The Trudeau government has stopped consulting the Liberal Party of Canada’s private database to scrutinize the partisan past of candidates for judicial office, Radio-Canada has learned.
According to sources in the federal government, this practice was stopped after it drew criticism from both opposition parties and legal experts in the country.
Use of the information in this database – known as the Liberalist – had led to accusations of favoritism and partisanship in the judicial appointment process.
For months, both the Conservative Party and the Bloc Québécois have accused the government of favoring candidates who have a history of donating to the Liberal Party.
These attacks came in the wake of articles published by Radio-Canada, the Globe and Mail and La Presse which demonstrated the presence of partisan considerations within the federal apparatus in the process of appointing judges, who are called upon to interpret laws impartially.
“Basically, we are removing a serious problem of gender mixing, that is to say a private party database which is used in a government decision-making process. That was really very scandalous and extremely difficult to defend ”explains Patrick Taillon, professor of law at Laval University.
“There, we agree that the party is the party, and the government is the government, and that at least tight borders are required,” adds Mr. Taillon.
According to our sources, the government is now sticking to verifications on public sites. We are talking about databases maintained by Elections Canada and various lobbying commissioners across the country, as well as public sites such as news aggregators, social networks or lists of people who have made investments in tax havens.
The Trudeau government has consistently refused to provide specific details about its use of the Liberalist, which came to light through information obtained through confidential sources.
Government sources declined to say exactly when Ottawa stopped using the Liberalist in the judicial appointment process, but the change has reportedly been made in recent months.
In the eyes of the Bloc member Rheal Fortin, the Trudeau government is taking a good first step by stopping the use of the Liberalist, but it must make the judicial appointment system even less partisan.
According to Mr. Fortin, a parliamentary committee should be created to put in place an appointment process that would offer less discretionary power to the government.
“Getting rid of the Liberalist, I can only applaud, I have been asking for it for years,” said Mr. Fortin. “That said, we must not close the books. We roll up our sleeves, we continue our good work, we set up a review committee for the appointment process and we will solve the problem for good ”.
Thanks to the Liberalist, the government had access to confidential information about candidates who had had interactions over the years with the Liberal Party. For example, one could find out which judicial candidates had previously been members of the Liberal Party, whether they had participated in the leadership race that led to the election of Justin trudeau at the head of the party and whether they had offered their support to the party in the last elections.
The government defended itself from any partisan influence in the selection of future judges, saying that the verification process was primarily used to avoid being caught off guard by criticism once the appointments were announced.
Mr. Trudeau and his Minister of Justice, David Lametti, have frequently defended the judicial appointment process, asserting that candidates are chosen on merit, with an objective of representing Canadian diversity in various courts across the country.
“Our government believes that the confidence of Canadians in our justice system is enhanced by a transparent and accountable selection process, which identifies candidates who reflect Canadian diversity,” said recently David taylor, spokesperson for Mr. Lametti.
The Liberalist checks took place after the justice minister proposed the appointment of a government bench candidate, but before that candidacy was approved by Cabinet.
The Liberalist’s verification process was not done by members of the Minister of Justice’s office, but rather within the Prime Minister’s office and the Liberal Party’s research bureau.
The process had already been criticized internally, as the Prime Minister’s Office insisted that many Liberal stakeholders – including MPs, ministers and supporters – be consulted on the various candidacies for judicial positions.
According to internal emails obtained by Radio-Canada, a former Liberal political assistant had expressed fear, in 2019, that there was “scandalous matter” in the judicial appointment process.