Trudeau government appoints former Omar Khadr lawyer as federal judge

Defense lawyer John Norris speaks to reporters outside a courthouse in Toronto in 2015. Nathan Denette/CP

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau‘s Liberal government has appointed one of Omar Khadr‘s former lawyers as a justice in federal court.

The appointment of Toronto-based lawyer John Norris was announced by Justice Minister Jody Wilson-Raybould Monday. Elizabeth Walker, a lawyer and chairperson of the RCMP External Review Committee, was also appointed to the position.

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Norris and Brydie Bethell were Khadr’s lawyers from August 2011 until they stepped down in January 2013. They represented him in his legal battle against the government’s Ministry of Public Safety in 2011, which ultimately resulted in the former child solder’s return to Canada. The criminal and national security lawyer has also indirectly been involved with cases involving Khadr in the past.

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The lawyer has taken on several other high-profile criminal cases involving murder, suspected terrorism and sexual assault. According to his website, he has appeared in the Supreme Court of Canada about 20 times.

Norris is also an adjunct professor at the University of Toronto’s Faculty of Law and has worked with several legal advocacy organizations over the years.

The Trudeau government’s appointment of Norris led to online criticism Tuesday. Several Twitter users expressed surprise that Trudeau — after agreeing to give Khadr a $10.5-million payout — would also appoint his lawyer as a judge.

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Lorne Waldman, a Toronto-based lawyer at Waldman & Associates LLP., explained that all criminal lawyers represent controversial figures — and that shouldn’t reflect on their personal views.

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Norris just doing his job, lawyer says

“A lot of judges who they’ve appointed to court have represented murderers, does that disqualify them from being judges?” Waldman asked. “That’s the nature of our job, we represent people, and sometimes these people we represent are controversial.”

 READ MORE: A chronological look at Omar Khadr’s long legal odyssey

He added that representing controversial figures is often emotionally difficult for lawyers, but it comes down to upholding the rule of law in Canada, which promises everyone a fair trial.

Waldman gave the example of John Rosen, who was the defence lawyer for Paul Bernardo, one of Canada’s most notorious serial killers. He explained that Rosen stepped up to do the job on the principle of upholding the rule of law, even though the evidence against the now-convicted killer was substantial.

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Rosen earned praise from the Criminal Lawyers Association for taking on the job but was also criticized for representing Bernardo.

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Government stands by its pick

David Taylor, the communications director for the minister of justice, responded to the criticism of Norris’ appointment saying the selection was made after several rounds of evaluations and consultations around the country.

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“Our Government is committed to ensuring that the most meritorious candidates are appointed to the bench in order to meet the needs of all Canadians,” Taylor wrote in an email statement to Global News Tuesday.

“In making appointments, the Minister considers a candidate’s case law and subject-matter expertise, and works closely with Chief Justices, to ensure her appointments meet the needs of the courts.”

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A press release from the government also highlighted the Liberals’ revamped judicial selection process, which is meant to increase  “transparency, merit, and diversity.”

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It added that the appointments of Norris and Walker “meet the highest standards of excellence and integrity.”

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