Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Let inquiry search for the truth

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The Federal Court has ruled the inquiry into the conduct of Manitoba Court of Queen's Bench Justice Lori Douglas isn't biased. That decision should at long last restart her much-delayed judicial-conduct hearing before the new three-member inquiry panel appointed by the Canadian Judicial Council just last month -- but only if Justice Douglas abides by the court's decision.

In 2002-03, sexually explicit photos of Douglas were taken and posted on a porn website by her husband, Winnipeg lawyer Jack King. King later sent the photos to his client, Alex Chapman, to entice him into having sex with Douglas.

The nub of the inquiry is Chapman's assertion Douglas participated in King's sexual harassment of him and that she failed to disclose the photos and Chapman's allegations on her subsequent application to be appointed a judge. She was appointed to the bench in 2005.

The inquiry's initial Winnipeg hearing was derailed in July 2012 when Douglas alleged aggressive cross-examination of King and another witness by the inquiry panel's lawyer gave rise to a "reasonable apprehension of bias" against her, such that she couldn't get a fair hearing. When the inquiry panel refused to recuse itself, she took her objection to the Federal Court. Later, she amended her court application to add a further allegation of "institutional bias," basically claiming intrinsic bias against her based on the relationship between the panel and its independent counsel.

In the meantime, in November 2013, the entire original five-member panel resigned, so the bias allegations based on its counsel's cross-examinations became moot.

Last week, however, the court proceeded to rule on the institutional-bias issue. It resoundingly found no bias. More critically, it also denied Douglas's demand for an order prohibiting the Canadian Judicial Council from continuing its inquiry against her.

Justice Douglas has the right to appeal the Federal Court ruling to its appeal division. But the long-delayed inquiry shouldn't be sidelined again by yet more procedural wrangling. It's time for the new inquiry panel to deal with the core issues of what Douglas did or didn't do to Alex Chapman and did or didn't disclose on her judicial-appointment application.

A judicial-conduct inquiry is, by design, a search for the truth. Justice Douglas should cease her procedural objections and allow the inquiry panel to get on with its job of pursuing that truth.

Editorials are the consensus view of the Winnipeg Free Press’ editorial board, comprising Catherine Mitchell, David O’Brien, Shannon Sampert, and Paul Samyn.

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition April 1, 2014 A8

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