National Post

Saturday, February 27, 1999

McClung's letter outrageous, legal experts say
'Ungentlemanly': Rising suicide rate linked to comments by L'Heureux-Dube

Shawn Ohler
National Post


In a letter sent to the National Post, Alberta Court of Appeal Justice John McClung linked Quebec's rising suicide rate with comments made by Supreme Court Justice Claire L'Heureux-Dube.

Justice John McClung was excoriated yesterday by Canada's legal and academic communities for personal attacks he levelled at Supreme Court Justice Claire L'Heureux-Dube.

In a letter Thursday to the National Post, Judge McClung of the Alberta Court of Appeal linked Quebec's growing suicide rate with Judge L'Heureux-Dube's written opinion in the so-called "no means no" sexual assault case involving Edmonton man Randy Ewanchuk.

"The personal convictions of the judge, delivered again from her judicial chair, could provide a plausible explanation for the disparate (and growing) number of male suicides being reported in the Province of Quebec," Judge McClung wrote. Justice L'Heureux-Dube's husband committed suicide in 1978, although yesterday Judge McClung denied knowledge of the suicide.

Canadian legal experts said Judge McClung's missive was inappropriate whether he knew of the suicide or not.

"It is a shocking and outrageous statement to be making. You don't need to be a lawyer to see that it is discourteous, it is hurtful, it is uncalled for, it is ungentlemanly and it is certainly injudicious," said Joseph Magnet, a former Crown prosecutor and a professor of the University of Ottawa's law school for 20 years.

"You don't have to agree with Madame Justice L'Heureux-Dube in that case. You can disagree strongly with her judgment. But not getting your way is hardly a reason for making personal, vindictive and ungentlemanly remarks in a public forum in writing."

Judge McClung's response to Justice L'Heureux-Dube's opinion was unprecedented and surprising, said Peter Russell, an expert on the Canadian judiciary and former University of Toronto professor.

"It is extremely rare to hear this sort of thing away from the bench. Judges are not politicians, you know?" Prof. Russell said.

"Judges are often critical in private discussion and sometimes when they visit law schools students will engage them and you can hear criticism. But it is always politely phrased and there is a civility to it.

"They are certainly not the sort of appalling comments we are reading today from Justice McClung."

Prof. Russell said legalists, if not Judge L'Heureux-Dube herself, will likely complain about Judge McClung's letter to the Canadian Judicial Council.

"Given how aroused people are by his behaviour, I would be shocked if there wasn't a complaint."

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