Chief Justice of Canada denounces “tyrannies” like Russia

Chief Justice of Canada Richard Wagner denounces “tyrannies” like Russia and China, where there is no freedom of the press or judicial independence.

Posted at 4:09 p.m.

Vincent Brousseau-Pouliot

Vincent Brousseau-Pouliot
The Press

“The rule is almost mathematical: when you attack judges, lawyers, the media, you face a tyranny. This is what is happening in certain countries of the world, in China, in Russia. […] It’s unacceptable, we don’t want to go there, ”worries Chief Justice of the Supreme Court of Canada Richard Wagner, who participated Wednesday in a conference of the Barreau du Québec on media and communications law.

Freedom of the press, judicial independence and a strong independent media are all “fundamental” elements of a “healthy democracy”, according to the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court of Canada. “Judicial independence and freedom of the press go hand in hand,” he said.

[Un régime tyrannique] going to muzzle the press, as we saw recently in Russia. We may put the judges in jail. [Les juges] that we are going to keep, they are going to say the same thing as the government. Judges are also muzzled, as we have seen in other countries. Another clue: we look to see if there is an independent Bar. If not, it’s a clue that you have a tyranny.

Richard Wagner during a discussion with Mr.and Christian Leblanc, partner at Fasken and specialist in media law.

” We see that [la démocratie] can be flimsy”

“We live it, we have to recognize it without necessarily patting ourselves on the back, in a strong democracy [au Canada], said Chief Justice Wagner. There is still respect for institutions. We see that it can be fragile. The mistake that shouldn’t be made is to take it for granted. You always have to be on the lookout. It is continuous work. You see it all over the world, democracies suddenly collapsing, claiming to be great democracies [mais où des élus posent] absolutely incredible acts of tyranny. »

Chief Justice Wagner recalls that “the publicity of the proceedings is fundamental in our democracy. For the past month, the Quebec legal community has been denouncing the existence of a criminal trial that was held in secret in Quebec for a police informant. In interview at To have to earlier this month, Chief Justice Wagner called the secret trial an “incredible” and “very deplorable” event that “does not help the cause of justice.” (If the topic didn’t come up on Wednesday, it’s because the discussion was pre-recorded before the secret trial was revealed. Chief Justice Wagner couldn’t participate live because the Supreme Court was sitting on Wednesday.)

The importance of traditional media

During this thirty-minute discussion, Chief Justice Richard Wagner reiterated several times the importance of the role of the news media. In particular to properly explain judicial decisions.

I wish there was media [traditionnels] in all classrooms. Traditional media are very important. I am talking about traditional media subject to codes of ethics, professional standards, which have a certain expertise, which will do their job properly. They are the only ones who can really inform, dissect, analyze legal information for the benefit of citizens.

Richard Wagner, Chief Justice of Canada

Chief Justice Wagner notes that the traditional media no longer have the same means and “financial resources” as “15-20 years ago”, in particular “because of social networks and competition”. That’s why the Supreme Court is trying to find ways to “inform the public directly” about its decisions, notably with a new outreach service.

“60% of people in Canada get their news from social media,” said Chief Justice Wagner. Social networks, there are all sorts of things in there, not necessarily real and adequate information. This needs to be supplemented. […] So that the judgments are well understood by the population. To ensure that the population continues to have confidence in their justice system. When people lose faith in their justice system, anarchy begins. People take the law into their own hands. »

The Jordan decision

Chief Justice Wagner also defended the Jordan decision, which caused a small revolution by establishing 30 months (18 months for summary charges) as the limit on the reasonable time to undergo a criminal trial.

” [L’arrêt Jordan] made people realize that the justice system had not been treated properly for too many years, said Chief Justice Wagner. We have not invested enough in the justice system. Governments, judges, lawyers, lawyers’ associations have realized that they have a role to play in ensuring access to justice. When we talk about access to justice, we are practically talking about democracy. »

Former Deputy Prime Minister Nathalie Normandeau, certain co-defendants of former Mayor Gilles Vaillancourt and presumed influential member of the Hells Angels Salvatore Cazzetta notably benefited from a stay of proceedings due to the Jordan decision, rendered by the Supreme Court in 2016.

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