Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION
I'm reserving judgment on Vic Toews
It takes courage to accept new role; let's see how he handles it
It's time to put away the past and give Vic Toews -- now the Hon. Justice Vic Toews -- a chance to do his new job.
This was the conclusion I came to after attending Toews' public swearing-in ceremony in the Court of Queen's Bench on Friday.
There can be no avoiding the reality: The appointment of the former Conservative cabinet minister to the bench has attracted more than a few sideways looks and raised eyebrows from many, including legal insiders who will now be appearing before him to argue their cases.
And I probably don't need to explain why. But at root, it's fear of the known unknown.
It's the suspicion that his past political positions on law and order in Canada -- some of them admittedly strong (and, to critics, based more on pandering than sound policy) -- will infect his decision-making in court, where absolute impartiality and evidence-based reasoning is the backbone of its legitimacy.
To some in the public, it seems this infection is a foregone conclusion.
They believe Toews, the former high-ranking and sometimes-controversial federal MP cannot be separated from Mr. Justice Vic Toews of the Manitoba Queen's Bench General Division, now charged with making rulings in criminal and civil cases.
Who knows? Maybe down the road we'll come to learn through his judgments that this is so.
But at this moment, there is no basis whatsoever to suggest this will be the case.
Generally, we all have roles to fill and jobs to do in life. But that's not the sum total of who we are.
I don't blame the cop for making arrests and hunting down criminals. I don't blame doctors for the fact people die in hospitals.
And I don't blame politicians for doing their jobs: working to get elected, advancing a legislative agenda and taking measures to carry it out, even if the methods sometimes cause me to shake my head in disbelief.
Ever since Toews was appointed in March, I've been asking myself, "What kind of judge will he be?" I figure this was the question a lot of others were asking themselves, too.
What we actually know about the answer to this, so far, is what Toews himself told the public and his peers at his swearing-in.
Specifically, Toews pledged to do his utmost to listen to his assigned cases courteously, speak with wisdom, consider matters dispassionately and -- most important in my mind -- judge impartially.
He's taken a sworn oath to duly and faithfully and to the best of his skill exercise the judicial powers that flow from his new role. His affirmation of this oath was witnessed by some of the most powerful legal and political players in Manitoba and in Canada.
That means something to me, and, I humbly submit, should mean a great deal to every Canadian.
It's important to remember: Legal skill is something Toews doesn't lack. In addition to being a former Crown prosecutor, he also headed up Manitoba's constitutional law branch, tackling complex cases as an agent for the general public charged with upholding society's interests.
Equally important to remember is that, should Justice Toews be accused of overstepping, there's this little entity called the Court of Appeal to keep him in check. Even he acknowledged that the top provincial court was there as a corrective measure if need be.
In his remarks after being sworn in, Toews said when he got the call from Justice Minister Peter MacKay to tell him he was being appointed, he understood he was being given "a tremendous opportunity" and responsibilities few in Canada ever will get.
But there was also a sense of loss, he said.
After nearly two decades of public life, he came to realize many of the professional and social relationships he'd forged came out of being a politician.
By donning the robes, he said he came to realize they would go on with their lives and he was now "seemingly cut apart and set adrift" by virtue of the necessary independence his new role demands.
"Certainly, I understood that any partisan political activities were at an end," Toews said.
I think we can all as human beings recognize that giving up an identity you know, an identity you're familiar with -- not to mention skilled at -- would be a difficult thing to do and takes courage.
But Toews has made that difficult choice. He's given up something of great personal value to him to do what he's now doing. Judging is a tough, largely thankless and often lonely job.
While it's naturally expected Toews's decisions from the bench will be scrutinized to a massive degree (as it should be with all judicial decision-making), I'm personally voting to give him the benefit of the doubt.
Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition May 4, 2014 A1
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