If the Canadian Judicial Council Inquiry Committee reviewing Madam Justice Lori Douglas’ off-duty behavior is a microcosm of Canada’s justice system, why should anyone be surprised that after years of litigation manoeuvres by Ms. Douglas, the Committee has finally thrown up their hands and walked off the job.
Their frustration with the legal gamesmanship and the resulting delay and expense is a feeling that is shared by millions of Canadians daily, particularly those unfortunate enough to be caught in the morass of family court.
However, when the body that governs superior court judges in Canada cannot move forward and complete their mandate because of the interference of another court, one has well and truly gone down the rabbit hole.
Judge Douglas’ saga began in the Fall of 2010 when her husband, divorce lawyer Jack King’s former client, Alex Chapman, reneged on his 2003 agreement to keep his lips sealed in exchange for a payment of $25,000. His lurid secret was that Mr. King had shared explicit nude photos of his wife, Judge Douglas with him and allegedly attempted to entice him into a sexual relationship with the two of them.
Chapman’s complaint to the Canadian Judicial Council alleging sexual harassment started their investigation which eventually led to a rare public inquiry in May 2012 as to whether she was fit to retain her position as a judge of the superior court in Manitoba.
By the time the hearing got underway, additional allegations tangentially related to the harassment charges came into sharper focus. The investigation revealed that when she applied for her judicial position in 2005 she answered the question “Is there anything in your past that could reflect badly on the office of a judge?” in the negative and “changed” some of her diary entries that related to the Chapman allegations.
Several days into the inquiry, after the evidence of husband Jack King and Mr. Chapman had gone in, it became apparent to Judge Douglas’ lawyer that things were not going well for her and an application to terminate the inquiry based on the legal principle of “a reasonable apprehension of bias” was brought on her behalf. The sole basis for the allegation was that counsel for the Committee aggressively cross-examined two inquiry witnesses.
On July 27, 2012 the Committee rejected her application, whereupon she launched an appeal to the Federal Court and obtained an order from that Court that the Inquiry would be “stayed” or put “on hold” until the Federal Court could rule.
The absurdity of the process in the Federal Court is explained by the Committee in their written REASONS FOR RESIGNATION OF THE INQUIRY COMMITTEE CONCERNING THE HONOURABLE LORI DOUGLAS released on November 20, 2013.
They point out that the orders sought by Judge Douglas in the Federal Court and made by the Court were argued without challenge since the only Respondent in the action is the Attorney-General of Canada who brought their own application to be removed from the Federal Court proceedings. The Court refused to remove them from the proceedings but their lack of enthusiasm was evident when they did not appear in court for the stay hearing, thus turning it into an uncontested application, also known as a “slam-dunk”.
The learned justices of the Committee also lament that crucial issues such as the Federal Court’s jurisdiction to usurp the Inquiry’s authority were never addressed and recognize that it may be several more years before the Federal Court completes its review, including the inevitable appeals that will follow.
Finally, the Committee affirms their belief that the inquiry process under the Judges Act must not be high-jacked by “unlimited steps and interlocutory privileges…at public expense”…with the goal of defeating the “wider public purpose that must be served by the judicial conduct process.”
The Inquiry Committee’s resignation is regrettably a necessary, but embarrassing step in a circus that has played out far too long. When will Lori Douglas follow their lead and tender her resignation?
Lawdiva aka Georgialee Lang