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Canadian Judicial Council won't appeal harsh ruling of its investigation of judge

Last Updated May 25, 2020 at 5:34 pm PDT

TORONTO — The Canadian Judicial Council says it will not appeal last week’s Federal Court ruling that harshly criticized its investigation of a justice who accepted a temporary deanship of an Indigenous-focused law school.

The council says in a news release that an appeal of the decision that cleared Ontario Superior Court Justice Patrick Smith would not be in the public interest, and that all aspects of the order will be complied with promptly.

The release further notes Smith’s case and the ruling “have continued to shine a light on the urgent need to move forward with reforms to the Judges Act.”

The council investigated Smith for taking leave from the bench in 2018 to become temporary dean of the Bora Laskin law school at Lakehead University in Thunder Bay, Ont.

A judicial council review panel concluded Smith had violated Section 55 of the Judges Act, but Federal Court Judge Russel Zinn cleared Smith last week and rapped the Canadian Judicial Council for abusing its powers.

The council says in the release that its chairperson, the Right Honourable Chief Justice Richard Wagner, has “urged the government to proceed with vital legislative changes” for dealing with judicial conduct complaints, which it says it understands are “imminent.”

“Upon my appointment as Chief Justice of Canada and Chair of the Canadian Judicial Council, it was clear to me that procedures for dealing with judicial conduct complaints were too slow, opaque, and out-of-date,” Wagner stated in the release.

“I am pleased that we are getting closer to real, positive reforms that will support transparency, integrity, and the best interests of all Canadians.”

Smith’s lawyer, Brian Gover, called on the council for an apology after Zinn’s ruling, but Monday’s statement from the council didn’t contain one.

Smith had cleared his acceptance of the law school posting with his own chief justice, who in turn had cleared it with the federal justice minister.

Although it had received no complaints, the council investigated Smith and a judicial council review panel concluded he had violated Section 55 of the Judges Act, although it found he had no improper motives.

Among other things, the act requires judges to devote themselves exclusively to their judicial duties and to avoid involvement in controversy or public debate that could expose them to political attack.

Zinn, however, found the Judges Act does not prohibit judges from taking on non-judicial roles, and faulted the council’s executive director for even looking into the issue based ostensibly on a straightforward media report that had no criticism of Smith’s appointment.

Smith resigned his university position in light of the proceedings.

The council said Monday that the judicial conduct reforms are part of a larger a larger renewal initiative it is undertaking, with the aim of “enhancing public confidence in the judiciary, generally.”

This report by The Canadian Press was first published May 25, 2020.

The Canadian Press