Smith 'hopes' Liberal donor judges take role 'seriously,' says Alberta will send 'strong message' on provincial jurisdiction

According to an eight-month investigation by the National Post and the Investigative Journalism Foundation, a majority of judges who donated to political parties favoured the Liberal Party of Canada.

Smith 'hopes' Liberal donor judges take role 'seriously,' says Alberta will send 'strong message' on provincial jurisdiction
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Alberta Premier Danielle Smith took exception with hundreds of federal judicial and tribunal appointments consisting of mostly Liberal Party of Canada donors since 2016.

Amid ongoing calls to urgently fill judicial and tribunal vacancies, court watchers have pressed the federal government to bolster transparency on judicial and tribunal appointees' apparent partisanship. 

According to the results of an eight-month investigation by the National Post and the Investigative Journalism Foundation (IJF), approximately 76.3% of judges who donated to political parties favoured the Liberal Party of Canada.

It found that out of 1,308 judicial and tribunal appointments since 2016, "nearly one in five of them donated to a political party at least once in the decade leading up to their appointment."

Of those who donated, a scathing three-quarters donated to the Liberals. 

During that period, the number of Conservative donors appointed to the judiciary dropped significantly, whereas judges who donated to the NDP more than doubled between 2016 and 2022.

"These long delays are symptomatic of the politicization of appointments, in the partisan and ideological sense of the term," claimed Patrick Taillon, professor of constitutional law at Université Laval.

Rebel News asked if Smith had concerns with the federal government using the judiciary, particularly the Supreme Court, as a partisan dumping ground to undermine areas of provincial jurisdiction.

She replied, "I hope that when somebody gets appointed to the bench, they take that seriously."

"The problem we have right now is the federal government has given them direction to allow for 'catch-and-release' on even the most serious of criminals," added the premier.

"That's one of the things we would like to see the federal government amend — we're going to work with the other provinces to make that happen."

A federal justice spokesperson rejected the claim that government appointees are based on "an applicant's political donation record."

"The judicial appointment process is focused on merit, on the needs of courts, and on building a bench that reflects the country it serves," said David Taylor.

However, Taillon said the high proportion of Liberal donors serving as justices over Conservative donors is not coincidental. 

"It is the emblematic reflection of a political will to choose, from among competent candidates […] who are not associated with the political adversaries and ideologies to which the Liberal party is opposed," he said.

For example, Court of King's Bench of Alberta Justice Kevin P. Feehan made nearly $15,000 in donations to the Liberals between 2006 and 2016.

According to donation records, some donated as little as $250 or $400 to a party once in the decade before their appointment. 

Legal scholars have repeatedly viewed the federal appointment process for judges and tribunal members as 'fundamentally political' because cabinet decides who receives an appointment. 

They said the lack of diversity in the judiciary undermines public confidence in Canada's courts, owing to concerns of potential political influence.

The Justice Ministry told the National Post that "the minister does not receive information on the political affiliation or donation history" as information pertinent to an applicant's candidacy.

Smith said on the administration of justice, "We're going to make sure we press on what we can do within our own jurisdiction. Policing […] and administering justice is provincial jurisdiction."

"When somebody is a risk to the community, we're going to use every mechanism we can to keep them [criminals] behind bars until they face trial."

"We're going to see what we can do with additional policing and resources for justices of the peace, prosecutors, and a special prosecution unit," she added.

"I hope that will send a pretty strong message on how tough we want to be on crime in this province."

According to donation records, the number of judicial and tribunal appointees who previously made a partisan donation fell slightly from 2016 (19.1%) to 2019 (17.8%). However, the proportion of donors who contributed to the Liberals outpaced that decline (77.4% to 74.8%).

Among provincial superior court appointments, the percentage of donors who gave to the Liberals compared to other parties jumped 13% to 77.4% — despite the number of appointees who previously donated to a political party remaining stagnant.

A deeper dive into the donation records uncovered more than one in five (21.4%) of the 555 nominees to a provincial superior court since 2016 made donations to the Liberal party before their appointment — over three times higher than Conservative donor appointees (6.8%).

Taillon said this doesn't surprise him as being nominated to a superior court is a "logical" step towards a final appellate court such as the Supreme Court of Canada.

"Placing a large number of judges in this trial court, which is the most important trial court in Canadian law, is politically logical," he said.

Editors note: This story has been updated to clarify the percentages of Liberal-donating judges. 

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