Michael Wernick: Mounting the Offence? (A Hypothesis)

As clerk of the privy council, Michael Wernick is Canada’s most senior public servant and, therefore, ostensibly neutral. But a more passionate defender before the House Justice Committee this past Thursday (February 21st) of the various actors (the prime minister, the PM’s principal secretary, others and himself) who helped to present, in his word, “the context” about the SNC-Lavalin situation to former Attorney General Jody Wilson-Raybould, is unlikely to be found. His doing so set the stage for the former attorney-general’s appearance next week.

Discussing the various meetings Wilson-Raybould had with these various political actors, as well as his non-partisan self, Wernick went to great pains to make it clear that these conversations may have been pressure, but that they were not “inappropriate”, merely ensuring that Wilson-Raybould had the necessary information about the economic consequences if the director of public prosecutions (DPP) did not invite SNC-Lavalin to negotiate a remediation agreement. (For details of Wernick’s testimony, see “Top bureaucrat says Trudeau, staff pressed Wilson-Raybould on SNC-Lavalin settlement” in the February 21st edition of The Globe and Mail online and “Privy Council Clerk Michael Wernick adamant no undue pressure exerted on Wilson-Raybould” in the February 21st online edition of the National Post.)

Was Wernick’s testimony the neutral setting out of events about the interactions between the former AG and others? Or was it intended to set up the former AG so that she would be on the defensive when (if) she testifies before the committee? Was his testimony a cool articulation of how much political pressure on an AG is permitted before it cross the line? Or was it intended to ensure that when (if) the former AG testifies, she will come across as overly sensitive to legitimate discussions, indeed, even to some degree of okay pressure?

The stronger argument seems to me to be that Wernick was another form of attack against Wilson-Raybould. After all, he put it clearly:


So I can tell you with complete assurance that my view of those conversations is that they were within the boundaries of what’s lawful and appropriate, I was informing the minister of context. She may have another view of the conversation, but that’s something that the ethics commissioner could sort out. [emphasis added]

The National Post

In short, Wernick’s testimony puts Wilson-Raybould on the defensive. Yes, his testimony implies, she was subject to pressure, but really this is nothing more than one would expect in the tough world of politics. After all, the economic consequences of SNC-Lavalin having to go to trial, be convicted and not being able to bid for government contracts would be severe. The PM, the PMO, the clerk of the privy council and others all expected she would understand that and take the appropriate action: instruct the DPP to offer to negotiate an agreement with SNC-Lavalin (even though by then the DPP had already decided against doing so). And even though the reason behind all the (“not inappropriate”) pressure, the national economic interest, was a reason the DPP could not take into account in deciding whether to offer to negotiate a remediation agreement (s.715.32(3)).

So let’s think about being in Wilson-Raybould’s position. She is the AG. She is not to take political considerations into account in making legal decisions, including any instructions to the DPP. The DPP makes a decision not to offer SNC-Lavalin an opportunity to negotiate a remediation agreement. The AG does not need to be involved in that under the relevant provisions of the Criminal Code; she needs to consent if the DPP does want to offer the opportunity, but not if the DPP does not (s.715.32(1)(c)). She is assailed on all sides to think about the bad impact on employees and other other negative consequences if SNC-Lavalin has to go to trial, but she decides (let us suppose) that the DPP’s decision is the correct one that reflects the requirements of the remediation agreement provisions and the independence of the DPP. She rejects the pressure she has been subject to and does not counteract the DPP’s decision.

Perhaps that seems to end the matter. Although Wilson-Raybould does apparently believe that she had been inappropriately pressured by the PMO, at least, she had not resigned as AG, perhaps because no one did give her a direct order to countermand the DPP’s decision. (The Globe and Mail reported that when she met with cabinet on February 19th, she told cabinet members that the pressure from the PMO was improper.) The PM was careful to say when questioned after The Globe and Mail story revealing there had been pressure, that he had not directed Wilson-Raybould, although that had not been the The Globe and Mail‘s assertion. For example, on February 15th, he explained,


There were many discussions going on. Which is why Jody Wilson-Raybould asked me if I was directing her, or going to direct her, to take a particular decision and I, of course, said no, that it was her decision to make and I expected her to make it. I had full confidence in her role as attorney general to make the decision.

National Post

The PM said if Wilson-Raybould had concerns, she should have raised them with him, but she did not. Or perhaps she was not concerned because she did not give in to the pressure, did what she thought was right and nothing negative followed.

Until the prime minister had an opportunity to shuffle his cabinet in mid-January when Scott Brison left government, Wilson-Raybould continued to be attorney general. And, said, Trudeau, if Brison hadn’t left, she still would be. The PM took the opportunity to move Seamus O’Regan from Veterans Affairs to Indigenous Services, replacing Jane Philpott who was given Treasury. And. to the surprise of many, he filled Veterans Affairs with Jody Wilson-Raybould (Global News had reported on January 14th that there was some expectation that Veterans Affairs would be filled by a newcomer from Nova Scotia).

The reality is, fair or not, that Veterans Affairs is seen as a less significant portfolio than many others and thus a demotion for Wilson-Raybould. Although the PM is free to name cabinet members as he wishes (taking into account the usual factors of geography and competence, among others), there are times appointments raise eyebrows and this was one, since overall, Wilson-Raybould had been a successful minister). Was she being punished because she refused to toe the line? Or was her removal a reflection of the lack of trust the PM now had in her to do what he wanted?

The PM replaced her with David Lametti, an MP from Quebec, who wasted little time in letting everyone know that he might still direct the DPP to offer to negotiate a remediation agreement with SNC-Lavalin. This suggested that the PM still wanted a different outcome on the SNC-Lavalin file, through a possibly more compliant minister (although possibly one who genuinely thought that there was cause to override the DPP’s decision, despite the remediation agreement provisions) . Possibly, we might infer from Wernick’s testimony, one who could take more pressure than could Wilson-Raybould without seeing it as inappropriate.

On that point, The Globe and Mail reported that “Lametti said the attorney general ‘is not an island’ who can’t talk to cabinet colleagues or government officials before making a decision about a prosecution. ..” but he also said
it is crucial that the final decision must be the attorney general’s alone.”

