Tuesday, August 24, 1999A changing of the guard for Quebecers on high court
EDMONTON - The impending retirement of Chief Justice Antonio Lamer sets in motion a complete facelift of the Quebec contingent on the Supreme Court of Canada which has been in place for more than a decade.
Justices Claire L'Heureux-Dube and Charles Gonthier, both 71 and the two other Quebec representatives on the high court, are expected to follow the chief justice into retirement in the next few years.
While Judge Lamer's pending departure has been dominated by talk of who will succeed him as chief justice, he stressed yesterday that who will replace him and his two colleagues from Quebec will have more of an impact on the country.
Judge Lamer, who has carved out a reputation for himself as a criminal law expert, Charter of Rights proponent and champion of the rights of the accused, said he hopes the coming appointments maintain the diversity of the present court.
"But I think they take these things into account and they try to create a balance," he added.
By law, three of the court's nine coveted positions are reserved for Quebecers. There has not been an opening from that province since 1989, when Judge Gonthier was appointed. He is considered a legal generalist and one of the most low-key members of the court.
Judge L'Heureux-Dube, however, is one of the court's most vocal members and a champion of equality rights.
Despite the shortage of openings over the last 10 years, speculation in Quebec legal circles over who will replace Judge Lamer appears to be muted, in part because there's a feeling that there are two other jobs on the horizon.
But names that have emerged as the top early contenders include three long-time judges on the Quebec Court of Appeal: Morris Fish, Michel Proulx and Jean-Louis Baudouin.
Judge Fish, 60, one of Montreal's top criminal lawyers before he was appointed to the province's high court 10 years ago, would be the first anglophone Quebecer named to the Supreme Court in more than 30 years, if appointed.
Court observers suggest the choice could be a politically astute one for Jean Chretien, the Prime Minister, since two of the three judges he has appointed to the Supreme Court -- Michel Bastarache and Louise Arbour -- have been francophones from outside Quebec.
Judge Proulx, considered a top candidate 10 years ago to fill the Supreme Court vacancy that went to Judge Gonthier, was a well-known criminal lawyer in Montreal and was a lawyer for the Dubin inquiry into drug abuse in sports before he became a judge in 1989.
Judge Proulx and Judge Fish are considered key contenders to replace Judge Lamer because the court is losing its prime criminal law expert.
"It is a given that somebody with such a background would have a jumpstart in Quebec," said Pierre Gagnon, president of the Quebec branch of the Canadian Bar Association.
Another top candidate, however, is Judge Baudouin, 61, a civil law expert with an international reputation for possessing a brilliant legal mind. The Quebec Court of Appeal judge of 10 years has a background similar to Judge Lamer's: both sat on the federal Law Reform Commission and taught law at the University of Montreal. He has been on the Supreme Court short list since the 1980s.
Judge Lamer, whom Mr. Chretien will consult on a replacement, said yesterday that his successor doesn't necessarily have to be a criminal law expert, since incoming Justice Louise Arbour will carry on that legacy when she joins the court in September.
"Let's not forget we have a new civil code [in Quebec] and maybe they'll want to appoint somebody who has a strong civil code background," he said.
Other potential successors include three other judges on the Quebec Court of Appeal: Michel Robert, former president of the Liberal Party of Canada; the court's chief justice, Pierre Michaud, and Louise Mailhot.
Anne McLellan, the Justice Minister, said yesterday she and Mr. Chretien have already started talks on who will replace Judge Lamer as chief justice and as a Quebec judge.
"I've talked to the prime minister about this and he and I are both aware of the necessity to ensure that the court is at full complement as soon as possible," she said.
Judge Lamer said he wants his successor as chief justice appointed soon so he can supervise the transition before he leaves in January. The two leading contenders are Supreme Court justices Beverley McLachlin and Frank Iacobucci.
Both decisions will be up to Mr. Chretien, after Ms. McLellan consults with the legal community.