In his report released this afternoon, former Supreme Court of Canada justice Michel Bastarache concludes that former Quebec Justice minister Marc Bellemare was not pressured by third parties to appoint judges to the Court of Quebec.
The report essentially clears Premier Jean Charest of any influence peddling.
In April 2010, Bellemare publicly stated to Quebec journalists that his selection of three judges, during his time as Justice minister between April 2003 and April 2004, had been influenced by Quebec Liberal Party fundraisers Franco Fava, a construction entrepreneur, and accountant Charles Rondeau.
“Based on a thorough and detailed review of all the evidence, I conclude that the facts do not demonstrate that Mtre. Bellemare acted under the pressure or orders of third parties, disregarding his own conscience and opinions, in recommending the appointments of Judges Marc Bisson and Line Gosselin-Després and the promotion of Judge Michel Simard to the position of Associate Chief Judge,” wrote Bastarache.
“I conclude on the balance of probabilities that Mtre. Bellemare was not forced to act against his will in recommending the appointments of Judges Bisson and Gosselin-Després and the promotion of Judge Simard. The facts supported by the objective evidence demonstrate that Mtre. Marc Bellemare acted voluntarily and independently.”
The report says there were many “inconsistencies and contradictions” in the testimony at the inquiry, which Bastarache found not surprising considering the length of time that had elapsed since the alleged events.
“Therefore, despite the expectations that some have expressed regarding the content of this report, I do not believe that my mandate is to decide which witnesses were telling the truth,” he wrote.
Bastarache goes on to say the inquiry did bring to light a number of weaknesses in the process of selecting judges in Quebec.
For a start, he says the process lacks transparency at all steps and is also generally inefficient, with sometimes hundreds of candidates interviewed for a single opening.
“The evidence reveals that there are no standards governing the operation of the selection committees. The choice of members of the public to sit on selection committees is not subject to any guidelines, nor is any training provided for them. The information asked of the candidates has not been standardized. Concerns regarding the confidentiality of the selection committees’ reports have also been raised,” says the report.
The second stage, the commissioner notes, is particularly “vulnerable to all manner of interventions and influence.”
Bastarache provided 25 recommendations to improve the process for selecting judges for Quebec’s provincial and municipal courts. They include:
• Creation of a secretariat for judicial selection and appointment that does not answer to the Department of Justice;
• Include members of the public on the judicial selection committee;
• Create a standing selection committee;
• Train members of the standing selection committee on interviewing techniques, criteria for evaluating applications, the structure of the courts, and the judicial function;
• Standardize the application process as well as the criteria for evaluating candidates;
• Establish a pre-selection mechanism to limit the number of candidates for each position to 15;
• The selection committee should provide three names to the Justice minister for consideration.
Bastarache goes on to provide a series of further recommendations as to what should happen once the minister has the list from the selection committee. Importantly, he notes that whether the premier is involved in the decision or not, there should be strict limits on the role played by political staff and no debate on it by the cabinet.
The commission first sat on June 14, 2010, and then continued regularly during the period from Aug. 24 to Oct. 22. It heard 39 witnesses during the first phase of its hearings (dealing with Bellemare’s allegations) and 19 experts during the second phase (related to the examination of the selection and appointment process). The price tag for the whole show was in the $6-million region.
The report is available in both English and French on the commission’s web site.