Democracy watchdog calls for investigation of judicial appointments by N.B. MP
Published Friday, July 5, 2019 9:34PM ADT
Last Updated Friday, July 5, 2019 9:35PM ADT
Questions are swirling about whether federal minister Dominic Leblanc broke the law when he didn't fully disclose his personal connections to five recent judicial appointments.
Leblanc is a familiar face in much of Canada, but even more so in New Brunswick, where he's represented the Beauséjour riding as MP for almost 20 years.
But prior to taking public office, Leblanc was a lawyer.
“It needs to be investigated and confirmed fully,” said Duff Conacher of Democracy Watch.
This week, Leblanc is under fire for his personal connections to five recent judicial appointments, including some who financially helped with his unsuccessful leadership campaign eleven years ago -- and another who has a family connection.
“The issue is whether Dominic Leblanc participated in these appointment decisions and I think if he did, there's enough evidence to say that he had an apparent conflict of interest,” Conacher said.
Conacher says if Leblanc was “in the room” for any of these appointments, then he violated the federal ethics law.
The prime minister yesterday defended the process that appoints judges.
“The process, the transparent, merit based process that we've put in place is the right one and we stand by it,” Justin Trudeau said in Ottawa on Thursday.
Said Conacher: “The system is unfair to these people, they likely are qualified, and now they're tainted by the fact that you have a system where the politicians at the federal level and the Trudeau cabinet get to have too much say in who is picked.”
Several New Brunswick-based lawyers say the appointees have extensive resumes and rightly earned these positions.
The New Brunswick Law Society issued this statement about the appointments:
“This committee takes the magnitude and gravity of their work extremely seriously and only advances the names of those who are most qualified for judicial office by reason of their knowledge, experience, expertise, unimpeachable personal character and reputation as leading barristers and solicitors for the ultimate consideration of the federal minister of justice.”
Wayne MacKay, professor emeritus at Dalhousie's Schulich School of Law, says more transparency would be a good thing.
“Because what they're talking about in this case is an appearance of bias,” MacKay said. “I don't think anyone is directly suggesting bias. He's not benefiting in any direct way, but that could be assisted by more transparency. I think people would also be more comfortable that judges are completely independent.”
Democracy Watch has filed a complaint with the federal ethics commissioner.
Conacher says he hasn't reached out to Leblanc.
So, what's the actual penalty if Leblanc was found to have broken the ethics law?
According to Democracy Watch, not much of anything, which in itself, is a problem, they say.
CTV News reached out to Leblanc's office as well and didn't receive a response.
With files from CTV Atlantic’s Laura Brown.