This is an accurate statement about the independence of the attorney general: she can consult with colleagues and is encouraged to do so, but she must make the decision. When she concludes that the political actors have become directing, she may have to resign. (This is the Shawcross doctrine, named after a UK attorney-general, Lord Shawcross). This is the crux of the matter. Repeated efforts to convince her to change her mind (or to reach a particular conclusion contrary to her inclination) from senior members of the government, the PMO and the PCO might well have crossed the line, but may also have been very close to it. At least one statement of attorney general independence, that relies on the Shawcross doctrine, says that “the government is not to put pressure on him or her” and that


although the Attorney General is a cabinet minister, he or she acts independently of the cabinet in the exercise of the prosecution function. This convention is now so firmly entrenched in the Canadian political system that any deviation would likely lead to the resignation of the Attorney General or would, at the very least, spark a constitutional crisis


The Honourable Marc Rosenberg , “The Attorney General and the Prosecution Function on the Twenty-First Century“, Ontario Court of Appeal website

Here there was “pressure”, not merely consultation. Rather than resigning, however, Wilson-Raybould kept her own counsel. The large clue to this lies in her statement posted on her website following her demotion:

The role of the Attorney General of Canada carries with it unique responsibilities to uphold the rule of law and the administration of justice, and as such demands a measure of principled independence. It is a pillar of our democracy that our system of justice be free from even the perception of political interference and uphold the highest levels of public confidence. As such, it has always been my view that the Attorney General of Canada must be non-partisan, more transparent in the principles that are the basis of decisions, and, in this respect, always willing to speak truth to power. This is how I served throughout my tenure in that role. (emphasis added)

Website of Jody Wilson-Raybould

She may well have thought all was forgiven until she was demoted and then, she, a good member of the Liberal government accepted that, or at least it seems she did, until the PM went one step too far. He mused that Wilson-Raybould was satisfied with the government because she was still in cabinet — upon which she resigned as minister of veterans affairs on February 12th.

Back to Michael Wernick’s testimony before the justice committee. The prime minister said on Friday (February 22nd) that Wernick “is someone we need to heed very carefully when he chooses to express himself publicly and I’m sure everyone is taking a careful look at his words yesterday”, effectively saying, “here’s the truth of the matter against which other views must be compared”. Wernick confirmed (it appears) the extent of the extensive pressure from various high officials on Wilson-Raybould. What he did not necessarily confirm is that that degree of pressure, despite Wilson-Raybould’s not giving in, did not constitute attempts to undermine the AG’s independence.

Why I’m a Friend of the Ontario Community Legal Clinic System

For the last several years, I’ve been a member of an advisory group called Friends of the Community Legal Clinics. We support the community legal clinic system and we’re available to advise the Association of Community Legal Clinics of Ontario (ACLCO). Many of the members have been closely involved with the system one way or the other, but my own connection is a bit different: I’m familiar with the system and have been for many years, but mostly I just believe strongly that people living in low income are very fortunate to have this system available to help them address legal problems that arise primarily because can’t afford legal assistance otherwise.

I had my first brush with Ontario’s community legal clinic system at Osgoode Hall Law School, when Professor Fred Zemans asked me to be his research assistant in 1979, my first year of law school. He was the first Director of Parkdale Community Legal Services, the first law school-connected clinic in Ontario and one of four in Canada, established in 1971. By 1979, over 30 clinics had been established; it was my job to visit them to contribute to the research and analysis that Professor Zemans would use in an article “Community Legal Clinics in Ontario: 1980, A Data Survey”. So in one sense, this was a “brush” with clinics, but in another, it was a deep dive into the details of all the clinics existing at the time. I became a fan of the system then and I remain one today.

Professor Zemans, aware of my interest in legal aid generally, invited me to legal aid roundtables he, with others, organized from time to time and I was able to attend even when I was in Fredericton as the Chair in Women and Law at UNB or in Calgary as dean of the law school. One of the first events I attended when I returned to Toronto from Calgary in 2007, to become the first executive director of the Law Commission of Ontario, was a legal aid conference. There I met quite a few people I’d known when I had lived in Toronto before I went to New Brunswick in 1992; they continued to work in the system. All along, I’d kept up to date with developments in the clinic system. When I started making the rounds of those who might be interested in the LCO’s work, who could contribute to it or benefit from it or both, I met with a number of the clinic directors, in part though the help of Lenny Abramowicz, the executive director of ACLCO.

Today, there are 74 clinics, some serving a specific geographic area, others “speciality” clinics serving particular communities (such as older adults, injured workers, Indigenous communities, persons living with disabilities, African-Canadians, Chinese and Southeast Asians, South Asian, persons living with HIV and AIDS and francophones). Right from the beginning, the LCO benefited considerably from the assistance of many sectors, legal and otherwise, with expertise and contacts related to its projects. Its project heads also met with hundreds of people affected by the various issues it addressed in its projects. (This may all still be the case; however, I left the LCO in December 2015 and, with one exception, have not had a connection with it since then.) Among the many contributors to LCO projects, clinics have been of enormous assistance in different ways that illustrate the depth of their expertise and the breadth of their connections to the community.

Geographically-based clinics made written submissions to almost the projects (if not all), bringing the everyday experience of their clients to the mix of factors the LCO considered in making recommendations. We heard from clinics all across Ontario, giving us insights that would have been very difficult to obtain otherwise. They knew about the struggles their clients faced — and members of the community in similar situations — because they dealt with them over and over again.

The specialized clinics revealed the depth of knowledge and commitment of their workers to serving their particular communities in numerous ways: some representatives served on advisory groups composed of members who reflected various and often conflicting views; a few clinics served on advisory groups in more than one project. Many made written submissions, several helped organized focus groups. We received more indepth analysis through research papers from a few clinics (the LCO paid for commissioned research).

In addition to what I learned about clinics through the LCO, I’ve also participated in some clinic events, which merely reinforced what I had seen in a more distant way. I made presentations for workshops organized by and served on advisory groups for research undertaken by Community Legal Education Ontario (CLEO), for example.

Clinics’ locations encourage people who might otherwise be reluctant to seek legal help to approach them. Their boards of directors, coming from the community, can keep clinics apprised of developments that help the clinics ensure their work meets the needs of their clientele. I know that they have an impact beyond the individual clinic. Since I undertook the research for Fred Zemans many years ago, I’ve become more convinced than ever that Ontario is fortunate to have the clinic system as an integral part of legal aid, with a structure that reinforces respect for the communities they serve and, given the on-going relationship, enables them to respond to the changing challenges facing those communities.

Forty years after Professor Zemans introduced me to the community clinics, I continue to be a “Friend” of the community clinics, I’ve seen first hand how important the expertise they’ve developed is in providing legal services to those living on low income. My more peripheral contact with other clinics confirms for me that the accumulated knowledge and understanding of the legal system that the clinics bring would be almost impossible, if possible at all, to duplicate.

Bookmark Memories….

Over the years, I’ve collected a treasure trove of bookmarks. I say “treasure trove” because so many of them were brought back from travels, accompanied books bought from now-shuttered bookshops or were given to me as gifts. 

I’ll start with one of those I’ve picked up, sometimes free, sometimes for a pittance, just because I smiled when I saw them — and they continue to make me smile. 

The idea of a sheep wearing rimless glasses and knitting a long multi-coloured scarf is just fun! The short tag to hang outside the book is made of wool. Not like those cannibalistic ads showing potatoes eating potato chips (or something like that)!

On to bookmarks from bookstores! I have a bookmark from Pages: Books on Kensington in Calgary, It was a short stroll from my house, along with the other small shops along Kensington & down 10th, often a destination on free Friday evenings. Several Christmas tree decorations from another shop enroute to Pages are carefully packed away in seasonally-themed boxes ready for their next outing.

