PM taps judge from Newfoundland for SCC

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has nominated a new Supreme Court justice from the Atlantic Provinces, despite indicating he might buck convention and choose a justice from elsewhere.

Thomas Howe has been nominated to be the next Supreme Court of Canada justice. Photo credit: David Howells. Trudeau announced Monday that Justice Malcolm Rowe will become the first judge from Newfoundland and Labrador to sit on the country’s top court.

“I am greatly excited to announce the nomination of Mr. Justice Malcolm Rowe, whose remarkable depth of legal experience in criminal, constitutional, and public law will complement the extensive knowledge of the other Supreme Court justices," Trudeau said in a press release.

Rowe will fill a vacancy created when former justice Thomas Cromwell, of Nova Scotia, retired from the bench at the beginning of September.

In the run up to Cromwell’s retirement, Trudeau declined to commit to replacing him with a justice from Atlantic Canada, as convention dictated.

The legal community in the Atlantic Provinces scoffed at the idea and the Atlantic Provinces Trial Lawyers Association filed a court challenge to ensure the convention was respected.

The association will now likely drop its challenge next week, says APTLA’s president, Cynthia Taylor.

“APTLA is very pleased that the prime minister has chosen a judge from Atlantic Canada, which will allow Atlantic Canada to continue to have a voice on the Supreme Court,” says Taylor.

“This is in line with the long standing Canadian convention of having a judge from Atlantic Canada.”

Nicole O’Byrne, an associate professor at University of New Brunswick’s Faculty of Law, says she was “pleasantly surprised” by news about the nomination.

“National institutions such as Parliament, and Senate and the Supreme Court of Canada, gain their legitimacy from representing the constituencies that they serve, and Newfoundland has never had an appointment, they were long overdue,” says O’Byrne.

“So this appointment really marks a huge milestone in Canadian constitutional history, because it’s the first time a judge from Newfoundland and Labrador has been appointed."

O’Byrne said regional representation is part of the “Confederation bargain” that Newfoundland signed up for.

“They deserve to have their voice heard at this level of decision-making, so I’m thrilled,” she says.

Rowe has sat on the Court of Appeal of Newfoundland and Labrador since 2001.

Born in St. John’s, N.L., Rowe attended Osgoode Hall Law School before he was called to the bar.

He became clerk of the Executive Council and Secretary to Cabinet in the provincial government of Newfoundland and Labrador in 1996. He was then appointed to the province’s Supreme Court, Trial Division in 1999 before he ascended to the Court of Appeal for Newfoundland and Labrador.

Rowe’s nomination was also the first under the federal government’s new Supreme Court justice selection process, which included the creation of a new advisory board that would recommend potential judges.

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