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Commissioner probes whether judges' privacy rights violated

Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 4/4/2019 (458 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

OTTAWA — The federal NDP fears that leaks about Manitoba judges could enflame regional and racial tensions, as the privacy commissioner investigates whether Ottawa violated the judges' rights to confidentiality.

Privacy czar has limited reign

OTTAWA — The federal NDP and Tories want the Liberals to investigate leaks about Manitoba judges, because of the privacy commisioner's limited legislated scope.

“This is a serious leak undermining the independence of the judiciary for purely a partisan interest," NDP MP Charlie Angus said Thursday. "There has to be an accountability mechanism some place.”

OTTAWA — The federal NDP and Tories want the Liberals to investigate leaks about Manitoba judges, because of the privacy commisioner's limited legislated scope.

“This is a serious leak undermining the independence of the judiciary for purely a partisan interest," NDP MP Charlie Angus said Thursday. "There has to be an accountability mechanism some place.”

The commissioner can only probe departments, not ministers’ offices nor the Prime Minsiter's Office, despite pushing for such powers for years.

In any case, Angus says that having the privacy commissioner clear Justice Canada and the Privy Council of leaking the info would narrow the possible sources of the leak.

The only remaining bodies that would seem to have knowledge would be Trudeau's office or the Commissioner for Federal Judicial Affairs, which few would suspect of leaking.

Angus said that would all but confirm the information came from the PMO.

“We have to take these elaborate steps because we have a Prime Minister's Office who doesn't seem to think that they have an obligation to the rule of law," he said.

Neither Angus nor Conservative MP Peter Keny have asked the commisioner to look into leaks regarding Manitoba provincial justice Ken Champagne. Because none of the leaks suggested Champagne had actually applied for any federal position, it’s unlikely any Privacy Act breach occurred in his case.

Concerns about the privacy commisioners' limited scope echo those about the ethic commissioner's probe into the SNC-Lavalin scandal, because he can only investigate breaches of certain rules and laws.

—Dylan Robertson

"Whoever ordered this leak is playing with real cultural fire," northern Ontario MP Charlie Angus told the Free Press.

This week, Angus and a Conservative MP called on privacy commissioner Daniel Therrien to look into whether Ottawa breached its own laws about confidential information regarding Glenn Joyal, the chief justice of Manitoba’s Court of Queen’s Bench.

On March 26, CTV News and The Canadian Press reported that Joyal had applied to be named to the Supreme Court. Appointments are made through a confidential process, where even the fact someone has submitted an application is protected under the Privacy Act.

The reports alleged that Prime Minister Justin Trudeau began to doubt the judgment of his  attorney general, Jody Wilson-Raybould, in 2017 over her apparent preference to put Joyal on the Supreme Court bench, and also have him lead the highest court in the land.

Former Federal Justice Minister Jody Wilson-Raybould.

DARRYL DYCK / THE CANADIAN PRESS FILES

Former Federal Justice Minister Jody Wilson-Raybould.

On the day the leak was reported, Joyal said he had withdrawn his application in 2017, citing his wife's health. He wrote that he felt the leak occurred "to further an agenda unrelated to the appointment process."

The same day as the Joyal leaks, The Globe and Mail reported that Wilson-Raybould wanted provincial court Judge Ken Champagne, who is Métis, to replace Joyal as chief justice in the Manitoba Court of Queen’s Bench.

Like Angus, Tory MP Peter Kent also sent his own request to the privacy commissioner, whose office confirmed it will investigate.

The Conservatives have continually raised the issue of the leaks about Joyal and Champagne in question period, including during a heated exchange on Thursday.

"The Liberal government's corrupt practices know no bounds. It did not hesitate to drag the good name of Manitoba's chief justice through the mud," Selkirk-area MP James Bezan alleged.

Both opposition parties urged Justice Minister David Lametti, who replaced Wilson-Raybould, to conduct his own probe into the leaks, because the commissioner can't probe political offices.

Lametti instead said he’d "ensure it won’t happen again" and said he’d discussed the integrity of the appointment process Thursday in a regular meeting of judges from across Canada. He said it was "unfair" the judges had been named in the reports.

Judge Ken Champagne, left, pictured with Manitoba Court of Queen’s Bench Chief Justice Glenn Joyal, was reported to be Wilson-Raybould's choice for replacement of Joyal as chief justice.

RUTH BONNEVILLE / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS FILES

Judge Ken Champagne, left, pictured with Manitoba Court of Queen’s Bench Chief Justice Glenn Joyal, was reported to be Wilson-Raybould's choice for replacement of Joyal as chief justice.

Last week, Wilson-Raybould told the Free Press she favoured "some sort of investigation as to the source" of the leaks, which she insisted she wasn’t part of.

Angus said he was also "disturbed" that both reports inferred that Joyal was homophobic, which he said plays into stereotypes about the Prairies.

The reports cited a January 2017 speech in which Joyal argued judges’ broad interpretations of the Charter of Rights and Freedoms had overstepped into social issues on which Parliament should decide.

The articles then claimed Trudeau had concerns that this meant Joyal would help roll back gay rights and access to abortion.

"It certainly struck me as disturbing that the voice speaking on background really painted this judge as some kind of regional Manitoba extremist," Angus said.

"We have not seen any evidence that the judge merits that kind of abuse."

The Manitoba Bar Association called those insinuations "entirely improper, and indeed false" given Joyal’s rulings on minority rights.

Privacy Commissioner Daniel Therrien was called upon to look into whether Ottawa breached its own laws regarding Glenn Joyal's rights to confidentiality.

SEAN KILPATRICK / THE CANADIAN PRESS FILES

Privacy Commissioner Daniel Therrien was called upon to look into whether Ottawa breached its own laws regarding Glenn Joyal's rights to confidentiality.

Legal experts have said they were "appalled" by the leaks because they could lead the public to question judges’ commitment to their jobs and make quality candidates wary of putting their names forward.

Citing unnamed sources, the Globe claimed Wilson-Raybould wanted to make Champagne the first Indigenous head of any superior court in Canada.

Angus found it "very concerning" that this characterization could give the impression that Champagne would be promoted to fill a diversity quota, instead of on the basis of his own merits.

"In a country like Canada where we are moving forward, these sensitivities and these tensions are still there."

The Free Press could not reach Joyal or Champagne on Thursday.

Meanwhile, Angus said the media should be cautious about the  almost daily leaks that contain "smears" against Wilson-Raybould and former Treasury Board president Jane Philpott, which "are getting ridiculous" and distracting from the issue of whether Trudeau inappropriately pressured his former attorney general.

"We seem to get further and further down the rabbit hole," he said, again accusing the Liberals of leaking the information.

"They’re literally outraged that this story won't die, but every morning they feed another leak that drives the story further."

dylan.robertson@freepress.mb.ca

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