Following weeks of public hearings and vitriolic accusations, Premier Jean Charest has been cleared of allegations of influence peddling in the judicial appointment process.
At 2:30 p.m. yesterday, former Supreme Court of Canada Justice Michel Bastarache announced that there was not sufficient evidence to prove that Charest was complicit in rigging the judicial nomination process for appointing three judges – Michel Simard, Marc Bisson, and Line Gosselin-Després – from 2003 to 2004.
On April 14, 2010, the provincial government tasked Bastarache with heading an investigation into former Justice Minister Marc Bellemare’s accusations that he received undue pressure from Liberal fundraisers to select particular judges. After weeks of public speculation and controversial testimonies, the Bastarache commission finally concluded in an approximately 300-page report.
“The majority of the evidence leads me to conclude that these nominations were those of Mr. Bellemare,” said Bastarache in a press conference, reported by Le Devoir. “He was not forced to act against his will.”
Shortly afterward, Charest made a statement to the press reaffirming the report’s conclusions: “Quebeckers can be reassured about the integrity of the judicial system in Quebec,” said the premier in French, reported by TVA, “and so can the men and women who occupy the positions of judges, and who lived with great difficulty last year as false accusations sowed doubts about our judicial system.”
However, Bastarache noted that the appointment of provincial judges is susceptible to political influence, and recommended clarifying the role of different government actors and instituting a more rigid structure to the judicial nomination process.
“He did not really apportion blame, but instead raised some red flags about the ‘porousness’ of the appointment process and its potential to be subject to political influence, including the discretionary power of the minister of justice,” wrote Antonia Maioni, the director of the McGill Institute for the Study of Canada, in an email to The Daily.
Despite the positive resolution of the Bastarache commission for Charest, according to a Léger-Marketing poll the premier’s Liberal government still faces a severe lack of credibility among Quebeckers. The poll, conducted from January 10 to 12, revealed that 75 per cent of respondents were dissatisfied with the Liberal party.
According to Maioni, it is doubtful whether the commission’s outcome will restore Charest’s legitimacy in the eyes of the public.
“The facts were the object of conflicting testimony; most damaging was the spectacle of having the sitting premier being accused in this way and of having the judicial appointment process being called into question under his administration,” she said.