Canadian Supreme Court's top judge dismisses activist label

Thu Aug 13, 2015 4:12pm EDT
 
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By Nia Williams

CALGARY, Alberta (Reuters) - Supreme Court of Canada Chief Justice Beverley McLachlin brushed off criticism on Thursday that her court, which has clashed with Prime Minister Stephen Harper, has been too activist.

McLachlin, the court's longest-serving chief justice, has presided over numerous decisions that reversed Parliament's decisions, and made landmark rulings on prostitution and physician-assisted suicide that were opposed by the ruling Conservatives.

In response to a question as to whether her court is improperly activist, she said: "We try to answer the questions put before us in accordance with the constitution and the law. I leave the labels to other people."

Harper's Conservative government has also found itself at the losing end of decisions on mandatory minimum sentences and Senate reform. Last year, the court rejected one of Harper's picks to fill a Supreme Court vacancy.

While Harper's critics charge that he has been dismissive of the rule of law and the constitution, some social conservatives have argued McLachlin has gone to far in extending constitutional rights.

The National Post ran a headline in May dubbing her "unofficial leader of the opposition."

Asked by a reporter how she felt about that title, she said: "My feelings are irrelevant, but descriptions of various sorts as to how institutions are perceived or function, one can expect this, so it’s par for the course."

McLachlin, 71, was speaking at a rare press conference, during a Canadian Bar Association conference. She said she welcomed robust debate on the role of the court, but declared: "I'm not a politician, I'm a judge.”

(Writing by Randall Palmer; Editing by Jeffrey Hodgson and David Gregorio)

 
Chief Justice Beverley McLachlin (2nd R) takes part in a ceremony at the Supreme Court of Canada in Ottawa February 10, 2015.     REUTERS/Blair Gable