National Post

Page URL:

Saturday, May 01, 1999

PM feeds rumour of Arbour posting

Anne Marie Owens, with files from Sheldon Alberts in Ottawa, Peter Morton in Washington, Steven Edwards in New York
National Post

Jean Chretien, the Prime Minister, has fanned speculation that Louise Arbour will step down as the international chief prosecutor for war crimes to allow her to move to the Supreme Court of Canada.

The prime minister's remarks yesterday come in the wake of a New York Times story this week quoting anonymous sources saying Judge Arbour may leave her post, just as the hunt for war criminals in Rwanda and the former Yugoslavia escalates.

"As far as the possible appointment to the Supreme Court of Canada, of course everybody says that she would be an excellent candidate," Mr. Chretien said in Ottawa. "But at this moment, there is no decision made either for her to quit or for to us to ask her to become a judge of the Supreme Court."

About Judge Arbour's job in the Hague, he said, "It's been quite a time that she has been there . . . it is for her to decide."

For her part, Judge Arbour tried to play down the speculation. "I have not discussed that possibility with my own government," she said at the United Nations yesterday. "As for my future intentions, I am not prepared to speculate."

Judge Arbour has long been a favoured contender for the Supreme Court, but speculation has heated up with Justice Peter Cory poised to step down in June.

The talk now is not focused on whether or not she is the candidate of choice, but whether she would be willing to give up her high-profile international position.

Born in Montreal, posted to the Ontario Court of Appeal, Judge Arbour is 52, and as a woman who is bilingual, strong-minded, and well-respected for her judgments, many believe she offers exactly what is required in the complicated realm of Supreme Court politics.

Joseph Magnet, a constitutional law professor at the University of Ottawa law school, said although selecting candidates is a "mysterious process," it requires a roster including three judges from Quebec, three from Ontario, two from the West, and one from the Atlantic region. He described Judge Arbour as "a courageous and thoughtful judge," embroiled in the difficult situation of attempting to bring some clout to the prosecution of war crimes.

She took a leave from the Ontario Court of Appeal in 1996 to begin her four-year tribunal term.

Carl Baar, a Brock University professor with expertise in the judiciary, said there are strategies that would allow Judge Arbour to finish her war-crimes term and still take a Supreme Court posting.

One scenario would be to appoint a Quebec representative now, leaving an Ontario posting open for when Judge Arbour's tribunal work is done. Another possibility would be to appoint her but allow her to go on leave, a move which is unprecedented here but which allowed U.S. Supreme Court Justice Robert H. Jackson to join the Nuremberg trials.

Copyright Southam Inc.