A shop
in Victoria known not only for how gorgeous it is, but also for having been co-founded by Canada’s Nobel Laureate Alice Munro (in 2013) and her then husband Jim Munro in 1963. I spent time browsing the books and the surroundings on trips to Victoria for the Uniform Law Conference and the Federation of Law Commissions of Canada when I was at the Law Commission of Ontario.

Of course, three of my favourite bookshops are Ben McNally Books on Bay Street, Toronto, Munro’s Books in Victoria and Fanfare Books in Stratford. 

I drop into Ben McNally’s on the way to Union Station to catch the Go train home and rarely leave without new acquisitions. As I browsed one late afternoon, I heard a voice say, “there’s someone here”. I’d inadvertently door-crashed the launch of a poetry book – amazingly by someone I knew because she’d accompanied her husband whom I also knew to winter open houses at my house. And even more amazingly, a lawyer I had worked with at the Ministry of the Attorney General over thirty years was a friend of theirs and was attending the launch; he now lives on the west coast. More recently, he sent me an email on my first post on Slaw, the legal on-line blog.


The tree in the U of T bookmark reminds me of a poster for The Cherry Orchard I went to at Hart House during that time.


I must have picked up this bookmark from the U of T Bookstores when I was doing my PhD there: it seems old (as do I, sometimes). 

Not so fun are the bookmarks that I still have from independent bookstores that closed years ago.

From the Toronto Women’s Bookstore, which I visited frequently, especially during its years on Harbord, and which was a casualty (although not a fatal one) of the firebombings of the Morgentaler clinic nearby. It was finally a fatal casualty of the economic challenges facing independent bookstores, closing in 2012. I have several of these and other versions of Women’s Bookstore bookmarks and they can usually be found in my books, fiction and non-fiction, by and about women.

Another is from The Book Cellar Yorkville, which apart from its “fine books” also sold international magazines and newspapers (when I still had hopes for learning French, I bought gardening magazines in French) — it closed in 2004. I was a customer of the Longhouse Bookshop on Bloor Street, too, when I lived in the area.  I have fond memories of  dropping into Britnells with my friend Alexis after our annual Christmas/Chanukah brunch at what I remember as Oliver & Bonacini on Yonge, just north of  Eglinton. We reserved a table by the fire and next to a deep-silled window decorated with a large poinsetta. Then we’d take ourselves to Britnells for the music and book browsing/buying. Happily, the bookmark here highlights its 100th year; sadly, it closed six years later. McNally Robinson in Calgary was a refuge on 8th Avenue SW for me when I worked downtown, but it closed in 2008, about the time I left Calgary to come back to Toronto (no relationship between those two events, despite the fact I’d no longer be shopping there!).

I regret I don’t have bookmarks from Nicholas Hoare or David Mirvish Books. David Mirvish Books, in Mirvish Village, I’d visit when I lived near Bathurst and Bloor: ironically, it’s David Mirvish who’s responsible for the dramatic changes now coming to that corner. After I moved to Fredericton, I’d get my fix of Nicholas Hoare Books on Front Street whenever I could on visits to Toronto. 

Another group of bookmarks make easy to carry souvenirs of places I’ve visited or exhibits. Knowing how much I like to read, my parents sometimes included bookmarks in their gifts from their trips.

My mum included a package of Japanese bookmarks in her gifts from a trip to that country, with several depicting geishas in different, but all lovely, kimonos and obi. I use one of these to mark my place in Haruki Murakami’s IQ84. The other bookmark here, which I may have bought myself, is from Switzerland; it is beautifully embroidered. My friend Harry and I visited Zermatt many years ago and being far more fit than either of us is now, we climbed up & down one of the mountains for an hour or more after we arrived. Not having taken into account the altitude of Zermatt itself, plus the increase with the climb, we couldn’t understand why we were exhausted at the end of the day! 

These bookmarks  come from Israel (in the middle) and Mexico (on the right); given the similarity in colours, the one on the left is probably from Mexico, too, although far different from the first one. My parents bought these back from trips. I have another one from Israel that is currently marking my place in Vol. 1 of Simon Schama’s The Story of the Jews.

These are from London. The first one, with Churchill’s profile, comes from The Cabinet War Room and was probably selected by my dad. He served in WWII and had a fine grasp of English war history. The middle one is from Westminster Abbey, very dignified and smart looking. The third pictures various types of guards for London’s historical buildings. On the occasion of Queen Elizabeth II’s coronation, when we were still in England, my parents bought me a miniature version of her coach with some of these guards.

I’ve included these three because they reflect my own history. I was born at home in Bedworth (the one across the top, difficult to see, is leather and reads “Nuneaton & Bedworth”, with their respective shields. The middle one is an example of the very fine weaving long produced in Coventry (where we lived before we came to Canada in 1956); it shows the cathedral and Lady Godiva: in a tale dating from the 13th century, she rode naked through the streets to convince her husband, Leofric, to remove the high tax he had imposed, hidden only by her long hair. No one looked at her except “Peeping Tom”, who was struck blind. Godiva’s ride and Tom’s peeping are immortalized in a clock tower in the centre of Coventry. I believe the third bookmark, with the cross at the upper end, is also woven, coming from Coventry Cathedral, the second emanation of which was almost completely destroyed in the bombing of Coventry in November 1940. The surviving walls and timbers fallen in the shape of a cross were joined with the “new” cathedral consecrated in 1962. When I spent a year at Warwick University in the late ‘sixties, I’d visit the Cathedral quite often and every Friday, I’d meet my aunt Isabel who would treat me to coffee and teacakes at the Owen Owen department store in Broadgate, the post-war shopping centre. More on the Cathedral and its history can be found at http://www.coventrycathedral.org.uk/wpsite/our-history/. (The first cathdral was actually built in 1043 by Leofric and Godiva, she of the legendary ride fame.)

I’m including this woven bookmark, a gift from Dad, because it is meant to be given as a gift of “A Bookmark by Cash’s, the Weavers of Coventry”. Cash’s was founded in 1846 and the holder for the bookmark says the firm was “one of the leaders of the 19th Century Coventry silk ribbon industry” and today “revive[s] a delicate early Victorian art-form”. Dad also gave me small framed woven pictures of birds produced by Cash’s. I am fond of these woven bookmarks and the birds, not only because I admire the workers’ skill they reflect, but also because they remind me of my dad.   

The last travel bookmark comes from Venice and shows the Rialto Bridge, over the Grand Canal. The bookmark is made (I think) of parchment paper and the design is very Italian. I also bought a small eraser with the design of a red domed church. This was an energetic trip, using Eurail passes to visit France, Italy and Switzerland. Harry and I bought several posters that are framed and spread about the house. We spent the night before we flew back home in a rather unpleasant hotel in Geneva and took the train to the airport. It wasn’t until we arrived at the airport that we realized that we’d left a tube of posters in the room. Harry raced to catch the train, which ran frequently, back into Geneva. I remained in the airport, imagining my options once they called boarding for the last time. He made it back, with little time to spare, with the tube in his hand. Fortunately, we didn’t take time to think through whether he should have gone and fortunately, we were relying on the Swiss train system!

The last few bookmarks are representative of different memories. 

