Federal government stops using Liberal Party database to check potential judges
The Trudeau government has stopped using the Liberal Party’s private database to perform background checks on candidates for judicial appointments, according to federal sources.
According to information obtained by Radio-Canada, the practice – which had been going on for years – was interrupted in response to widespread criticism from both opposition parties and legal experts.
Use of the information in this database, called the Liberalist, has led to accusations of partisan bias in the judicial appointment process. For months, the Conservative Party and the Bloc Québécois accused the government of favoring candidates with a history of giving to the Liberal Party.
The accusations emerged after CBC News, The Globe and Mail and La Presse published articles demonstrating the existence of partisan considerations in the process of appointing federal judges.
“Basically, we’re getting rid of a serious dueling role problem … a private database that has been used in government decision-making,” said Patrick Taillon, professor of law at Laval University in Quebec.
“It was really outrageous and extremely difficult to defend… There is now an agreement that the party is the party, that the government is the government, and that there has to be a barrier between the two.”
According to federal sources, the government will now limit its background checks to information in public databases.
For example, the government will continue to consult databases maintained by Elections Canada or various lobbying commissioners across the country, as well as public websites such as news aggregators, social networks and lists of people with accounts. in tax shelters abroad, such as the Panama Papers. .
“At the moment, what is being used is publicly available information,” said a federal official who was not authorized to speak publicly on the issue.
The government remains silent on liberalism
The government uses Elections Canada’s databases to obtain information on past donations by presidential candidates to federal and provincial parties. Government officials insist that a candidate’s political donation record does not help or hinder them in the verification process; they say they want to know about past donations because the information can then be used to attack government appointments.
In one case, Justice Minister David Lametti consulted with the Federal Ethics Commissioner before appointing a candidate who had donated to his Liberal nomination contest. The commissioner said the appointment could take place after deciding that Lametti was not a friend of the candidate.
The Trudeau government has consistently refused to provide specific details on how it uses Liberalist in the judicial appointment process.
Instead, information about the practice was revealed by leaking confidential documents to various media organizations.
Federal officials declined to say when exactly Ottawa stopped using the Liberalist in the judicial appointment process.
Bloc Québécois MP Rhéal Fortin said Ottawa must go further and appoint a parliamentary committee to find ways to make the judicial appointment process more independent from government.
“I can only applaud the fact that the Liberalist is no longer being used. I have been asking for this to happen for years,” he said. “That being said, it is not over yet. We should roll up our sleeves, continue to work and create a committee to review the nomination process and resolve this issue once and for all.”
Thanks to Liberalist, the government has had access to confidential information about candidates who have had various interactions with the Liberal Party over the years.
For example, the government could know whether the candidates had previously been members of the Liberal Party, participated in the leadership race that led to the election of Justin Trudeau as party leader, or had offered their support to the party during the elections. last elections.
The government defended itself on accusations of partisan influence in the selection process, saying it only looked at candidates’ backgrounds to avoid being caught off guard by questions from the media or the opposition after announcement of an appointment.
Trudeau and Lametti have often defended the judicial appointment process by claiming that candidates are chosen on merit, with the aim of representing Canadian diversity in courts across the country.
“Our government believes that Canadians’ confidence in our judiciary is enhanced through a transparent and accountable selection process that identifies outstanding judicial candidates who reflect Canada’s diversity,” said David Taylor, spokesperson for Lametti.
While the Liberal was used in the judicial appointment process, he was consulted after the Minister of Justice proposed a candidate, but before that candidate was approved by cabinet.
The Liberal verification process was conducted not by people from the Justice Minister’s office, but by officials from the Prime Minister’s office and the Liberal Party’s research office, sources said.