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Friday, April 09, 1999Judge L'Heureux-Dube could be hurt by allegations she lied, scholar says
'It's a credibility thing': Documents suggest judge was a member of women's federation
Anne Marie Owens
One of the country's leading authorities on the Supreme Court says allegations that Justice Claire L'Heureux-Dube misrepresented her involvement with a feminist legal organization could be "a milestone" in the history of the court.
When she was under scrutiny by the Canadian Judicial Council last month, Judge L'Heureux-Dube wrote in a letter to the council that she had no recollection of any involvement with the International Federation of Women Lawyers (FIDA).
Now, REAL Women of Canada, the group that launched the complaint against the judge in the wake of a controversial ruling on a sexual assault case, has produced documents that show Judge L'Heureux-Dube was Canadian vice-president of the organization in 1981, when she was a Quebec Superior Court justice.
Judge L'Heureux-Dube has not commented on this latest chapter in the ongoing dispute stemming from her remarks about a judgment she criticized for being based on archaic and stereotypical ideas.
"She is aware of the report and she has nothing to say," said the judge's assistant yesterday.
But Joseph Magnet, a respected constitutional scholar and law professor at the University of Ottawa, said although her contradictory remarks could be entirely innocent, this latest dispute could undermine the credibility of Judge L'Heureux-Dube and give further ammunition to those who already have problems with her.
"It's a credibility thing, and it certainly doesn't help her credibility," he said. "Some people in the legal community think that she is not tremendously faithful to the law, that she stretches the law. Some people think she is too reckless in imposing her views, which are iconoclastic . . . This would lend a certain amount of fuel to those making those claims.''
"For the credibility of that judge and the court to which she belongs, this is potentially a milestone."
Chris Levy, a professor at the University of Calgary's faculty of law, said this does not help the judge's credibility at all, but says she is covered somewhat by the "traditional words of caution" used by those in the legal profession, "to the best of my recollection."
In her official response to the complaint to the judicial council last month, Judge L'Heureux-Dube said: "With respect to the International Federation of Women Lawyers, I am not now, nor have I ever been, to the best of my recollection, affiliated with this organization."
The point of her involvement appears to be moot as far as the official investigation goes, since the council ruled that even if she did belong to such a group, such membership "would not constitute judicial misconduct."
Alan Young, a professor at Osgoode Hall law school in Toronto, called the dispute "a tempest in a teapot" that has strayed far away from the issue of whether a judge is being influenced by a particular ideology.
Eddie Greenspan, a prominent criminal lawyer, said the issue worth debating is whether it matters that a judge is involved in these kinds of organizations, not the campaign being pursued by REAL Women.
"This case has taken on a life of its own," said Kim Buchanan, staff lawyer for the Legal Education and Action Fund (LEAF), a Canadian feminist legal organization, who said the core of the dispute has already been settled by the judicial council.
"I don't know why REAL Women is persisting with this allegation of bias . . . They seem to think that the fact that a judge is committed to women's equality is an indication of bias."
The International Federation of Women Lawyers is a broad-based organization that advocates for the rights of women and children internationally.
The group, which was established in 1944, works through and with the United Nations, with the bulk of its focus on developing countries.
"We don't think of ourselves as feminist at all," said Eleanor Brown, a U.S. member of the group.
She said the organization's files are not a top priority, so she could not confirm Judge L'Heureux-Dube's membership.
She said the group boasts members from Brazil, Ghana, Malaysia, and other countries around the world.
"We're very respectable. We're very active in areas of women's rights, to protect the family, very active at the United Nations . . . We're not anti-men at all. We advocate building partnerships between men and women. It's inconceivable that we would be seen as some kind of radical feminists."
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L'Heureux-Dube dishonest with judicial body: women's group - April 8, 1999 Council rejects complaint against L'Heureux-Dube - April 2, 1999 L'Heureux-Dube expected to take a 'lead role' - March 24, 1999 Some more equal than others? Pshaw! - March 20, 1999 Fathers' group to file complaint against high court - March 13, 1999 Judge shuns spotlight in McClung controversy - March 9, 1999 An unfair attack on a decent judgment - March 8, 1999 Women's group turns tables on L'heureux-Dube - March 4, 1999 McClung suffering from 'wounded vanity': judge - March 1, 1999 Judges clash over landmark sex-assault ruling - February 26, 1999
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