It seems the federal government has pissed lawyers off again, this time over who’s applying for spots on the federal bench. “I was just so pissed off,” Avvy Yao-Yao Go, a well-known social justice activist and lawyer, wrote in the Toronto Star after Justice Minister Peter MacKay made comments at a recent Ontario Bar Association meeting that women and visible minorities aren’t applying for judge jobs and that’s why they’re under-represented on the bench. He reportedly also said a woman’s bond with her children might also be the reason few would apply for judicial positions on the federal “circuit courts” where they may be forced to travel away from family (say for a week in another big city or something crazy like that).
There are so many things wrong with all of it. Firstly, the day MacKay made these comments at the private OBA meeting, 10 new judicial appointments were made — nine were men. Secondly, his comments about the lack of diversity didn’t address why there are so few aboriginal or other visible minorities on the bench. Thirdly, he then during question period a few days later repeated his messaging in a very public forum and again stood by his argument that few women and minorities are applying for positions on the bench so that’s why the government isn’t appointing them.
The feds, of course, don’t have any stats on who’s applying or how anything happens in the absolutely opaque process of Federal Judicial Affairs Canada. Ontario keeps stats and it says about half of applicants to the bench are women, about 40 per cent of appointees are women. Let’s not even talk about what’s happened with the Supreme Court of Canada appointments recently. Mostly just think: making up the rules as we go and diversity, what’s that?
Law societies and bar associations have been calling on the federal government to appoint a wider variety of individuals to the bench, but as Rosemary Cairns notes in her recent paper “Deliberate Disregard: Judicial Appointments under the Harper Government”: “These calls for change have elicited little substantive political response. In fact, they appear to have been ignored. Recent federal appointees appear to be, in as much as it is possible to discern from publicly available information, almost uniformly white. The appointment of women continues to lag behind the appointment of men. . . .”
So here’s my challenge: If you’re qualified (essentially have been practising law in Canada for 10 years) go the judicial affairs web site and apply. If you’re bringing any kind of diversity to the game — you’re a woman, a visible minority, have a disability, are gay or lesbian, or anything else — be sure to put it on the form. I’d say I’d keep track of it all on a spreadsheet but that’s not really plausible. Perhaps the government might give that a go instead. Either way, the government will be flooded with diverse candidates and Minister MacKay won’t have a leg to stand on with his “no one is applying.”
It’s also great to be able to share some good news and pat ourselves on the back a little. Last month at the annual Kenneth R. Wilson Awards, the celebration of Canada’s business press, Canadian Lawyer and Canadian Lawyer 4Students were nominated for five awards for our editorial and artistic work last year. These included “Making Waves,” the March 2013 profile of Toronto’s integrity commissioner Janet Leiper, which took the gold award in the best profile of a person category. A big congratulations to former staff writer Michael McKiernan and to all of our staff and contributors who work so hard to provide readers with high quality, Canadian-based legal journalism.