CJC responds to criticism of Côté

In a letter released today, the Canadian Judicial Council says Supreme Court of Canada Justice Suzanne Côté acted well within her mandate in her previous role as independent counsel at the inquiry into the actions of Manitoba Justice Lori Douglas.

Executive director Norman Sabourin was responding to an open letter from students, lawyers, and law professors that criticized Côté’s conduct at the inquiry. The letter, signed by more than 350 law students, lawyers, and professors accused the newest SCC judge of acting in a “callous and gratuitous manner” toward Douglas and contributing to her decision to resign from the bench.

Esther Mendelsohn, a second-year law student at Osgoode Hall Law School in Toronto, spearhead the letter campaign and sent it across the country Dec. 1. It did not expressly name Côté.

Sabourin says he was “particularly troubled by” suggestions of unprofessional behaviour levelled in the letter.

“The mandate of Independent Cousel is to marshal all evidence, whether favourable or unfavourable to the judge,” wrote Sabourin. “Independent Counsel who served in the Douglas Inquiry is someone with a strong reputation for outstanding legal skills. She discharged her duty, as she was required to do, in accordance with Council’s by-laws and policies. There is no basis to suggest she acted other than in the proper fulfilment of that mandate.”

There continues to be much debate in the profession as well as on the Internet (see Susan Drummond’s SLAW post from earlier this week) regarding what happened during the Douglas inquiry and whether there was a need for Côté in her role as independent counsel to push to have the naked photos of Douglas admitted into evidence again. And also what message the entire affair sends to those in profession, particularly young women.

Côté, 56, who was sworn last week, is the first female lawyer appointed to the court directly from private practice.

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