Canadian Judicial Council completes its review of three judges who were the subject of media reports
The Canadian Judicial Council has completed its review of allegations of misconduct involving three judges further to reports by the CBC’s Fifth Estate and Radio-Canada’s Enquête television programs. The programs raised questions about possible conflict of interest for judges attending privately sponsored conferences and receptions. Concern was expressed that some of the sponsors were involved in ongoing litigation before the court.
Specifically, questions were raised regarding the Honourable Denis Pelletier of the Federal Court of Appeal and his attendance at an international tax event sponsored by a large management firm. Similarly, the programs asked whether the Honourable Randall Bocock of the Tax Court of Canada put himself in a possible position of conflict of interest by attending a cocktail party hosted by a law firm that was representing a client on a case in which he was case manager. Finally, the programs questioned whether it was appropriate for the Chief Justice of the Tax Court of Canada, the Honourable Eugene Rossiter, to defend judges who attend privately sponsored social events, by making humourous remarks about pizza and wine.
The Honourable Michael MacDonald, Chief Justice of Nova Scotia and Chairperson of the Judicial Conduct Committee of Council, carefully considered all allegations involving the three named judges and sought comments from them.
As a first point, Chief Justice MacDonald notes that judges are expected to engage in continuing education as a means of staying up to date with the law and with the evolving expectations of Canadians.
With regard to allegations of conflict of interest, Chief Justice MacDonald notes that these are normally legal issues that should be raised in court. If someone believes a judge may be in a position of conflict, they are to raise those concerns before the court. Judges have an obligation to ensure they avoid any conflict of interest - both real and apparent - and to disqualify themselves in any case in which they believe they will be unable to judge impartially. Absent unusual circumstances, alleged conflicts of interest are legal issues, not judicial conduct issues.
Having considered this matter in its entirety, including the nature of the litigation involving the sponsors and Justice Bocock’s subsequent recusal, Chief Justice MacDonald determined that the allegations involving Justice Bocock and Pelletier are unfounded and that no further action is required.
Chief Justice MacDonald also considered the public comments made by Chief Justice Rossiter and attributed them to his support of judges attending events that are open to a wide public. While Chief Justice Rossiter’s remarks were delivered in a joking manner, what he was trying to communicate was that judges should be encouraged to attend social gatherings as an opportunity for necessary interaction between judges and the public.Chief Justice MacDonald is of the view that the comments in question are regrettable; however, in all the circumstances, Chief Justice MacDonald determined that the matter did not warrant further consideration.
Accordingly, Chief Justice MacDonald dismissed all complaints. Because Chief Justice Rossiter is a Council member, a further step was followed. An outside lawyer, Mr Owen Rees, was asked to review the matter. Upon considering all available information, Mr Rees agreed with Chief Justice MacDonald’s decision and with his reasons.
Council is committed to ensuring that judges have access to a wide range of professional development opportunities. Council plays an important role in authorizing the participation of judges at conferences. Private sponsorship is a reality for some important educational conferences that include members of the Bar, of the Bench and academia. Whatever the setting, all judges must remain mindful of their legal and ethical
Council takes all concerns relating to the conduct of judges seriously and works to administer a review process that contributes to public confidence. To help foster confidence, the Council is publishing the complaint and the letter to the complainant in this matter.