of the hearing.

“Why would we be bringing in somebody who is not duly elected who does not make up part of our parliamentary committee,” he asked Virani.

Virani said when the government set up its process it wanted to ensure the Supreme Court didn’t become a political football — as in the United States— and that is why the government decided to bring an outside academic.

“One concern that was expressed was to ensure that an overly partisan or overly political hearing not occur in the context of getting better acquainted with Supreme Court nominees,” he said.

Virani said Moreau is proof that the process is working and bringing good nominees forward.

“She is an esteemed jurist by any analysis, having honed her skills for 29 years on the court of Kings bench of Alberta, was appointed as its chief justice in 2017.”

Conservative MP Tako Van Popta said he was concerned the process was rushed and he hadn’t had time to review Moreau’s work as a judge.

“We heard about her appointment just late last week, and I would like to have read more of her decisions, more of what she has published. I feel that we have not been given a lot of opportunity to do that,” he said.

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MacLauchlan told MPs that they had received 13 applications and interviewed four people who could have filled the role, before creating a shortlist of two applicants that they gave to the prime minister. He confirmed Moreau was on the two-person shortlist, but wouldn’t confirm who else was presented to the prime minister citing confidentiality.

Justices who want to be on the Supreme Court have to fill out a lengthy survey with information about their background and education, their philosophy as a judge and highlight cases they worked on that they feel are significant.

Virani said he understood Conservative MPs concerns about the speed of the process, but the Supreme Court can’t be left without a justice.

“It’s just important to keep that as a salient aspect in mind that we’re trying to fulfill a vacancy on the top court in the land. That is hearing pressing matters that will have impacts on Canadians lives,” he said.

Twitter: RyanTumilty
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