Globe and Mail

Poll reveals skepticism about role of judges

BY ROBERT MATAS, VANCOUVER
The Globe and Mail
Friday, May 11, 2001

About half the Canadian population feels that members of the Supreme Court of Canada have too much power, a new poll by Ipsos-Reid has found.

Judges are respected and perceived as impartial on race-related issues. But they are also seen as too lenient and not completely independent from partisan politics, pollster Angus Reid said in an interview shortly before addressing an international conference on judicial independence.

Also, a majority of Canadians feel that judges do not treat everyone equally. Only 35 percent of Canadians say everyone is treated the same, which is not an overwhelming endorsement of the justice system, he said.

Sixty-two per cent of those surveyed disagreed with the statement that the justice system treats all citizens fairly.

"The public's sense, whether rightly or wrongly, is that judges do not always leave behind their own preferences and baggage when they make a decision," Mr. Reid said.

Pollsters have been measuring attitudes toward the criminal-justice system for many years, but a survey of attitudes toward judicial independence and the Supreme Court of Canada is rare.

Ipsos-Reid questioned 1,000 Canadians and 1,000 Americans last week on perceptions of judicial independence. The results were presented yesterday to an international conference in Vancouver that attracted more than 100 notable jurists, scholars and lawyers.

A few weeks before the survey, Opposition Leader Stockwell Day had raised questions about the independence of the judiciary in Canada, and alleged that a Quebec judge was in a conflict of interest.

"He was speaking to an audience that was prepared to listen," Mr. Reid said. "A lot of Canadians think they [the judges] have too much power.

Copyright 2001 Globe Interactive, a division of Bell Globemedia Publishing Inc.