Why no transparency on the government's bill to give it veto power over transferring judges?
Many of the problems and criticism of the Brian Gallant government seem to be rooted in two shortcomings. First, policy decisions that don’t seem to have been well thought out, and second, poor communications. And often, the two are linked, wrapped up in a lack of transparency.
With the session of the legislature due to resume tomorrow, there are a couple of issues to watch that illustrate this. One of them is Bill 21. That’s the amendment to the Judicature Act, the one that will give the Justice Minister veto power over where the Chief Justice can transfer judges.
The legal community, from the Law Society of New Brunswick to the New Brunswick Branch of the Canadian Bar Association are opposed, the latter calling the bill "constitutionally questionable and a troubling intrusion into the independence of the judiciary." As well, legal experts say what the government is intend on doing is probably unconstitutional.
That’s something the courts will decide if it comes to that. But it matters regardless because whether this or any subsequent government abuses it or not, the amendment has the potential for government interference. If the possibility of fear or favour exists, it could affect the impartiality and credibility of the courts, something that in a democracy should be jealously protected. It’s rather mind boggling that the government either doesn’t understand this, or prefers not to understand it.
Because it seems pretty clear the government is intent on ramming this legislation through, and probably this week.
It will be interesting to see whether the government finally brings some clarification to this issue, something that so far has been as rare as a Donald Trump apology.
One can hope though, because there are some troubling questions that deserve answers.
First, the total lack of transparency. In fact the Chief Justice David Smith is taking his own government to court to get documents on this that the government is refusing to hand over. A red flag there, as one has to wonder why.
Second, the government’s refusal to say why it needs such a veto. Before he was bumped as Justice Minister, Stephen Horsman stumbled badly when questioned on it, completely at a loss to give even one example why such a change was necessary. It became quite obvious it wasn’t his idea, but one pushed on him from above. More red flags.
But Premier Gallant as well, has failed to show any transparency as to why they are doing this.
Third, what’s the rush? There was no consultation with the Chief Justice before this legislation was introduced. In fact he says he didn’t even know it was coming.
The new Justice Minister, Denis Landry will likely be pushed on it this week, but there is nothing to indicate any enlightenment from him will be forthcoming. The Chief Justice requested a meeting with him, but the response was that he could have one “in a few weeks”. That’s pretty insulting, given that the legislation will likely be passed into law by then.
It’s pretty ham-fisted governing, and it is lending itself to all manner of speculation, as is always the case in the absence of information. It’s not my intent to delve into the rumours, but they are rampant and sooner or later the government will have to deal with them.
Or not. They could be banking on the assumption that judicial independence isn’t something most New Brunswickers care about...that it is just so much inside baseball, and simply doesn’t matter when compared to issues like jobs, fracking, and French and English students travelling on the same school bus.
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