Ford government says it’s changing judicial appointments to promote diversity. Racialized lawyers accuse it of ‘power grab’
Organizations representing racial attorneys have all opposed the Ontario government’s proposed changes to judicial officer appointments, some of which the Attorney General believes are necessary to improve diversity at the bank.
Large organizations representing Black, Asian, South Asian, and Muslim lawyers told the star they hadn’t asked about these changes. They argue that the new system will lead to the belief that the appointment of judges from provincial courts in Ontario is no longer an independent and impartial process and could allow provincial governments to make patronage appointments.
“We see this as a power takeover wrapped in the very thin veneer of alleged diversity,” said Nader Hasan, a member of the Canadian Muslim Lawyers Association’s legal committee.
“We believe that diversity and excellence are best preserved when the independence and integrity of the current process is preserved.”
Raphael Tachie, president of the Canadian Association of Black Lawyers, added, “It is difficult to read something that says,” We are doing this to increase the diversity of the judiciary “when the justice-seeking groups did not ask. ”
In a collective justice bill filed in Queen’s Park last month, Attorney General Doug Downey proposed several changes to the appointment of provincial judges.
It includes significant changes to the Ontario Advisory Committee on Judicial Appointments (JAAC), the independent panel of judges, attorneys, and members of the public who review judicial applicants and provide the Attorney General with a ranking of at least two candidates.
After the proposed changes, this shortlist would grow to at least six candidates. “It allows a closer look at what’s out there to create diversity and create more choice,” Downey told the star when he submitted the bill.
The attorney general could also decline the six person short list and ask for the names of the next six candidates, as he is currently allowed to do with the two person short list. Downey says he has already asked the committee to shortlists with more than two names, and that this change merely formalizes that practice.
Janani Shanmuganathan, a board member of the South Asian Bar Association, argues that the attorney general’s ability to make more choices about who should be appointed to the bank leaves room for a partisan or patronage appointment – a type of appointment that is not on the selection criteria or based on who is best for the job, but for different reasons. “
A Downey spokesperson said the proposed changes will reflect feedback from attorneys and “legal partners” and will ensure that the appointment process remains impartial.
“We believe it is a responsibility to update the system so that Ontario’s Bank can better reflect the evolving diversity of the provincial parishes,” Nicko Vavassis said in an email.
Another proposed change would mean that the three legal organizations with representatives on the committee – the Law Society of Ontario, the Ontario Bar Association, and the Federation of Ontario Law Associations – would no longer select their own representatives, but would instead submit a shortlist for candidates to the Attorney General Selection.
“It allows us to manage balance and diversity on the committee, too,” Downey told Star last month.
The attorney general is already selecting the seven parishioners in the 13-member committee.
Legal groups representing racial lawyers say improving diversity at the bank is a laudable goal, but say they struggle to see how the more significant government changes would accomplish it.
“Is there a diversity problem in JAAC itself? I do not think so. Nobody complained that there was a problem, ”said Emily Lam, Chair of the Advocacy and Policy Committee and board member of the Federation of Asian Canadian Lawyers.
“The irony is that Mr. Downey himself described JAAC as the gold standard. Why does he need these changes?” Said Lam.
“The concern is that this is actually for party political purposes and I think that transparency and fairness require a discussion between Mr. Downey and the stakeholders and the public before any further action is taken.”
The Federation of Ontario Law Associations said it received little explanation from Downey for the proposed change in the selection of committee members.
“It was suggested to achieve greater diversity. However, given that the (Attorney General) appoints the majority of the committee and our bank is very different, it doesn’t seem like we have a problem on this, ”the association chairman Bill Woodward said in an email.
“This change makes the (Attorney General) appear to have even more control over the composition of the JAAC.”
The Law Society of Ontario and the Ontario Bar Association have not objected to the proposed changes and have advised the star that they support a system that produces different judges.