Protecting judicial independence to avoid an erosion of democracy

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Protecting judicial independence to avoid the erosion of democracy

Chief Justice of the Supreme Court of Canada, Richard Wagner.

No democracy is immune to assaults on its institutions, according to Supreme Court of Canada Chief Justice Richard Wagner.

There is no vaccine against attacks on judicial independence, the rule of law, the rule of law, Mr. Wagner argued in an interview behind the scenes of power.

Countries that boasted of being great democracies are not spared. You don't have to look far to find examples, said the Chief Justice.

In the midterm elections, Americans brought to power candidates who insist that Joe Biden won the presidency in 2020 by fraud, even though the courts have concluded otherwise .

We must therefore be concerned about these provocations with regard to the rules of law and remain on the lookout. That's why everyone has a role to play in this, starting with the courts, to make sure people stay confident, said Richard Wagner.

In Canada, the judicial system enjoys the confidence of more than the majority of citizens. The Supreme Court even recorded a 15% increase in support, according to Wagner. An Angus Reid poll released last spring indicated that 54% of Canadians had confidence in the Supreme Court.

Mr. Wagner attributes this good mark in particular to a better representativeness within the court. In the past year, a first racialized judge, Mahmud Jamal, and a first Indigenous, Michelle O'Bonsawin, won two of nine seats on the nation's highest court.

“I think that the citizens of a country must recognize themselves in their institutions and in particular in the courts. It is a question of transparency, a question of credibility as well. »

— Chief Justice of the Supreme Court of Canada, Richard Wagner

The Chief Justice maintains that every human being needs justice, like air and water. If a citizen is convinced that he is being treated unfairly, he no longer sees democracy and the rule of law in the same light, which can have serious consequences for our political systems. When you invest in justice, he says, you are investing in democracy.

To ensure the administration of fair justice, the country's 2,600 judges benefit from the training programs of the National Institute of the Judiciary (INM), of which he is the president. The INM also exports its expertise. He shared his knowledge in Sri Lanka, Mexico and, for more than 15 years, in Ukraine.

The INM was present in Ukraine until the beginning of the war and we helped these people to improve their justice system [for example] how to write judgments, techniques to assess the context in particular situations , says Richard Wagner.

Judge Wagner with our journalist Daniel Thibeault during the recording of the show

When Canada launched its training in Ukraine, Ukrainian magistrates faced management and ethical issues. There were also suspicions of corruption. But over the years, Ukrainian judges have become more professional. They manage today to hear cases, even in the territories occupied by Russia, and even if nearly a hundred of their courts have been destroyed by the army of Vladimir Putin.

They use technology. They use the means at hand […] to allow people to appear before the courts. So they're moving the judges, they're moving the courts to other parts of the country to actually continue to deliver justice. And I think that's great!

When the war is over, the INM will pick up where it left off with its Ukrainian counterparts. This is an issue of importance to President Volodymyr Zelensky, who has been advocating for months for his country to join the 27 member states of the European Union (EU). But to be able to adhere to it, the courts must demonstrate their professionalism. This is a condition imposed by the EU.

Mr. Wagner is optimistic about that, having recently rubbed shoulders with the Chief Justice of Ukraine, Vsevolod Kniaziev, at an international conference in Ottawa. He saw the will of his Ukrainian counterparts to serve their fellow citizens and also to win this war which left thousands dead and wounded, in addition to causing the displacement and exodus of 14 million Ukrainians. /p>

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