Thursday, August 25, 2005

Impartiality and reason

On this, the first anniversary of the start of this blog, we consider a case that illustrates how not to get the court on your side.

In Mugesera v Canada (Minister of Citizenship and Immigration) [2005] SCC 39 (18 August 2005) proceedings filed in the Supreme Court of Canada alleged that it was a biased court, its composition having been manipulated by the (former) Minister as part of an extensive Jewish conspiracy aimed at ensuring Mugesera would be deported.

One new Judge had been appointed, and she recused herself from having anything to do with this appeal as soon as she saw it on the Court’s list of forthcoming work. Her husband was chair of the War Crimes Committee of the Canadian Jewish Congress, a party to these proceedings, and he had conveyed representations about the case to the Minister. Deportation was sought on the grounds that Mugesera wrongly had been allowed to stay in Canada, and that he was alleged to have committed, or had incited others to commit, murder, genocide, or crimes against humanity in Rwanda.

Mugesera sought a stay of proceedings on the grounds that the Minister had wrongly exercised his decision to seek deportation, by appealing an earlier court ruling, and that the Supreme Court of Canada was biased.

The Court, now sitting as 8 Judges, delivered a joint judgment, referring briefly to the law on stay of proceedings (para 12) and judicial impartiality (para 13), and held that the Minister had properly exercised his power to appeal (para 14). It then turned to the allegations that it was biased. It held that no reasonable person would think that, one Justice having recused herself, the ability of the other members of the Court to remain impartial would be impaired (para 15). It made important observations of the duties of counsel when preparing legal argument (para 16):

"Although it is not our usual practice, the content of the motion and of its allegations compels us to point out that it is unprofessional and unacceptable. It constitutes an unqualified and abusive attack on the integrity of the Judges of this Court. In an attempt to establish the alleged Jewish conspiracy and abuse of process against the Mugeseras, this pleading systematically referred to irresponsible innuendo. In addition, it refers to exhibits that are irrelevant and whose content is entirely inappropriate and misleading. Thus, it is obvious from the motion and its supporting exhibits that it was drafted with little concern for the rigour, restraint and respect for the facts required of all lawyers involved in judicial proceedings as an officer of the court. We are compelled to say that none of the allegations in the motion, no portion of the affidavits filed in support of the motion, and none of the documents to which these affidavits refer justifies the motion with respect to members of this Court or to the appellant’s decision to initiate and pursue this appeal. The only abuse of process from this motion lies at the feet of the respondent Mugesera and [his counsel] Mr. Bertrand."

The Court concluded with observations that reflect the difference between politics and law:

"17 Regretfully, we must also mention that the motion and the documents filed in support of it include anti Semitic sentiment and views that most might have thought had disappeared from Canadian society, and even more so from legal debate in Canada. Our society is a diverse one, home to the widest variety of ethnic, linguistic and cultural groups. In this society, to resort to discourse and actions that profoundly contradict the principles of equality and mutual respect that are the foundations of our public life shows a lack of respect for the fundamental rules governing our public institutions and, more specifically, our courts and the justice system."

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