The first comes from an exhibit in Toronto a few years ago that explored the way law has treated people of Chinese descent. For more, see http://www.roadtojustice.ca/home.

A different type of bookmark, made of metal,  is a souvenir of the Jessup Moot in 2001. The late Professor Don Fleming organized it when the Faculty of Law, University of New Brunswick, hosted it. I became very good friends with Don and his wife, Lesley Fleming, also a faculty member at UNB (in the Biology Department). They hosted a pizza night on Fridays, inviting a number of us who were on our own in Fredericton (we each contributed $5.00 and they made the pizzas and provided libations and other food). I stayed with Don and Lesley just before I left Fredericton for my trip to Calgary. Somehow we lost touch and I was shocked and devastated to learn that Don had died of cancer. Lesley, Harry and I have since renewed our friendship and we stayed with her when we visited Fredericton a few years ago. 

This is rather a special bookmark, given to me by a student when she finished her time with us at the Law Commission of Ontario. It is also made of metal, a simple strip, with the words, “It is true that those we meet can change us, sometimes so profoundly that we are not the same afterwards…” (Yann Martel, Life of Pi). I thought of Gita as someone with integrity and committed to certain values, stronger than I, when I knew her, in living in accordance with them.

This last is not really a bookmark, but can be used as one. It is really a card announcement for an exhibit by the Fredericton artist Janice Wright Cheney whom I met through her sister Joanna Wright. Joanna took a directed readings course in law from me at UNB when she studied political science there; she and her husband, Donald Wright (by chance both their last names are the same), are now teaching in the Department of Political Science at UNB. Janice is an accomplished artist who has been recognized for the excellence of her work. One of my great memories of Fredericton is her young son Thomas’s engagement with my campaign when I ran for federal office in 1997. Every year I invited some 50 or 60 women in different areas of life for a “Women’s Brunch”. (My sister, Karen, drove from Nova Scotia on those weekends, making a big difference in preparation and hosting. For my 50th birthday, she wanted to invite some of my male friends to the consternation of some of the regular attendees, one of whom could be heard muttering, “I thought this was a women’s brunch”. Harry rode his motorcyle from Toronto for the birthday brunch, staying with the Flemings the night before. When he arrived at my house, he pulled a bouquet of flowers from a saddlebag, causing some oohs and aahs.) For the 1995 brunch, Janice brought along a pile of cards for her Women & Fiction exhibit that we left on a table for guests to pick up. 

As do most readers, at least those my age and those who read books, I have many more bookmarks. They take little room, yet expand with memories of bookstores, trips, people and events that span almost a lifetime. It’s taken a while to finish this post for that reason (and because I’m still figuring out the workpress block system!). Still, the memories recounted here merely skim the surface in many cases.

Blog: Idle Musings

Who I am…Patricia Hughes, Founding Executive Director of the Law Commission of Ontario (2007-2015); former Dean of Law, University of Calgary; previously law professor; Alternate Chair, Ontario Pay Equity Tribunal; Vice-chair of the Ontario Labour Relations Board; Counsel, Ontario Ministry of the Attorney General; professor of political science

What My Blog is About….Whatever takes my fancy on legal, access to justice, political and sometimes more personal issues.  

Twitter: @phughes9112

The Patrick Smith Case: How the Canadian Judicial Council Went Wrong

When Justice Patrick Smith agreed to come to the assistance of the Bora Laskin Faculty of Law at Lakehead University in Thunder Bay by serving as unpaid Interim Dean (Academic) for six months while the school sought a permanent replacement for its early resigning dean, Angelique EagleWoman, it’s unlikely that he thought he was risking the end of his judicial career.

Dean EagleWoman had resigned because she had concluded that the school evidenced systemic racism. She followed another dean who resigned early in his tenure, founding dean Lee Streuser. In between the two, Professor Lisa Phillips of Osgoode had filled in as interim dean. The school needed some breathing space to get its house in order. Justice Smith, now supernumerary, who sits in Thunder Bay, seemed to provide that opportunity.

Probably Justice Smith thought he had dotted his i’s and crossed his t’s, having obtained approval for a six month leave from Chief Justice Heather Smith of the Ontario Superior Court, who in turn notified the federal Minister of Justice, Jody Wilson-Raybould. He must have felt some security in taking the position after being urged to do so by Senator Murray Sinclair, former chair of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission and former justice of the Manitoba Court of Appeal. Senator Sinclair was familiar with Justice Smith’s contribution to the legal landscape in Thunder Bay; they had worked together on a “bench book”, a guide to cases involved Indigenous parties.

Had Justice Smith thought any of this, he would have been wrong. Instead, he found his judicial career and reputation in jeopardy and his willingness to assist the school backfiring on both him and the law school as a result of a complaint to the Canadian Judicial Council.

One might have expected a complaint to come from the Indigenous community in and around Thunder Bay, since the law school had created for itself an identity based on an emphasis on Indigenous law  and Justice Smith, not Indigenous, had replaced, even if temporarily, an Indigenous dean. Indeed, a decade ago, Justice Smith had sentenced members of the Kitchenumaykoosib Inninuwug (Big Trout Lake) Council to prison for contempt of court when the Nishnawbe Aski Nation had been fighting against mineral activity on their traditional territory on the basis that the land was theirs. Given that history and lack of consultation on this (temporary) appointment, the Nishnawbe Aski Nation considered the selection of Justice Smith “an insult”. Discussions between the university and the Aboriginal Advisory Committee to the law school, however, seem to have diminished the impact of this controversy prior to Justice Smith’s assumption of the position and according to the chair of Lakehead’s Board of Governors, during his three months at the law school, Justice Smith had “strengthened relations with the Indigenous community and the Faculty’s Aboriginal Advisory Committee“.

Whether a complaint from the Indigenous community or some part of it would have warranted a review of the judge’s conduct is a matter of conjecture, however, since they did not make a complaint. In fact, the actual complaint against Justice Smith came from a source internal to the CJC: its long-time executive director, Norman Sabourin, who took it upon himself to raise the issue of  controversy around Justice Smith’s willingness to take the appointment at Lakehead. The vice-chair of the CJC’s conduct committee, Senior Associate Chief Justice Robert Pidgeon of Quebec, raised the stakes by referring Sabourin’s complaint to a review panel. And suddenly Justice Smith, who had simply responded to the call to assist a law school in need, faced an ignominious end to his judicial career, with removal from the bench on the line.

Justice Smith commenced the appointment on June 1, 2018. On August 28th, Pidgeon ACJ referred the matter to a Review Panel and Justice Smith subsequently resigned the position of Interim Dean (Academic) and resumed his judicial duties.

Following Pidgeon ACJ’s initial finding that Justice Smith had engaged in conduct that might warrant his dismissal, members of the legal community wrote letters objecting, including a group of 36 lawyers from Thunder Bay and the Canadian Superior Courts Judges Association and the Ontario Superior Court Judges Association. Senator Sinclair also spoke out in support of Justice Smith. Their main message was that Justice Smith had stepped up to assist a law school in difficulty, described by Senator Sinclair as acting “according to the highest standards of the judiciary”.

