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OTTAWA — Leaked emails surrounding the appointment of Manitoba judges have renewed calls for transparency in the federal process.
The Globe and Mail reported Tuesday that Winnipeg Liberal MP Jim Carr and his wife, who is a judge, disagreed with then-justice minister Jody-Wilson Raybould over the selection of a handful for Manitoba courts in 2018.
"When I was minister, I ensured and was committed to appointing the most meritorious judges," Wilson-Raybould told the Free Press on Tuesday.
"I’m incredible proud of the appointments I was able to make, and that was free from political interference; I made certain of that," said Wilson-Raybould, an independent MP who spent more than three years in Liberal cabinet.
Carr was unavailable for an interview Tuesday, but officials confirmed the veracity of emails quoted by the Globe.
During Stephen Harper’s term as prime minister, the Liberals accused the Conservatives of politicizing the selection of judges by relying on MPs and party volunteers.
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, who ultimately appoints judges, set up arm's-length advisory committees to identify select candidates.
However, the Globe emails suggest the PMO also asked for MP feedback, against the wishes of Wilson-Raybould’s staff. They also infer Liberal staff used encrypted messages to discuss appointments, outside of email chains.
Early 2018 emails claim Justice Colleen Suche of the Manitoba Court of Queen's Bench had submitted the same list of suggested judges as her husband, Carr, who was a federal cabinet minister at the time.
One email claims Suche advised against promoting jurist Ken Champagne into a leadership role within her court; Champagne was instead appointed into a regular position, as had been the government’s original plan.
Another email claims Carr had "strong objections" to two of Wilson-Raybould’s choices, who were appointed to Queen’s Bench in fall 2018.
Suche did not respond to an email request Tuesday afternoon.
Carr, Suche, and the government have not been accused of breaking any laws.
Earlier this month, Conservative MPs accused Trudeau of stacking courts with Liberal partisans and party donors.
NDP MP Charlie Angus called Tuesday for an investigation into the "really disturbing" claims in the Globe article.
"We have to trust that the appointment of judges is done based simply on merit," he said, arguing the Liberals are repeating the Harper process. "They get into power and they enact the same, corrupt, lousy system and it undermines confidence in the judiciary."
The Canadian Bar Association is renewing its calls to keep politics out of the process.
"Our organization has long supported a de-politicization of the process for judicial appointments," CBA president Vivene Salmon said in an interview.
"We support a transparent and fair process," she said — the thinking behind having advisory committees make merit-based recommendations based on published criteria.
Media leaks only undermine that process, argues the CBA, which lamented the same issue a year ago.
Last March, during the SNC-Lavalin affair, media outlets reported Wilson-Raybould had pushed for one of Manitoba’s most senior judges, Glenn Joyal, to be appointed to the Supreme Court.
It’s unclear where the emails in Tuesday’s Globe report originated; they wouldn’t have been produced through any access-to-information request under existing laws.
"I would not want any article, in any paper, to undermine the nature of the extraordinary individuals that are sitting on the bench," said Wilson-Raybould, who was indignant when asked if she’d leaked the emails to the Globe.
"Oh, come on, that’s ridiculous," she said.
Updated on Tuesday, February 18, 2020 at 6:11 PM CST: Adds photo
February 19, 2020 at 12:32 PM: A previous version of this story improperly characterized concerns raised about the possible promotion of Manitoba Justice Glen Joyal to the Supreme Court. In fact, the reports about Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s clash with his justice minister about a possible Joyal supreme court candidacy centered on a speech the judge had given in 2017 about the Charter of Rights and Freedoms.