Canada high court rebuffs government, blocks court appointment

Fri Mar 21, 2014 1:50pm EDT
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By Randall Palmer

OTTAWA (Reuters) - The Supreme Court of Canada dealt a blow to Conservative Prime Minister Stephen Harper on Friday by blocking a controversial appointment to the high court made by Harper in October.

The court's sweeping 6-1 decision said Harper's appointee, Federal Court of Appeal Justice Marc Nadon, did not meet the specific criteria set for taking up one of the seats on the court bench reserved for the province of Quebec. It also struck down retroactive changes to the criteria for the appointment made by the government in December.

The ruling is an embarrassment for the government and means the court will have to continue operating one judge short of its nine-member capacity for a while longer.

The government, operating on the advice of two former Supreme Court justices, had appointed Nadon in October to fill one of three seats reserved for Quebec, but Toronto lawyer Rocco Galati challenged the move. The separatist Quebec government also opposed it. The court has now voided the appointment.

The Supreme Court Act requires that appointees to the court from Quebec be either judges of Quebec's provincial courts or lawyers with at least 10 years standing with the Quebec Bar Association.

Nadon had been a member of the Quebec Bar for two decades, but that was before his appointment as a federal judge, and he is not a member now.

The court ruled that Quebec appointees must be current provincial judges or current members of the Quebec Bar. It said that changing these conditions would require a constitutional amendment to which all 10 provinces would have to agree.

However, it did allow for a possible loophole: that Nadon resign his judgeship and return to the Quebec Bar for a day in order to be eligible for appointment. The court said it was not asked whether this would be allowed and "(w)e therefore do not decide this issue".   Continued...

The Supreme Court building is pictured in Ottawa March 21, 2014. REUTERS/Chris Wattie