The Review Panel, in its report of November 5th, while finding Justice Smith should not have taken the position, also decided not to refer the matter to a committee of inquiry because it concluded that his conduct did not warrant dismissal from the bench. The furor caused by the review of Justice Smith’s misconduct and the somewhat difficult situation that would result had the review panel recommended dismissal, thereby involving Minister of Justice Wilson Raybould (who had indicated she had no concern when notified of the leave request by Chief Justice Smith), may or may not have had an impact on the Review Panel’s decision. Justice Smith’s good intentions, lack of “bad behaviour” and resignation did play a part, according to the Report.

I’m relying on the Report of the Review Panel’s detailed account of the events leading up to Mr. Sabourin’s complaint for background.

Mr. Sabourin’s involvement occurred just over a week after Chief Justice Smith had approved Justice Smith’s request for leave on April 30, 2018. Mr. Sabourin wrote to Justice Smith on May 9th, warning him that his taking the position might mean Justice Smith’s conduct would be subject to the CJC’s consideration. Chief Justice Smith then assumed the communications with Mr. Sabourin.

In her May 11th reply two days after Mr. Sabourin’s initial letter to Justice Smith, Chief Justice Smith referred to an “‘existential crisis’ at the Faculty and the need for Justice Smith to provide the Faculty with stability by way of a leader with ‘appropriate gravitas and experience'” (para. 18 of the review decision). (In her letter to the Minister of Justice, the Chief Justice had also noted that the appointment would reflect the court’s commitment to the recommendations of the Truth and Reconciliation Committee.) The Chief Justice explicitly noted that she had taken the Ethical Principles for Judges into consideration in determining whether to grant Justice Smith leave. (Thus, for example, the terms of appointment would limit Justice Smith’s role to academic leadership and all other responsibilities would be delegated to other members of the Faculty and he would recuse himself from any litigation involving Lakehead.)

Mr. Sabourin indicated that the matter had been referred to Pidgeon ACJ. The Chief Justice reaffirmed her support for Justice Smith in a letter to Pidgeon ACJ, enclosing a legal opinion letter supporting allowing Justice Smith to accept the position, given the constraints on its exercise. Justice Smith responded to questions from Pidgeon ACJ.

While the Review Panel decided it was not appropriate to constitute an inquiry committee, recognizing that Justice Smith meant well (and by then he had in fact resigned, having no choice but to leave the law school high and dry), it did hold that Justice Smith had been wrong to accept the position. It explicitly found that he had contravened section 55 of the Judges Act, mandating a judge’s duties, a conclusion I suggest below was founded on an incorrect interpretation of section 55 and of the relationship between section 54 of the Judges Act, permitting judicial leave, and section 55. It also found that Justice Smith’s conduct was inconsistent with the CJC’s Ethical Principles for Judges, which it appeared to incorporate into the application of section 55. The Review Panel’s decision is confusing, since it both treats section 55 as absolute and also as modified by the ethical principles (I address this below).

As required, the Review Panel tossed the ball back into Associate Chief Justice Pidgeon’s court (as it were) and he determined it was sufficient to express his concerns to Justice Smith and not recommend further action.

Section 55 of the Judges Act states, “No judge shall, either directly or indirectly, for himself or herself or others, engage in any occupation or business other than his or her judicial duties, but every judge shall devote himself or herself exclusively to those judicial duties”.

(I note briefly that the meaning of “occupation or business” in section 55 and whether it includes non-remunerative activities is also at issue. The Review Panel, considering the French provision, which refers to “activité”, section 55’s legislative history and what it considers to be explicit exceptions under section 56 of the Judges Act to the prohibition in section 55, concludes that “occupation or business” includes non-remunerative activity (Report, paras. 46 and 47) . However, others, including Chief Justice Strathy of the Ontario Court of Appeal, find that this is not realistic, since it would prevent judges from undertaking even hobbies (p.7 of Pidgeon ACJ’s referral). In fact, it flies in the face of the various kinds of activities even sitting judges engage in on a regular basis, such as teaching law courses.

The Review Panel concluded that “Justice Smith should not have accepted the appointment as Interim Dean (Academic) and by doing so, he contravened section 55 of the Judges Act” (para. 37; also see paras. 5 and 76).  To understand this conclusion, it is crucial not only to appreciate the Review Panel’s broad interpretation of “occupation or business”, but also, perhaps more significantly, its interpretation of how section 55 and section 54 relate to each other.

For the Review Panel, section 55 “has always been comprised of two foundational components”: these are “[a] prohibition on judges carrying on extra-judicial activities” and “[a] requirement that judges devote themselves exclusively to their judicial duties” (Report, para. 38). In its view, section 55 applies regardless of whether a judge is on leave. Therefore, although judges obviously cannot adhere to the second part of the provision when they are on leave (they cannot devote themselves exclusively to their judicial duties when they have none), they must nevertheless refrain from undertaking other activities. (It is worth noting that the French version identifies the duty more elegantly: “Les juges se consacrent à leurs fonctions judiciaires à l’exclusion de toute autre activité, qu’elle soit exercée directement ou indirectement, pour leur compte ou celui d’autrui.” The French says that a sitting judge should carry out his or her functions to the exclusion of other activities, but it does not seem as easily to be broken into two “foundational components” and therefore seems more clearly to apply to sitting judges only.)

Section 54 of the Judges Act sets out the process for a judge to obtain leave. (Under section 54, leaves of up to six months require the approval of the chief justice of the Superior Court of Ontario and leaves over six months require approval of Cabinet.) The leave permitted by section 54 is described as “leave of absence from his or her judicial duties“. (The French refers only to “leave”.) That is to say, that the judge will not be performing his or her judicial duties while on leave.

The Review Panel observes that there is “nothing in the language [of section 54]…to suggest leaves…may be granted to enable judges to take on responsibilities outside of the judicial sphere” (Report, para. 51). The only exceptions, in the Review Panel’s view, are circumstances such as illness or parental leave (para. 49) and those it treats as provided for by the Judges Act in section 56 (such as acting as a commissioner, arbitrator or mediator, among other roles for which judges cannot under subsection 57 (1) receive remuneration).

I suggest the Review Panel’s interpretation of section 55 and its relationship to section 54 are incorrect.

First, it does not really make sense to say that a judge on leave cannot undertake other substantive activities, although these would have to be consistent with the Ethical Principles, and presumably only with the approval of the chief justice as an aspect of approving the leave. A leave is a “leave from judicial duties” and thus it can be argued that a leave takes the judge out of section 55, except to the extent that other than for unavoidable reasons, the leave would not be granted if it interfered with the court’s ability to function effectively, for example. While section 54 does not specify the purpose of permitted leaves, nor does it limit activities for which leave will be granted.

