Ontario Court of Appeals allows livestreaming of carbon tax dispute

Ontario’s highest court is allowing livestreaming this week of an important case between the provincial government and Canada’s federal government over the latter’s imposition of a carbon tax. CBC cameras are being allowed to capture the arguments and share the broadcast with other media. These are the first televised arguments at the Ontario Court of Appeals since 2007. The first day of oral arguments can be found here.

Earlier this year, the Saskatchewan Court of Appeal also allowed livestreaming in a case involving a provincial challenge to the carbon tax, underscoring the special nature of this litigation. The real lesson: don’t get too comfortable with cameras in Canadian provincial courtrooms; the practice is still remarkably rare.

Saskatchewan debates more extensive use of courtroom cameras

The Saskatchewan Court of Appeal is allowing live streaming of an oral argument for the fourth time this week, in a case involving a challenge to Canada’s federal carbon tax. The event has reignited discussion about moving cameras into the trial courts. While this story’s headline suggests that the discussion is more developed than it actually is, it is nice to see increased recognition that courtroom cameras typically carry more benefits than risks.

Canada’s federal criminal reform bill put on hold

A bill that would introduce a wide range of reforms into Canada’s federal criminal justice system has been tabled. Among other things, Bill C-75 would:

  • Take measures to decrease significant court delays;
  • Eliminate peremptory challenges of jurors;
  • Remove “zombie” parts of the criminal code that have been found unconstitutional; and
  • Increase the maximum sentence for repeat domestic abusers.

We will continue to keep an eye on the bill’s progress, if any, in the coming months.

Investigation will continue against Canadian judge who removed woman from courtroom for wearing hijab

Quebec’s Judicial Council will proceed with an investigation of Judge Eliana Marengo, who is charged with refusing to hear a case after a litigant in her courtroom refused to remove her hijab. According to news reports:

In 2015, Marengo refused to hear a case involving Rania El-Alloul because the latter refused to remove her Islamic head scarf while in the courtroom.

El-Alloul was violating a Quebec law stipulating people must be “suitably dressed” in the courtroom, Marengo said at the time.

“In my opinion, you are not suitably dressed,” Marengo told El-Alloul, according to court documents. “Decorum is important. Hats and sunglasses, for example, are not allowed. And I don’t see why scarves on the head would be either.

“I will therefore not hear you if you are wearing a scarf on your head, just as I would not allow a person to appear before me wearing a hat or sunglasses on his or her head, or any other garment not suitable for a court proceeding.”

Incredibly, Judge Marengo’s defense for this behavior is judicial independence.

Dear Judge Marengo: Judicial independence is essential to assure that judges follow the law and provide an impartial forum for the resolution of disputes. It is not designed to justify or protect boorish behavior from the bench. To tie judicial independence to the mistreatment of litigants in your courtroom is to tarnish everything that concept stands for.

Good grief.

 

Canada’s Chief Justice emphasizes judicial independence in final press conference

Beverly McLachlin retired from the Supreme Court of Canada this week, after 28 years on the court and 17 years as its chief.  In her final press conference, Chief Justice McLachlin stressed the importance of shielding the judiciary from political interference.  From the National Observer:

“We have deep respect for our Charter of Rights and Freedoms among the people of Canada, and we have a public that values an independent judiciary, which is the best defence,” said McLachlin.

“If people stand up and say, ‘We can’t attack our judiciary, we want an independent judiciary,’ that is — in a democracy such as ours — the best way to preserve the rule of law and judicial independence.”

The Prime Minister’s statement on Chief Justice McLachlin’s retirement is here.

Venezuelan judge seeks refugee status in Canada

The swirling political and financial chaos in Venezuela has been closely coupled with the ongoing desecration of judicial independence by President Nicolas Maduro’s regime.

Now the evidence of that desecration is starting to gush out.  Toronto’s Globe and Mail has published a story on Venezuelan judge Ralenis Tovar, who fled to Canada with her family in July and is now claiming refugee status there. Judge Tovar alleges that as a judge in Caracas, she was forced to sign arrest warrants for Maduro’s political enemies.  She further claims that the Maduro government tapped her phones and even attempted to kidnap her daughter from school.

From the Globe and Mail interview:

On her way home from work on Feb. 12, 2014, Ms. Tovar received a series of phone calls from an unknown number. Assuming it was an inmate, she didn’t answer. Then the president of Venezuela’s Supreme Court phoned and told her to pick up the calls. She did and was told to head back to the office.

Ms. Tovar said the court was surrounded by the National Guard and military intelligence officers when she arrived. She was greeted by four public prosecutors, who guarded her office’s door as she sat down.

She was given a folder with three arrest warrants inside. She said she didn’t recognize the first two names, but was shocked when she read the name on the third warrant: Leopoldo Lopez.

“I felt petrified because internally I knew what was the purpose of that warrant, which was to silence a political leader who was an obstacle for President Maduro,” Ms. Tovar said.

Given that it was 2 a.m., Ms. Tovar asked the prosecutors if she could review the warrant the next day. She said they laughed sarcastically and told her that if she didn’t sign it, she would end up like Maria Lourdes Afiuni, a Venezuelan judge who was allegedly raped in prison in 2010.

Terrified, Ms. Rovar signed Mr. Lopez’s arrest warrant.

Judicial independence and political freedom go hand in hand.  When one erodes, the other cannot be far behind.