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Saturday, April 10, 1999Judges' rules called informal
The rules governing the participation of judges in volunteer groups suggest Madame Justice Claire L'Heureux-Dube's membership in a woman's equality group 17 years ago was questionable, but not necessarily a conflict of interest, legal scholars say.
According to documents obtained by REAL Women of Canada, Judge L'Heureux-Dube was the vice-president of the International Federation of Women Lawyers in 1981 when she was a Quebec Superior Court justice.
"It was not quite a conflict but it came close to the borderline," said Peter McCormick, a political science professor at the University of Lethbridge, and an expert on the judiciary. "A judge having any executive position in a lawyers' organization is not a wise move. But to pull up a one-year episode from 17 years ago when she was two levels down from her current appointment is a stretch."
Judge L'Heureux-Dube, who was under scrutiny by the Canadian Judicial Council, wrote a letter to the council last month saying that "to the best of her recollection" she had never been a member of the International Federation of Lawyers, a group which advocates for the rights of women and children, and works with the United Nations with a focus on the developing world.
REAL Women, who launched the complaint against the judge in the wake of a controversial ruling in a sexual assault case, produced a document to the contrary, and have now seized on Judge L'Heureux-Dube's oversight as proof that her credibility is in question.
The Judicial Council, however, ruled that even if Judge L'Heureux-Dube did belong to the International Federation of Lawyers, such membership would not constitute judicial misconduct.
In fact, the rules governing judges' involvement in charitable, civic and religious groups are informal, and ultimately, the decision is left up to individual judges.
Last December, the Canadian Judicial Council issued a publication advising Canada's 1,000 federally appointed judges to avoid joining groups that are likely to be involved in litigation or public controversy. Judges are also advised not to solicit funds, give legal or investment advice or join groups that may interfere with the performance of judicial duties.
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