Second, one may question whether the Review Panel is correct in treating  section 56 as exceptions to the general rule. It does not actually say words to the effect of “judges may undertake the following activities without contravening section 55: commissioner, arbitrator, adjudicator, referee, conciliator or mediator on any commission or on any inquiry or other proceeding”. Rather, it places a precondition on accepting these roles (roles that are akin to judicial duties): if the matter is within the legislative authority of Parliament, the judge must receive the authorization of Parliament; there is a similar provision for matters within the legislative authority of provincial legislatures. In addition, subsection 57(2) addresses remuneration, contemplating that judges might perform functions other than those identified in section 56:  section 56(1) does not apply if a judge has the right to receive remuneration under a provincial statute “other than for acting in any capacity described in subsection 56(1), …, but no judge is entitled to receive remuneration under any such Act or Acts in an aggregate amount exceeding $3,000 per annum”.

In short, the Review Panel interprets section 55 rigidly by specific interpretations and applications of sections 54, 56 and 57. Yet this ignores the reality that judges do engage in activities other than their judicial duties, whether they are sitting or on leave. A more reasonable interpretation of sections 54 and 55 would be that judges are not to undertake any activities that would interfere with their judicial duties when they are sitting and that they are able to undertake more substantive activities when they have been granted leave.

This alternative interpretation is consistent with the CJC’s own Ethical Principles for Judges, which refer to a wide range of activities beyond actual judicial duties in which judges might (and do) engage. The Ethical Principles states explicitly that “judges are free to participate in other activities that do not detract from the performance of judicial duties” (p.18). The Principles say that judges being “active in other forms of public service … is good for the community and for the judge” (p.33). Sitting judges, never mind judges who have taken a leave, teach courses in law schools, judge moots, give speeches and write articles and books and serve as judges-in-residence, among other activities beyond the bench. Judges are able to sit on boards of appropriate organizations. They are encouraged to sit on law reform commissions, given their expertise in law. A sitting judge may serve as a University Chancellor (see discussion of such an instance at p.10 of Pidgeon ACJ’s Reasons for Referral and at p.62 of the Review Panel’s Report, as well as the reasons for dismissing a complaint by a retired judge).

The Review Panel’s Report shows the difficulty of its interpretation of section 55 of the Judges Act, while at the same time acknowledging that the CJC’s own ethical principles contemplate that a judge may legitimately (while exercising caution) engage in activities that are not “judicial duties”, whether on leave or continuing to sit. In trying to reconcile the principles with the Act, the Review Panel twists itself into a knot to determine that Justice Smith had been wrong to accept the position, that is, to have engaged in misconduct, by grounding its conclusion in section 55.

I suggest that the focus in the Smith case would more appropriately have been on the Ethical Principles, rather than section 55. The Principles caution, for example, that regardless of the activity, judges should seek to avoid controversy, noting that “unfair or uninformed criticism … can adversely influence public confidence in and respect for the judiciary” (p.14). More specifically, they “should avoid involvement in causes or organizations that are likely to be engaged in litigation” (p.20).

The Review Panel has to acknowledge that judges do undertake non-judicial activities, such as those I referred to above, but it also notes, echoing the Ethical Principles, that there are limitations: the judge must maintain independence and impartiality (by not accepting remuneration or becoming involved in fundraising); “avoid[] public controversy” and conflicts of interests (or appearances of bias); consider whether it could be appropriate to become a spokesperson for an organization; and “avoid[] the perception that the judge has lent his or her judicial status to enhance the credibility or prestige of the outside organization”. (Report, para. 59)

In its decision, the review panel found that the appointment gave rise to problems that the conditions and limitations Justice Smith (with Chief Justice Smith) imposed on his role as Interim Dean (Academic) were insufficient to address: avoidance of public controversy and of conflicts; his appearing to be a public spokesperson for the school; and his lending his judicial status to the school (and by extension, that of the court).

Almost all, if not all, the activities referred to in the Ethics Principles, as well as others, can give rise to controversy. Boards of directors, as the Ethical Principles point out, may be involved in disputes with staff or breaches of government regulations (p.36) and even ceremonial university position holders are usually required to speak publicly for the university,

The university did think that Justice Smith’s stature and reputation as a member of the judiciary would assist the law school in moving past its difficulties; both Justice Smith and the Chief Justice acknowledged that. However, the members of the Review Panel are naive if they think that any organization that seeks the involvement of a member of the judiciary is not doing so in part, at least, because it expects that the judge will enhance its credibility or prestige. There may be ways in which this is manifested that are less desirable than others (in Justice Smith’s case, for example, he apparently wore his robes for a photograph for the school’s website, not the best course of action), but it is a benefit to organizations to be able to point to a judge that considers their activities sufficiently worthwhile to participate in them in some way.

It is often difficult to predict if and when an organization with which a judge has become associated may become embroiled in litigation (or if not the individuals themselves, the university) (p.37). Not only does this give rise to public controversy, but could make it difficult when the litigation is before the judge’s court, even though the judge recuses herself or himself. Here, though, no one should have been surprised that the former dean has launched a lawsuit against Lakehead.

This situation raised concerns. The fact is,however, that a judge’s involvement in law reform or scholarly writing may inadvertently offend people and lead to complaints. The real question isn’t whether there is a risk of controversy or litigation, but how foreseeable it is and what steps are taken to protect the reputation of the judiciary.

It seems that the CJC decided to make an example of Justice Smith, using his situation to “clarify” the kinds of activities judges can legitimately undertake outside their “exclusive” devotion to their judicial duties.

For whatever reason, the Review Panel insisted on an interpretation of section 55 of the Judges Act that cannot be sustained; it is contradicted by the CJC’s own Ethical Principles. The better view is that Justice Smith obtained a leave and therefore was able to accept the full-time, albeit voluntary, position of Interim Dean (Academic). He did not breach section 55.

The issue than becomes whether he was in contravention of the Ethical Principles. It is not clear why it is necessary to determine whether a judge is in breach of section 55 as a preliminary step to find that he or she has acted unethically, although this seems to be the Review Panel’s view. Put another way, because the Review Panel concluded that Justice Smith’s conduct contravened some of the ethical principles, it concluded he also contravened section 55.

Finally, there is one other major issue that should be addressed: that is that the biggest controversy in all of this has been the CJC’s decision to entertain the Sabourin complaint against Justice Smith. It is this action that created the publicly expressed anger of the Canadian and Ontario judges associations,  Thunder Bay lawyers, Senator Sinclair and others. Furthermore, the CJC’s decision to go ahead with the complaint even though Justice Smith had sought a stay from the Federal Court of the CJC proceedings also raised controversy, particularly because the CJC has taken the position, initially unsuccessful at trial, that the Federal Court has no jurisdiction to review its proceedings.

Mr. Sabourin, who initiated the complaint against Justice Smith, speaking,  for the CJC, said, “…judges and the public alike will benefit from greater clarity regarding the permissible scope of activities for judges that are outside their normal judicial duties“. The CJC’s rather confusing treatment of sections 54 and 55 and their relationship to the Ethical Principles is unlikely to achieve that goal. Furthermore, the controversy will continue since Justice Smith’s lawyer has amended his application to request a declaration that Justice Smith did not contravene the Judges Act. Both the Canadian Superior Court Judges Association and the Ontario Superior Court Judges Association are intervenors.

