WATCH: The Prime Minister has yet to respond to any questions about a Global News exclusive on how someone in his office asked Justice Marc Nadon to skirt selection rules to fill a seat on the Supreme Court of Canada. Vassy Kapelos reports.
OTTAWA – Justice Minister Peter MacKay says he did not tell Justice Marc Nadon to resign and join the Quebec bar to ensure his appointment to the Supreme Court. But he didn’t deny that someone – possibly from the Prime Minister’s Office – did.
“I certainly did not,” MacKay said Thursday.
Pressured by opposition MPs to respond to a report from Global News, MacKay would not answer when asked if anyone in his government made the suggestion to Nadon.
“That was not a request that was made by me,” MacKay told a justice committee on Parliament Hill. “That’s not something that I personally encouraged him to do.”
MacKay did not deny that the PMO warned Nadon of a potential problem with his Supreme Court appointment. A spokesman for the prime minister’s office did not return Global News requests for comment.
The warning to Nadon came after Chief Justice Beverley McLachlin says she contacted MacKay last July 31 to flag the issue of nominating a federal court judge to fill a Quebec seat on the high court.
It was a conversation the Conservatives later deemed “inappropriate” almost a year later, even though that call came well before McLachlin would have had to consider the case. The legal community, including the Canadian Bar Association and the Canadian Law Deans, has called on the government to apologize.
Liberal justice critic Sean Casey said he believes MacKay “absolutely knew” about the PMO’s plan.
“He didn’t want to answer the question and he was playing a little game,” Casey said.
Casey said the issue is about integrity, and the government should apologize for insinuating the Chief Justice did something wrong.
“It’s making a mockery of the Supreme Court Act,” he said. “It’s not befitting the integrity of the court or the position.”
NDP justice critic Francoise Boivin said the Nadon incident “smells” like it’s not up to the standards of the high court. “It’s not as if they didn’t know and it’s a total surprise,” she said. “They still went right ahead.”
In question period, MacKay said he was not going to comment “on unnamed courageous voices” speaking to the press.
MacKay suggested there were “numerous names” put forward from the Federal Court to fill the Quebec vacancy. The government went ahead with the process, he said, on the advice of two retired judges as well as a Parliamentary committee – and the nominees themselves.
“We went ahead on the presumption that the numerous federal court judges who had applied to be members of the Supreme Court of Canada believed… that federal court judges were in fact eligible,” he said.
The government sought two outside legal opinions who agreed Nadon was eligible to sit on the high court. MacKay said he received the “stamp of approval” from the former Supreme Court judges in late August or early September.
But the appointment was challenged and the Supreme Court struck down Nadon’s eligibility in a 6 to 1 decision. The court determined that a Supreme Court judge from Quebec must be from the Quebec Court of Appeal, the Superior Court of Quebec, or a current member of the Quebec bar.
Earlier Thursday, MacKay told the committee the Supreme Court nomination process was “already well underway” when he was appointed justice minister in mid-July.
He defended his government’s nomination of Nadon, a Federal Court of Appeal judge who did not sit on the Quebec court or serve as a Quebec lawyer at the time of his appointment last fall.
The government argued Nadon was eligible because he had been a member of the Quebec bar for more than 20 years before he resigned to become a judge.
“We as a government have invoked a more all-encompassing, inclusive consultation process that has ever been the case,” MacKay said, adding that the government will move to fill the vacant Quebec seat “as expeditiously as possible,” possibly before the summer.
WATCH: MacKay faces some tough questions during a heated exchange in Question Period
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