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MacKay sidesteps questions about tactics surrounding Supreme Court nomination

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Veritas (Truth) guards the entrance of the Supreme Court of Canada as the Peace tower is seen in the background in Ottawa.

ADRIAN WYLD / THE CANADIAN PRESS Enlarge Image

Veritas (Truth) guards the entrance of the Supreme Court of Canada as the Peace tower is seen in the background in Ottawa.

OTTAWA - Canada's justice minister says he didn't personally recommend to Marc Nadon that he resign from the Federal Court of Appeal and rejoin the Quebec bar in order to be eligible to join the Supreme Court.

But Peter MacKay is not refuting a Global News report that says the Prime Minister's Office did just that, a recommendation Nadon reportedly refused.

"I can tell you that's not something that I personally encouraged him to do," MacKay told a Commons committee Thursday.

Liberal MP Sean Casey asked MacKay when he first became aware that Nadon's resignation was suggested as a way to facilitate his nomination.

MacKay pointedly sidestepped the question.

"What I can tell you is that when I became minister of justice back this past summer, this process — of which you were a part — was already well underway," he said.

Not being a current member of the Quebec bar turned out to be the main reason Nadon was deemed ineligible for one of three positions on the high court that are reserved for jurists from the province.

In a 6-1 decision rendered in March, the Supreme Court ruled Nadon ineligible to join the nine-judge panel.

The government, clearly anticipating that Nadon's nomination would be controversial, also commissioned legal opinions from two former Supreme Court justices and a constitutional scholar.

Francoise Boivin, the NDP's justice critic, said Nadon was smart to refuse to try and get in to the Supreme Court from the side door.

"In that process, it just looks and it smells not really up to the standard on the Supreme Court bench," said Boivin, who noted that one cannot simply join the bar from one day to the next.

Former Supreme Court Justice Ian Binnie noted in his opinion to the government that while Nadon could theoretically meet legal requirements by rejoining the bar, such a move would not be "compatible with the dignity of the office."

Nadon's failed appointment to the top bench remains mired in controversy.

Last week, the Conservatives publicly questioned the actions of Chief Justice Beverley McLachlin, suggesting she inappropriately tried to initiate a meeting with Prime Minister Stephen Harper to discuss potential legal problems with appointing Nadon.

The statement from the Prime Minister's Office exposed an unusual dispute between two of Canada's three branches of government.

Boivin said she's still scratching her head over why the Conservatives went to such great lengths to ensure Nadon was appointed.

"Honestly, that's the question that really tortures me," she said. "Why be so pigheaded, and with all the flags...It's not as if they didn't know and it was a total surprise and they thought everyone agreed with them. So they knew and they still went right ahead."

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