If the CJC’s unarticulated goal was to discourage judges from contributing to the common weal in appropriate situations, it may have succeeded. Given the public response to its treatment of Justice Smith’s efforts to provide a helping hand to his community, it has also succeeded in doing exactly what its own ethical principles warn against: jeopardizing the dignity and prestige of the judiciary.

What I’m Reading Now…

I usually have several books on the go at once, reading them at different times for different purposes. Usually, I finish them, but sometimes…. I rarely actually give up on a book — I just never seem to get back to it!

Women TalkingMiriam Toews’ All My Puny Sorrows is one of  my all-time favourite novels, but I wasn’t as easily captured by her latest, Women Talking, which I just finished. The theme of Women Talking is women’s empowerment, as a group of Mennonite women, faced with an epidemic of sexual assault by the men of the colony, decide to leave the only home they’ve known and venture into the what is literally and completely an uncharted external world. The novel is meant to be a record of their conversations as they decide how to respond to the sexual assaults and eventually to leave, but it is also the inner thoughts of the formerly “outcast” man who is transcribing their words, since they can neither read nor write. In a sense, then, this man is the central figure, he narrates in the first person and it is only through him that we learn about the women. This does not detract from how the women emerge as individuals or from the courage they display in making their final decision. Toews weaves throughout the hopes and fears of these very different women whose ultimate solidarity nevertheless allows them to leave the colony and begin a journey that will inevitably be a series of unknowns.

The other novel on my “short & sweet” list — novels I expect to finish quickly — is The Only Story by Julian Barnes, which I also just completed. Generally, I’m a Barnes fan, but Only Story struck me as fairly superficial, despite all the efforts at inward contemplation by the protagonist, a 19 FullSizeRender (1)year old man who falls in love with an older woman. Perhaps I was impatient with the narcissism underlying the story, but I found I had little interest in the characters.

Four very different books on my coffee table are ready to be picked up at any time. As winter approaches, I envisage sitting by the fire absorbing them. My only consolation now I have completed (today) Wolf Hall, Hilary Mantel’s rich and deep FullSizeRender (5)Man Booker Prize-winning novel (in 2009) about Thomas Cromwell, is that I already have ready her sequel, Bring Up the Bodies, winner of the Booker Prize in 2012, replacing it in the pile. I found Wolf Hall enthralling, phrases and sentences lying like jewels within the narrative.  Mantel’s focus on Cromwell means that Sir Thomas More becomes a secondary character, and despite More’s own status in England and abroad, in some ways, he becomes a foil for Cromwell. Their debates illuminate the difference between principle and pragmatism, yet both men emerge as complex and with deep-seated flaws.

I’m about a quarter of the way through Haruki Murakami’s IQ84, best described as “An immersive experience, one that will leave readers wondering what is real and what is imagined”, as a blurb from the Pittburgh Tribune-Review has it, Indeed, it is not only the reader but the main characters Aomame and Tengo who find themselves split between two dimensions. While I’m not rushing to finish this, I know that it won’t be one I leave behind.

It’s hard for me to avoid something that appears to deal with the developments in Trumpian America,  Can It Happen Here? Authoritarianism in America  is a collection of essays primarily addressing the likelihood — or not — that the changes that have occurred in the United States since January 2017 will eventually lead to authoritarianism, although the editor, Cass Sunstein states, “This is not a book about Donald Trump, not by any means”, but one that goes beyond to deal with “big and enduring questions”.  I’ve read only a few essays so far and find them uneven in how deeply they engage with the topic. Worse, the collection was published earlier this year, yet already it seems that those who are optimistic about the safeguards might have been surpassed by subsequent events.

Finally, among my four ready-to-hand coffee table books is The Story of the Jews: Finding the Words, 1000BCE-1492CE, the first in Simon Schama’s trilogy. My Twitter feed often includes the highly complimentary tweets of readers and viewers of Schama’s books and television programs on art and history and it was a tweet that brought The Story of the Jews to my attention. Rich in detail, the book can be difficult going for someone (or for me, at least) unfamiliar with this very early Jewish history, or indeed, only slightly familiar with the context generally, but once started, it is compelling. I already have the second volume, Belonging: The Story of the Jews: 1492-1900, a period I expect to recognize more easily.

I always have a mystery or detective story on the go. Currently, it’s one of the 75 (eventually) Penguin reprints of the Inspector Maigret stories by Georges Simeon. Relatively brief, these books rely on Maigret’s powers of observation — FullSizeRender (6)of people, events and what he sees around him. Small cues, such as a comment by a secondary character, can begin a train of thought that takes him to the solution. While he will order subordinates, such as Janvier and Lucas, to keep watch on suspects in different locations, he tends to work alone, and sometimes unofficially. He has his own sense of what is “just”, sometimes letting those who have committed murder go, as long as they abide by conditions he suggests or implies (such as moving away from the village where they have lived their lives, as in Inspector Cadaver, the latest for me).

When I go into town (less frequently now I don’t have meetings), I take the Go train. I feel like a tourist as we travel past Lake Ontario and the Palais Royale. And I’m reminded of the trips my family took to what was then Sunnyside Park on the streetcar, when we lived in Toronto. My “Go train” books need to be easy to slip into a purse, or sometimes a larger bag, but still not take up too much room or be too heavy. These vary, fiction and non-fiction. Right now, I’m reminding myself of how recently women authors were portrayed in biographies by reading Carolyn G. Heilbrun’s Writing a Woman’s Life. Heilbrun has popped up in my life intermittently, as the author, using the pseudonym Amanda Cross, of the Kate Fansler mystery series  (Fansler, like Heilbrun, was an academic at a highly regarded New York university) and as I grew older, as someone attracted to her life after 60 in The Last Gift of Time: Life Beyond Sixty.

Finally, two books on my bedside table have remained closed for some time. Since I began reading Joseph Boyden’s The Orenda, his very bright star has dimmed with allegations that he misrepresented his Indigenous heritage. However, I was already finding The Orenda hard going partly because it is, in my view, structurally stilted, although the alternating of perspectives was one of the reasons critics praised the book, and partly because of the primarily one-dimensional way characters are portrayed. The second book is A Brief History of Seven Killings by Marlon James (awarded the Man Book Prize in 2015). I’m not far into this book and have made the mistake (I think) of trying to read it before I go to sleep: it demands more effort than that and I probably need to move it from the bedside table to the pile requiring more consideration.

My current home is the first time I’ve been able to put all my books on shelves, in different rooms. Previously, I kept scholarly books in my office, but these, too, needed a new home when I left academic life. As I mull over the prospect of moving to a smaller place, I’m conscious of the difficulties of treating my book collection with the respect it deserves. It’s no longer possible to assume that second-hand bookstores or other destinations will welcome them. Yet I’ve bought all of the above books — and others — over the past year. For some of us, book buying is an addiction!

 

 

 

What do We Mean by a “Secular Society”?

