Ontario considers changes to judicial appointments process, AG says
The move to change was triggered by a controversy earlier this year that allegedly gave people close to the premier's chief of staff lucrative foreign postings
TORONTO – Upcoming changes to the way judges and justices of the peace are selected in Ontario have sparked concerns among opposition politicians who say the move could be an attempt by the Doug Ford government to politicize the process.
Ontario Attorney General Doug Downey said the changes, which the government has not yet formally introduced, would expand the pool of candidates and lead to a more diverse judiciary.
“There are people who are getting excluded,” Downey said on Monday. “There are people who are not applying anymore because of the system. There are people who are applying and not getting interviews and they’re qualified.”
Downey said the current system requires applicants to submit 20-page applications in duplicate and then take part in a lengthy interview process that can take months. A review panel of lawyers then forwards a list of two candidates to the government for selection by the attorney general and approval by cabinet. The system hasn’t changed since it was implemented in 1984, he said.
The changes would still see the review panel of lawyers vet candidates, said Downey, but a standing pool of qualified individuals would be established to speed up the appointments process.
“I will be putting the names forward, I will be screening them, I can tell you, they will be of the highest quality and it will allow us to create further diversity on the bench,” he said.
Downey’s comments come weeks after the Ford government introduced changes to the way provincial appointments are made, including enhanced conflict of interest assessments and referral of some appointments to the integrity commissioner for vetting.
The move was triggered by a controversy over a number of appointments made earlier this year, when it first emerged that people close to the premier’s chief of staff, Dean French, were given lucrative foreign postings. In the weeks after French’s abrupt departure in June, more appointees came under scrutiny and resigned after their links to him were revealed.
Earlier this year, the Tories also came under scrutiny when a family friend of Ford’s was appointed as Ontario Provincial Police commissioner. Toronto police Supt. Ron Taverner eventually withdrew his name from consideration for the job, citing the controversy around his appointment and the need to protect the integrity of front-line OPP officers.
On Monday, the president of the Ontario Bar Association said the appointment process for judges and justices of the peace should be sufficiently transparent to encourage the public’s confidence in the administration of justice.
“The current system has provided a high-quality independent court in Ontario,” Colin Stevenson said in a statement. “The OBA encourages continually looking for ways to achieve diversity on the bench and innovation to improve efficiency in all areas of the justice sector.”
NDP Leader Andrea Horwath said Ontario’s judges must remain independent of the government and the Tories should abandon this plan.
“This government didn’t understand that about the police and the fact that they don’t understand that about the judiciary apparently is very, very, very troubling. This is one of the pillars or our democracy.”
Interim Liberal Leader John Fraser said the current process is fair.
“Given the government’s record on public appointments, I’m really concerned this could politicize the judiciary,” he said.
Green party Leader Mike Schreiner said he supported making the process more efficient, but was concerned about the government’s intentions.
“One of the things that makes Canada a great country is the rule of law and the independence of the judiciary,” he said. “To do anything to compromise that is a real step backwards.”