National Post

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Saturday, May 01, 1999

Judicial VIPs nibble on 'little minced-up things'
Five Limos Hired

Adam Killick
National Post

WINNIPEG - Claire L'Heureux- Dube smiles, arms waving in animated conversation, as she waits for the black, shiny stretch limousine to pick her up outside the Winnipeg courthouse to take her to lunch. Other Supreme Court judges chat in the sunshine, which has pushed Winnipeg's temperature to 29C. One gazes across at the Manitoba legislature. Some get into the limo, ushered by Richard Scott, who moves about more like an avuncular tour guide than the chief justice of Manitoba.

The Supremes are on a field trip -- their first as a group in seven years -- and, evidently, they are having fun. "I'm enjoying it very much," Antonio Lamer, the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court, says as he is escorted into a cocktail reception. "The weather is great, and the people are friendly."

The junket, which some say is designed as a back-to-the-land trip to restore flagging public confidence in the country's top court, has been anything but public. The judges have scheduled no meetings with anyone other than those holding at least a law degree, and access to them has been closed to the media and public by plainclothes RCMP officers and security guards. Keen judge-watchers have seen the jurisprudential procession in only 30-second glimpses between doorways and the dark windows of Lincolns.

Eight of nine judges arrived Thursday (on several different flights, for security reasons), led by Judge Lamer, who had traded his red robe for a natty three-button sports coat and khakis.

Five limousines were hired to carry the judges -- though only two were used -- according to the owner of one company that supplied the Lincolns.

Thursday, shortly after arriving at the Supreme Court, jurists hosted a cocktail party for local judges, law professors, and officials from the Manitoba Law Society at the upscale Crowne Plaza hotel in downtown Winnipeg where they are staying for their three-day visit, which includes a retreat to address "housekeeping" issues.

Yesterday, after a morning meeting with judges from Manitoba's Court of Appeal and Court of Queen's Bench, they went to lunch at an undisclosed restaurant. Judge Scott, the top Manitoba judge, would not comment on what the judges discussed among themselves.

Rather, in a statement, he said he was "pleased and honoured to have the Supreme Court here" and that he looked forward "to the dialogue" between jurists.

A second cocktail party -- this one for 500 lawyers at the Winnipeg Art Gallery -- was also closed to the general public. Even Gary Filmon, the Premier (but not a lawyer), was not on the guest list, and those politicians who were on the list arrived there because of their prior legal careers.

The cocktail parties have hardly been extravagant, noted one invitee. (The food the judges were served was "horrible," the invitee said. "I figured I could go straight from work and not eat dinner," he said, "but it was cheese, vegetables, and little minced-up things.")

Allan Fineblit, the executive director of the Manitoba Law Society and the organizer of last night's party, which went from 5-7:30 p.m., promised the crudites would be better than at the judges' bash. Although no caviar was to be served, there were, at least, to be cheese-and-cucumber sandwiches, he said. The judges, each escorted by a "senior" Manitoba lawyer, were to be walked through and introduced to the other bar association members.

Mr. Fineblit, who also made the guest list, said that talking to a Supreme Court judge turned out to be less awe-inspiring than he expected. "It was very informal. There were no speeches or anything like that. It was an opportunity to meet them in a smaller group," he said.

Mr. Fineblit said he spent a considerable amount of time chatting with Michel Bastarache, a Supreme Court judge originally from New Brunswick. "I talked to him about how he liked living in Ottawa, about what he thought of Winnipeg. It was cocktail party talk. They're remarkably normal. They put their pants on one leg at a time," he said.

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