Toronto Star

Saturday, May 15, 1999

Arbour sizing up Ottawa

U.N. prosecutor may leave post for Supreme Court

By Tonda MacCharles
Toronto Star Ottawa Bureau

OTTAWA - Prime Minister Jean Chrétien hinted yesterday that Canadian judge Louise Arbour may be preparing to leave her job as international war crimes prosecutor despite the poor timing for appointing an effective replacement.

Arbour, on leave from the Ontario Court of Appeal, is considered the leading candidate to replace retiring Supreme Court of Canada Justice Peter Cory.

But finding a replacement for her as chief prosecutor of the U.N. tribunal looking into atrocities in Yugoslavia is fraught with political problems now, because China and Russia have a veto on the U.N. Security Council, which must approve the new candidate.

The fear among some NATO member countries is the compromise that would be wrung out of concessions at the Security Council would be Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic's immunity from indictment on war crimes.

Arbour has given no indication officially or unofficially to the United Nations that she intends to quit her high-profile job, said a spokesperson for Secretary-General Kofi Annan. She is now three years into her four-year term.

But Chrétien acknowledged yesterday that the war crimes job has been arduous, and suggested the Canadian government has softened its opposition to an early departure.

``You know it's an extremely difficult job,'' Chrétien told reporters. ''The person who was doing the (international prosecutor's) job before handled that for two years. It's extremely demanding and, you know, extreme difficulties, a lot of travelling and so on, and she has served three years almost now.''

Chrétien called Arbour an ``extremely qualified judge'' but denied any decision to offer her a seat on the country's top court had been made.

He suggested the political path is not yet clear for Arbour's departure.

``It's a personal decision for her to make,'' said Chrétien. ``I've been informed that she finds it extremely difficult to carry on that way. She has a family and so on. She might be interested to come back on her own. But she's a woman of duty too. So that will have to be decided eventually.''

Cory's departure was to be effective as of June 1. He will sit for two more weeks, and continue writing decisions until June 30. But the court does not necessarily need a full complement of nine to continue hearing cases for the final two weeks that will remain in its summer session.

Last year, when another seat on the Supreme Court of Canada came open, Arbour's name was among a number of candidates for the job, but the big drawback then was she was barely midway through her U.N. term. Mr. Justice Ian Binnie was appointed to the seat, one of three reserved for candidates from Ontario.

The Department of Foreign Affairs is clearly not anxious to see Arbour vacate the job at The Hague, where she is seen as ``extraordinarily effective,'' according to Foreign Affairs spokesperson Jim Wright.

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