Senator Douglas Black questions Government Representative in the Senate Senator Peter Harder on judicial vacancies

Question Period—Justice

Judicial Vacancies

June 8, 2016

The Honourable Senator Douglas Black :

My question is for the Government Representative in the Senate.

I am revisiting the concern raised by my colleague Senator Fraser some weeks ago, as the issue she addressed of unfilled judicial appointments in Alberta is now reaching a crisis point.

Just two weeks ago, several sexual assault cases in Alberta were delayed for a year due to the lack of judges in the Alberta Court of Queen's Bench. Justice delayed is justice denied. This is not the first and certainly won't be the last time that cases have been delayed in Alberta due to our current shortage of justices.

Alberta today has seven vacancies on our Court of Queen's Bench and four vacancies out of fourteen positions on the Alberta Court of Appeal. Colleagues, if we look beyond the large number of vacant positions, Alberta also has fewer judges per capita than any other province. These problems, together, are putting a tremendous strain on the Alberta court system and are calling into question the administration of justice in my province.

Can the Government Representative please tell us how — and, importantly, when — the government is going to alleviate this crisis in Alberta to ensure our legal system begins working smoothly again?

Hon. Peter Harder (Government Representative in the Senate): I thank the honourable senator for his question, he himself being a distinguished lawyer from the province of Alberta.

I had the opportunity earlier today to speak with the Minister of Justice on this matter — indeed, your specific question. I want to assure him — and, through this answer, the chamber — that the minister is expecting to make some appointments in the very near future.

As the member will be aware, and other senators will be aware from previous questions and answers, the government has committed to review the entire judicial appointments process based on the principles of openness, transparency, merit and diversity. The Minister of Justice is working with interested stakeholders, including the judiciary and Canadians generally, on these appointments, seeking to ensure that the process of appointing members of the court is transparent, inclusive and accountable to Canadians.