Harper vs. Chief Justice gets nasty

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PM refuses to apologize to McLachlin



Stephen Harper has refused three times to apologize publicly for his attack last week on the integrity of Chief Justice Beverley McLachlin of the Supreme Court.

Whenever the Opposition Leader Thomas Mulcair or Justin Trudeau asked Prime Minister Stephen Harper when he intends to apologize, Harper avoided answering the question.

Harper is still worked that nine months ago Justice McLachlin tried to call him up to talk about the appointment to the Supreme Court bench of his friend, federal judge Marc Nadon.

The call never took place. But there were problems, very big problems.

One of the three Supreme Court seats reserved for Quebec was up for grabs.  Section 6 of the Supreme Court Act says it must be somebody who is from one of the Quebec courts, either the Quebec Superior Court or the Quebec Appeal Court, or a lawyer for the past 10 years in the Quebec Bar Association.

The trouble was the guy Harper had in mind was Marc Nadon, but although he spoke fluent French as well as English, he was a Federal Court judge, and Federal Court is “federal” not ‘Quebec.’  Nor had he been a member of the Quebec Bar for the past 10 years.

But Harper being Harper, who cares? What Harper says, goes. At least in Parliament. Except that in the Supreme Court, it’s not Harper but the law that rules. So the Supreme Court rejected Harper’s man and Harper was furious.

But before all this happened, Justice McLachlin had tried to reach the Prime Minister.  We don’t know what she would have told Harper, but it might have been useful, and it might have prevented him looking so silly further down the line.

But nine months later Harper decides he’s angry and he’s going on the attack against Justice McLachlin.

His boys whip out a press release attacking her, her integrity and for making what he says was an “inadvisable and inappropriate” telephone call to him. But that was nine months earlier.  Was he asleep in between.

If she had done something wrong, why wait nine months? He could have told her point blank he wasn’t interested in what she wanted to talk about.

If she agreed, she could have added “I’m recusing myself from the case.”  Judges do that sort of recusing all the time for any number of reasons.

Who knows what she wanted to talk about – her recusing herself from the Nadon case, or another judge recusing himself, or whatever? Maybe she wanted to remind Harper of the eligibility problem making Nadon ineligible for the appointment.  In the end we don’t know because the call to Harper never went through.

So why does Harper go after her now?  Is it about something else that he doesn’t want to tell us?  Could it be because he didn’t get his way on the Supreme Court’s Senate reform decision, or maybe he’s still worked up about those five decisions in a row that he lost in the Supreme Court?

Canadians don’t like politicians going after judges. They respect the law. 

From one end of Canada to the other the legal community this week accused Harper of trying to intimidate McLachlin and weaken public trust in the Supreme Court, even though he named most of the Supreme Court judges.

Lawyers, judges, law professors, the Canadian Bar Association , its president, 11 former presidents , provincial law societies - in short everyone in the legal community was asking Harper: " Why did you wait so long to  complain ? " And more importantly “Why are you trying to intimidate Justice McLachlin?”

They accuse Harper of trying to smear her reputation and the integrity of the court.

Could it be Harper has another case to go before the court soon and by attacking the judges now, he’s already got an excuse in advance if he loses?

Harper has made a career of attacking judges and the courts. And of losing in the courts.

Fred Headon, President of the Canadian Bar Association said this week that by attacking the chief justice, Harper is undermining public trust in the Supreme Court.  

But when the public is given a choice between the Supreme Court and Stephen Harper, they’ll side with the court five times out of five. And Harper can get as angry as likes. It won’t change a thing.

The latest Nanos Research public opinion poll this week found that Harper lost four percentage points since the beginning of the crisis a week ago.

For a politician, the loss of four percentage points in a week is huge.


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