B.C. Chief Justice Christopher Hinkson is seen in an undated handout photo. (William Huang/BC Supreme Court via The Canadian Press)

B.C. Supreme Court chief justice calls on feds to appoint more judges

Christopher Hinkson points to 10 vacancies in the court, while Ottawa puts figure at nine

The chief justice of the B.C. Supreme Court says he is frustrated by the federal government’s “failure” to appoint judges, and is calling on Ottawa to urgently fill at least nine vacancies.

Christopher Hinkson said he is speaking out after exhausting all other options to persuade Justice Minister Jody Wilson-Raybould.

“I don’t like rushing off to the press and trying to confront the minister in that fashion,” he said Thursday. “But I’ve given up the softer approaches because they simply haven’t worked.

“We still remain with an insufficient number of judges to serve the needs of the public in British Columbia and to provide what has been promised to them, and that is access to justice.”

READ MORE: Three new judges appointed in B.C., two senior judges reappointed

Hinkson said there are 10 vacancies in the court, while the federal government puts the figure at nine. He also wants Ottawa to establish five new judicial positions in B.C.

Most Monday mornings, he said he meets with as many as 10 litigants whose cases have to be delayed — some for a year — because judges are not available.

“I have explained to them that, in my view, they should have had a judge, and if we had a full complement they would have had a judge,” he said. “They doubtless will have had to pay their lawyers to prepare for the case and they will get to do that again.”

The vacancies account for 10 per cent of the B.C. Supreme Court’s judiciary. Judges are overworked, burdened by more complex cases and appear to be retiring earlier, Hinkson said.

Wilson-Raybould’s office overhauled the appointment process in 2016 to boost the numbers of non-white and women judges. It made changes to judicial advisory committees, which review candidates and make recommendations, including requiring members to receive diversity training.

The committee in B.C. has recommended more than nine candidates, said Hinkson, but the minister has rejected them because they were not “suitable,” though he doesn’t know what criteria she is using.

He said while he supports increasing diversity, if people from diverse backgrounds are not applying or do not meet the requirements to be a judge, the positions shouldn’t be left vacant.

“It’s taken a while to have sufficient numbers of women to suggest that they could form an equal part of the court. … It’s the same with other areas that aren’t proportionally represented,” he said. “There aren’t sufficient people in those groups yet to populate the court.

“The minister has said that she wants merit-based appointments. Sometimes, merit is going to dictate that a certain demographic is over-represented on the court because those are where the meritorious people exist.”

Wilson-Raybould said she expects to announce new appointments shortly. Last year she appointed 100 judges, the most by a justice minister in over two decades, and she has made 151 appointments since she became minister in 2015, she said.

“I am deeply proud of the all of the appointments I have made since becoming minister,” she said in a statement. “We are beginning to demonstrate how it is possible to have a bench that truly reflects the country we live in.”

Candidates are assessed on merit and the needs of the court, Wilson-Raybould said.

To create new judicial positions, Wilson-Raybould said the chief justice and the province must provide a business case for an increase, and B.C. has not made a request while she has been minister.

On Wednesday, Wilson-Raybould appointed one new justice to the B.C. Supreme Court and moved a judge to the Appeal Court.

Hinkson said he decided to speak to a small group of journalists on Thursday partly because the former chief justice of the Alberta Court of Queen’s Bench was vocal and appeared to get Ottawa’s attention. Alberta has more vacancies than B.C., but it received nine new judicial positions this year, he said.

The previous Conservative government left the B.C. court with six vacancies, which climbed to as many as 14 under the Liberals, he said.

“It’s gone on too long.”

Laura Kane, The Canadian Press

Just Posted

Tweedsmuir Park wildfires grow to encompass more than 200,000 hectares

Four fires now managed under one as Tweedsmuir Complex, evacation orders and alerts still in place

‘Beauty amongst such tragedy:’ B.C. photographer captures nature’s trifecta

David Luggi’s photo from a beach in Fraser Lake shows Shovel Lake wildfire, Big Dipper and an aurora

B.C. declares state of emergency as more than 560 wildfires rage

This is only the fourth state of emergency ever issued during a fire season

UPDATE: 5 injured in plane crash following Abbotsford International Airshow

One in critical condition in incident involving vintage plane

Social media, digital photography allow millennials to flock to birdwatching

More young people are flocking to birdwatching than ever, aided by social media, digital photography

Former B.C. premier Christy Clark criticizes feds for buying pipeline

The $4.5 billion purchase of Kinder Morgan’s Trans Mountain pipeline second worst decision, she said

‘Takes more courage to fail’: B.C. ultra-marathon swimmer reflects on cancelled try at record

Susan Simmons halted her swim from Victoria to Port Angeles and back because of hypothermia

Animals moved from B.C. Interior shelters to make way for pets displaced by wildfires

The Maple Ridge SPCA houses animals to make space for pets evacuated from B.C.’s burning interior.

$21.5 million medical pot plant to be built in B.C.

The facility is to be built in Princeton

Spokane man enlists 500,000+ box fans to blow wildfire smoke back to B.C.

Spokane man Caleb Moon says he’s had enough with smoky skies from B.C.’s forest fires blanketing his city

Feds agree to look at easing jury secrecy as part of review

At issue is a law that forbids jurors from talking about closed-door deliberations

Forest fuel work needed to slow wildfires, B.C. premier says

Defence Minister Harjit Sajjan joins John Horgan for tour

Liberals unveil poverty plan with lofty goals, but no new spending

Government’s goal is to lift 2.1 million people out of poverty by 2030

Most Read