National Post

Wednesday, March 03, 1999

Groundswell of support rises for embattled McClung
Respected by lawyers: Supporters fear witch hunt against 'gracious' judge

Shawn Ohler
National Post

A senior Alberta judge besieged by calls for his resignation gained some measure of support yesterday following his abject apology to Supreme Court Justice Claire L'Heureux-Dube.

Politicians, Canadian legalists and members of the public commended Alberta Court of Appeal Justice John McClung, who last week criticized the Supreme Court judge in the National Post, including in a letter to the editor that linked Quebec's mounting male suicide rate with her legal opinion in a landmark sexual assault case.

Groups calling for a Canadian Judicial Council investigation into Judge McClung's behaviour were not impressed with his apology, although his supporters say they forgive him.

"It reveals that Judge McClung is a most gracious man, isn't he? And very, very humble. I'm deeply touched by his sensitivity and his generosity," said Liberal Senator Anne Cools.

"I have great respect for John Wesley McClung and I would be concerned if he is submitted to any mean-spirited witch hunt. I don't believe that he meant anything untoward. He is one of the great luminaries of the Canadian judicial system," she said.

In his apology, Judge McClung said he considers writing to the National Post "an overwhelming error" and has insisted he only meant to scold Justice L'Heureux-Dube for her "consistent anti-male response" in her judgments.

Last week, as the Supreme Court quashed two Alberta court rulings that acquitted Steve Ewanchuk, an Edmonton man, in the "no means no" sexual assault case, Justice L'Heureux-Dube took the unusual step of belittling the Alberta jurist's Appeal Court ruling in a separate opinion. Judge McClung's angry follow-up letter generated a national outcry when it emerged that Justice L'Heureux-Dube's husband killed himself.

Ammon Ackroyd, a veteran Edmonton lawyer and a friend of Judge McClung's since the 1950s, said he believes a "silent majority" of that city's lawyers support the embattled judge.

"He is highly regarded for his judicial decisions and the general demeanour that he brings to the court," Mr. Ackroyd said.

He discounted the efforts of women's organizations such as the National Council of Women of Canada, one of several groups to file a formal complaint against Judge McClung to the Canadian Judicial Council.

"I certainly do not agree with their calls for his resignation," Mr. Ackroyd said.

"That would be a grievous loss to the bar and the bench."

Perhaps the highest-profile supporter of Judge McClung is Edward Greenspan, a prominent Toronto lawyer who wrote a comment piece in yesterday's National Post and found more fault in Justice L'Heureux-Dube's initial criticism.

"By labelling Judge McClung, in effect, the male chauvinist pig of the century, the chief yahoo from Alberta, the stupid, ignorant, ultimately sexist male jerk, Judge L'Heureux-Dube did an unnecessary and mean-spirited thing," Mr. Greenspan wrote. "It was undignified and very wrong."

Dave Rutherford, who hosts a popular, Alberta-wide talk-radio show, estimated that 90% of his callers yesterday defended Judge McClung.

Copyright Southam Inc.