Trust is a matter of judgment

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Who are we to judge?

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Opinion

Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 26/04/2017 (1988 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

Who are we to judge?

For starters, we are voters, who cast our ballots with the tacit understanding that those we elect will act honourably in the execution of their duties.

We are also citizens, governed by laws that are passed by our elected representatives and implemented by a court system whose appointed judges must adhere to the highest ethical and legal standards.

Adrian Wyld / The Canadian Press FILES Manitoba Court of Queen’s Bench Judge Vic Toews

These are fundamental matters of faith and trust. And when that trust is violated, we are most definitely in a position to judge.

However, in light of events this week, a second similarly worded but distinctly different question arises:

Whom are we to judge?

An investigation by federal ethics commissioner Mary Dawson found that Manitoba Court of Queen’s Bench Judge Vic Toews twice violated the federal Conflict of Interest Act by working as a consultant for two Manitoba First Nations immediately after leaving federal politics in 2013. Former cabinet ministers are prohibited from working for any entity that has business with the federal government.

Ms. Dawson’s report prompted a complaint to the Canadian Judicial Council (CJC), which triggered an official investigation into Mr. Toews’ conduct. Chief Justice Glenn Joyal of Manitoba Court of Queen’s Bench has declared that Mr. Toews will remain a sitting judge while the CJC conducts its review.

Whom are we to judge? In this case, the behaviour and judgment of both Mr. Toews and Chief Justice Joyal deserve intense public scrutiny.

It is not entirely clear why Chief Justice Joyal deferred to the CJC. The events in Ms. Dawson’s report occurred before Mr. Toews was a judge.

More worrisome is the fact Chief Justice Joyal’s response to Mr. Toews’ predicament is at odds with his action in the case of former Queen’s Bench justice Lori Douglas, who was the subject of a CJC investigation in 2010 after nude photos of her were published online.

She stepped down from her role as as a sitting judge in September 2010 while under the supervision of then-chief justice Marc Monnin, after the existence of the photos was first made public.

It is not clear why the chief justice did not similarly reduce Mr. Toews’ duties pending the results of this CJC review. While it could be argued that Ms. Douglas was guilty of poor personal judgment, she committed no crime and there was never any suggestion she could not fairly adjudicate cases.

In Mr. Toews’ case, the former federal cabinet minister has been found guilty of breaking an important federal law. Although there are no specific penalties prescribed by that law, surely it has some bearing on Mr. Toews’ ability to serve as a judge.

Chief Justice Joyal is in a precarious situation in this matter; he was first appointed as a provincial court judge in 1998 by Mr. Toews, then Manitoba’s justice minister. When he was appointed to the Court of Queen’s Bench, Mr. Toews was Manitoba’s senior cabinet minister. Given that shared history, it may be wise that others be involved in passing judgment on Mr. Toews’ judicial future.

Whether the CJC considers the conflict-of-interest findings sufficiently egregious to disqualify Mr. Toews from his position on the bench remains to be seen.

But until that decision arrives, it seems inappropriate that Manitoba’s chief justice would, through inaction, apply such an apparently forgiving standard.

History

Updated on Thursday, April 27, 2017 10:53 AM CDT: Minor tweaks to text.

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