Editorial: Atlantic Canada stands together

Published on October 21, 2016

Many groups and individuals are taking credit for the appointment of an Atlantic Canadian to the Supreme Court of Canada. The announcement Monday that Justice Malcolm Rowe of the Newfoundland and Labrador Court of Appeal was nominated to fill the opening on the nation’s highest court was widely and warmly endorsed, and also extinguished a number of political and legal firestorms.

Those lining up expecting thanks include the Canadian Bar Association, Atlantic trial lawyers, various senators and MPs, Conservative critics and the list goes on. All claim they pressured Prime Minister Justin Trudeau to ensure that long-standing convention was followed and the opening on the country’s highest court went to an Atlantic Canadian.

The historic convention that Atlantic Canada has one seat on the top court was challenged in August when Mr. Trudeau outlined a new process where an independent board would identify candidates from across Canada. It was expected that Mr. Trudeau was seeking to appoint the first indigenous or visible minority member of the court. To his credit, the PM defied those predictions.

Put aside the fact that Justice Rowe is the first resident of Newfoundland and Labrador to sit on the court. And put aside that convention might suggest the selection is based on residency as much as ability. And put aside the fact that a legal challenge could have gotten very messy. And finally, put aside that pressure was brought to bear – privately and publicly - by Atlantic premiers and MPs smarting from criticism they were not standing up for the region.

Instead, consider that Justice Rowe is a highly qualified and deserving jurist. Consider that he was vetted by a committee which considered candidates from across the nation. He won on experience, merit and vision.

Justice Rowe’s assertion that the Supreme Court’s most important role is to create new law and not just apply existing principles is a daring assertion of judicial activism. He says the law must change with the times. Bravo, Justice Rowe.  It’s time the court spoke plainly.

It also didn’t hurt that the PM got his fingers rapped for his ill-advised attempt to take this region for granted. As TC Media columnist Russell Wangersky wrote earlier this year, Mr. Trudeau and his government thought the Atlantic provinces would be a soft touch to accept this challenge to convention. They found out otherwise.

In fact, the PM’s new criteria actually enhanced Justice Rowe’s position. Former prime minister Kim Campbell, who headed the search committee, tweeted her happy congratulations to the province.

Justice Rowe has wide experience in international, federal and provincial matters. As the PM said, his remarkable depth of legal experience in criminal, constitutional and public law will complement the other Supreme Court justices.

This region is fortunate to have a highly qualified, pro-active, hard working judge who will reflect the views and values of Atlantic Canada. He will serve the court, the region and the country well.

On this issue, Atlantic Canada stood together.