Canada’s Prime Minister Stephen Harper has just named his two nominees to fill the two vacant seats on the Supreme Court of Canada created with the stepping down of Justices Louise Charron and Ian Binnie from Ontario, who announced their departure earlier this year at the age of 60 and 72 respectively (mandatory retirement age is 75). The two new nominees are Andromache Karakatsanis (56) and Michael Moldaver (64), both of the Ontario Court of Appeal. The two nominations are subject to a parliamentary committee hearing and approval to be held later this week.
Three of the nine Supreme Court of Canada seats are reserved by law to jurists from Quebec, although according to a long-established constitutional convention, the remaining six seats are also held on a regional basis: three seats to Ontario, two to the west (one to the prairie provinces and one to British Columbia), and one to the maritime provinces.
Justice Moldaver is what may be termed a “professional jurist”, a graduate of the University of Toronto (1971), taught at Osgoode Hall Law School, a former co-chair of the Canadian Bar Association, and has served as a judge for the past 21 years. Reportedly, Moldaver is non-bilingual; calls for an official “bilingual requirement” for federal judicial appointments is an issue that came to the fore of public debate a couple of years ago, before subsiding somewhat more recently. A parliamentary report on the matter may be found here.
Prior to her becoming an Ontario Superior Court judge in 2002, and an Ontario Court of Appeal judge as recently as March 2010, MJ Karakatsanis had held several key public service positions in Ontario in the 1990s and early 2000s, all under the Conservative Party provincial government. Of the four appointments to the Supreme Court of Canada made under the Harper Conservative Party government since 2006, this appears to be the first overtly “political” one. Having been in two “minority government” situations since 2006, including the initiation of two problematic “prorogation of parliament” stints in late 2008 and early 2010, the Conservative Party won a comfortable majority in the last federal elections held earlier this year. That said, the so-called “attitudinal” model of judicial behaviour has never played itself out nearly as neatly at the Supreme Court of Canada as may have been the case in United States Supreme Court. Either way, with the appointment of Madam Justice Karakatsanis, there will continue to be four women on the bench, including Chief Justice Beverly McLachlin.