Pubdate: Sat, 11 Nov 2006
Source: Winnipeg Sun (CN MB)
Copyright: 2006 Canoe Limited Partnership
Author: Tom Brodbeck


Justice Minister Vic Toews is sticking to his guns that cops should 
play a role in helping select Canada's judges, despite public rebukes 
from Canada's top judge and a national lawyers group.

"I'm very confident about our position," Toews told the Sun yesterday.

Toews has announced changes to how judicial advisory committees -- 
which select candidates for federal judge appointments -- across 
Canada will be formed, including for the first time having one police 
representative on each committee of eight.

This week the move drew criticism from Supreme Court of Canada Chief 
Justice Beverley McLachlin, who took the unusual step of wading into 
a political debate. McLachlin said in a press release Thursday that 
Toews should consult with the Canadian Judicial Council and lawyer 
groups before proceeding.

"We believe this is necessary to protect the interests of all 
Canadians in an independent advisory process for judicial 
appointments," wrote McLachlin.

The chief justice also fired off a letter to Toews personally on the 
matter. So did the Canadian Bar Association, which has also raised 
concerns about the move.

Toews says he doesn't want to get into a public spat with McLachlin. 
But he says he's firm in his position.

"She raised certain points with me and we've responded to those 
points," Toews said.

Toews said he will make his correspondence with McLachlin public only 
if she agrees to it.

Judicial advisory committees have traditionally been made up mostly 
of lawyers. Toews said he wants a broader representation from the 
legal community, including cops, on the committee.

"Why should it be that lawyers are the only interest groups 
involved?" said Toews. "Who can deny that police have a very 
important stake and interest in the judicial system?"

Toews said cops are often closer to the public on justice issues than 
lawyers and should have a say on who's appointed to the bench.

"Here we have people, the police, who are very knowledgeable about 
the system and yet are in large part outsiders," said Toews. "They're 
not part of that closed circle that is making these determinations."

Toews balked at criticism he wants cops on the committees to appoint 
judges who will be tougher on criminals.

"That demonstrates a complete lack of understanding of what the 
process is," said Toews. "They're going to be one voice of eight on a 
committee that is by and large dominated by lawyers."

Besides, painting police as a group of hang-'em-high prison wardens 
is an unfair stereotype, says Jack Ewatski, president of the Canadian 
Association of Chiefs of Police.

"It's unfortunate that there are some in our society that view police 
as ultra-right wing and the only consequence we want to see for any 
type of crime is putting people in jail for a long period of time," 
said Ewatski. "That isn't the case at all."

Ewatski calls Toews' proposal "refreshing" and says police should 
have a say on all aspects of the criminal justice system, including 
the judicial selection process.

"I think the concept of it is something that we would be very 
interested in," said Ewatski. "Personally, I would support that and I 
believe the chiefs of police across this country would support the 
concept of that."
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