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LETTER: Downey’s proposed justice reform anti-democratic

In Governance
Mar 5th, 2023
The new chief justice must reflect ‘the values that I have … (that) only I can assess,’ says Downey, a longtime Orillia lawyer; There is ‘no transparency,’ says letter writer
Photo, Attorney General Doug Downey  | Kevin Lamb for BarrieToday Mar 5 2023

Doug Downey, our MPP and the attorney general for Ontario, has proposed changes in selecting the chief justice for Ontario, from the traditional practice of selecting from a list of carefully vetted candidates presented by the outgoing chief justice to one that appears to be a highly personal and secretive selection process and contrary to what one expects in a democracy.

Ontario’s citizens expect judges and chief justices to be appointed by a process independent of political considerations. It is this independence and separation of the courts from government that is so essential in a democracy.

Although a very different system, one only has to look at the result of Trump’s appointments to the Supreme Court of the U.S. to appreciate the impact of political appointments in the judicial system.

Our Constitution does not explicitly recognize a separation of powers in the same way the U.S. does, but it is inherent and is a cornerstone of our system that the judiciary must be separate and independent of the government. An independent court is an essential check on the power of government. It was the courts that overturned this government’s Bill 124 limitation on collective bargaining, restoring the rights to workers, so we know that a system of checks and balances is needed.

We have no assurances from Downey that appropriate criteria, beyond understanding victims’ issues and ensuring they have community leadership, will be honoured in making appointments. In fact, there is no transparency at all. He has stated that the new chief justice must reflect “the values that I have,” a direct quote, and that “only I can assess that.” Applicants would apply directly to him, be interviewed by him, selected by him, yet he claims he is increasing transparency.

If the recent appointments of Tribunals Ontario officials, such as Sean Weir, are any indication, the only real qualification this government seemingly values is allegiance to the Progressive Conservative party. Weir has been put in charge of Tribunals Ontario and the appointment of Ontario’s various adjudicators, yet he has no adjudication experience himself; he had simply run as the Progressive Conservative candidate in Oakville and been an adviser to the PC government.

These patronage appointments are perhaps the worst form of corruption of government and a betrayal of the people of Ontario, who expect that the best qualified person secure the position. Unless the selection process itself is transparent and non-partisan, people will have no confidence in the courts.

Trust in government and the independence of the courts are essential in order for democracy to work. Call upon Downey to abandon this highly controversial reform and restore the more open and transparent impartiality of the selection process.

Debbie Palmer

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