Rathgeber to help pick Supreme Court justices

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Edmonton-St. Albert MP Brent Rathgeber has been selected to serve on a committee set up to help pick two new justices for the Supreme Court.

Rathgeber, along with four other MPs, was named Friday to sit on the Supreme Court selection panel that will help thin out the field of possible replacements for two justices who are intending to step down.

Mr. Justice Ian Binnie and Madam Justice Louise Charron have both announced their intentions to step down from the bench, and the panel will be giving Prime Minister Stephen Harper six names from which to find their replacements.

Rathgeber said the opportunity to serve on a committee that will make such an important choice is humbling.

“I was honoured and then humbled that I was chosen among a caucus of 166, and 20 or 30 lawyers at least,” he said Friday.

The Canadian Constitution dictates that the prime minister recommend appointments to the court to the governor general and does not require any input from parliament.

Under former prime minister Paul Martin, the process began to change, but Harper has gone further, creating the committee and then having the appointee sit before a parliamentary committee to answer questions.

Rathgeber said the new approach gives Parliament some input, but ultimately the prime minister will make the final choice.

“It is our process to vet those names and provide a list with six names that we deem appropriate and he has committed to pick from that list.”

Rathgeber said he is looking for judicial skill and intellect in a future justice.

“We are going to be looking at their proficiency in the law and their analytical, intellectual and writing abilities.”

He said other requirements, like time management abilities and the ability to work as a team, are an important part of the mix, because the work of the court requires those skills.

Convention means both of these justices need to come from Ontario and a brief overview of who the committee will be considering has shown it will be a very difficult choice.

“All of the candidates that are under consideration are of a high calibre. Most of them are coming from the bench, the superior courts of Ontario or academia,” he said. “To try to distinguish and differentiate and pick the best of the best, it is going to be a daunting task.”

He said he is also very aware of the immense significance of the task.

“It is the last court of appeal and its decision are binding on every court in Canada.”

The committee is set to meet with the current chief justice, the chief justice of the Ontario court of appeal and representatives of the Ontario bar association.

The other members of the committee are Conservative MPs Bob Dechert and Candice Hoeppner and NDP MP Joe Comartin, as well as Liberal Irwin Cotler.

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