In one of his first announcements, recently elected François Legault has declared that he will invoke the notwithstanding clause to immunize a ban on people in positions of authority wearing religious symbols while acting in the course of their employment. The ban will apply to public servants such as teachers, police and judges. The goal is to make it clear that Quebec is a secular society, part of a francophone society that will also be promoted or protected by requiring immigrants to learn French or be exiled from the province (exactly how the latter is to be accomplished remains to be determined).

Removing religious symbols from public sector workplaces  has been the subject of ongoing debate in Quebec. In 2010, Jean Charest’s Liberal government introduced Bill 94 that would ban the provision or receipt of public services by someone wearing a “face covering”; although not using the term, the bill applied to women wearing a niqab, a full face covering. Bill 94 did not pass. In 2013, the PQ government introduced a Charter of Values that would do this, but leave the crucifix hanging in the Quebec legislature (since it is a reflection of Quebec history and culture). Again in 2015, the Liberals introduced Bill 62 to ban the provision and receipt of public service while wearing a face covering (with provision for religious accommodation). The real impact of the bill would be on Muslim women wearing a niqab or burka, since other religious clothing or symbols do not cover the face. Bill 62 passed in 2017. It was said to cover all public services, including, for example, a woman wearing a niqab or burka getting on a bus. The Quebec Superior Court stayed the application of the legislation until the government released accommodation guidelines in May 2018.

Now Legault and his Coalition Avenir Québec plans to ban anyone providing public services from wearing any religious symbol on the basis that someone performing “coercive functions” should not be associated with religion. (He will, however, leave the crucifix in the national assembly, probably the most significant state arena.)

Legault’s stated intention is not to require refusal of services to people wearing religious symbols, but to make the public sector workplace religiously neutral. This approach claims to reflect the position of the Bourchard-Taylor report in 2008 that “agents of the state” (so police and judges, for example) not be allowed to wear religious symbols (presumably someone at the front desk in the transportation department would be able to). Professor Charles Taylor renunciated the view that even “coercive agents” should not be able to wear religious clothing in 2017 because he thought the environment had changed and that people had misunderstood the recommendation and were extending it to child-care workers, for instance.

Is it necessary to deny people the right to manifest their religious beliefs in their clothing in order to have a secular workplace? The objective is to make it clear that Quebec is a secular society and that the public sector workplace should not exhibit religious doctrine, the retention of the crucifix in the location of the law-making body notwithstanding.

To be “secular” is to be not related or connected to religious matters. Thus, for example, no state body should begin their deliberations with a prayer or other invocation that calls on a religious figure. And one would think that a secular society would not have a cross or crucifix symbolically supervising its legislative deliberations. A secular state is neutral with respect to its religious identity, the opposite of a theocracy or even a country with a state religion. It is for this latter reason that whether individual workers are allowed to wear religious attire or not, the actual institutions of the state should not display religious artifacts that suggest a state-sponsored  or supported religion (such as the crucifix in the legislature).

The issue that Legault’s plan raises is the extent to which an individual’s private beliefs infuse the public realm. There is a distinction, I think, between the institution and its infrastructure and the people who work there. I would remove the cross (I’m not convinced that it is merely a cultural remnant of Quebec history that has somehow lost or transcended its religious character). Similarly, I would not permit individuals to “decorate” their public sector space (their office or cubicle, for example) with a religious item.

It probably goes without saying that no public sector employee should be required to wear any kind of clothing or jewelry that has a religious connotation. But does that mean that they cannot? Is an individual wearing a personal item of clothing transferring the beliefs related to that clothing to the state? Although I personally believe in a secular society and would prefer not to have public displays of religious belief, I believe that there is an argument to be made that an individual’s wearing of a yarmulke, turban, hijab or  a cross, for example, does not detract from the identity of the state as secular. Religious symbols behind the judge, on the classroom wall or at the entrance to the police station do, however.

A public sector employee is a hybrid being, both a representative of the state and a private individual. Accordingly, we have acknowledged that certain aspects of the employee’s private life should be accommodated. This is in part what employment standards and anti-discrimination provisions are about. We have loosened the restrictions on employees’ expression of their political views, as long as they do not express them in the workplace. The public sector workplace, that is, the civil service or bureaucracy or front-line activities, is meant to be politically neutral.

Is wearing religious attire more akin to the former or the latter?

Political beliefs may be important to an employee, but a political affiliation does not require the individual to wear particular clothing or jewellery. We know that a government will establish policies that are consistent or at least not inconsistent with their platforms, but we do not expect that individual decisions affecting us (whether we receive social benefits, obtain a liquor licence or receive a favourable decision from a judge or how our children are taught) to be affected by the public servant’s, tribunal member or teacher’s personal political beliefs). We do not know in the usual situation what the employee’s political beliefs are and they usually do not know ours. But political “neutrality”, as it were, goes beyond that. Except for political staff, and although this is not universal, obtaining a civil service position, or a teaching job, or (technically, at least!) being appointed a judge should not be dependent on one’s political views: it should not be affected by whether our political beliefs reflect those of the government of the day.

An individual’s religious views may be an important part of their identity, possibly more so than their political beliefs, and, unlike political affiliations, their religious beliefs may require them to wear religious “symbols” on their person, sometimes in the form of clothing. Their political beliefs should not affect whether they obtain employment. If they are required to wear religious clothing, that is, it is an indispensable part of their religious adherence, to refuse to allow them indirectly means that their ability to obtain employment is being affected by their religion.

The question becomes, then, whether allowing them to observe their religious beliefs through their clothing affects the extent to which the state is in fact secular and the extent to which it is perceived as secular.

While is is fair to say that public sector employees do represent the state, it is also fair to say that the state does not absorb its identity through its employees. A pluralist secular state appears to be that when its employees reflect in dress the multiple religious identities that comprise its character rather than suppression of those religious clothing and other outward signs that are clearly different from the majority and how the state initially appeared.

At the same time, the secular state must require employees with diverse religious beliefs to act in accordance with the rules and guidelines that govern the provision of services as long as these are non-religious in nature. The secular state acts, through its employees, in non-religious ways. Accordingly, while the wearing of religious clothing should not pose a barrier to employment, there may be challenges for employees whose religious beliefs conflict with their duties towards the public. In some cases, accommodation may address the conflict, but in others the resolution of the conflict must be in favour of the secular nature of the state. In this context, there is a difference between appearance and conduct.

There is much more that can be said on this issue. The implementation of a policy that permits the wearing of religious symbols personal to the employee, while ensuring the workplace is otherwise free of religious symbolism may seem contradictory. Permitting religious appearance, but not conduct consistent with particular religious beliefs, may seem hypocritical. What about religious views that have been accompanied by strong political beliefs elsewhere that have resonance in Canada?

My only intention here is to suggest a principled approach to respecting pluralism of belief in an important economic realm while maintaining the state’s secular nature. I suggest that it can be legitimately argued that secularism is best reflected in acknowledging that it accepts a pluralism of religious belief, including in the public sector workplace. This means that employees are allowed to wear religious attire or symbols, but they cannot perform their functions in a manner inconsistent with the demands of state neutrality.