An all-too-rare look at the inner workings of the Supreme Court of Canada, via this past weekend’s Globe and Mail:
Antonio Lamer startled the legal world when he resigned as chief justice of the Supreme Court of Canada in 1999 with nine years left in his term. Twelve years later, the story behind the surprise departure of the country’s top judge reveals a tale of intrigue and apprehension at the highest levels of the Supreme Court.
Alarmed by the chief justice’s wandering concentration and a fall on the stairs of an Ottawa restaurant, the other eight Supreme Court judges banded together and gave him a gentle prod toward the door.
Besides shedding light on a fascinating chapter in Supreme Court history, the story of chief justice Lamer’s departure opens a window into a world rarely glimpsed. Outside of the cloistered world of the judiciary, there has been precious little public discussion about the delicate question of what happens to a judge whose health and performance falters.
The judges were intent on showing respect to a jurist who had played a pivotal role in fleshing out a broad span of individual rights under the Charter. They selected a delegation of three veteran judges who embodied experience, candour and impartiality.
“We didn’t ask him to resign,” recalled former Supreme Court judge John Major, one of the three who attended the ultra-sensitive meeting with their chief. “We merely said that his performance was not what it had been up until this time. … He said instantly: ‘Well, then I’ll resign.’ ”