Malcolm Rowe faces grilling by MPs, senators, law school students

Supreme Court nominee takes questions at the University of Ottawa

OTTAWA — Newfoundland and Labrador judge Malcolm Rowe, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s nominee for the Supreme Court of Canada, says it’s important the high court reflects voices from across the country.

Rowe is at a question-and-answer session at the University of Ottawa, where MPs, senators and law school students are asking him about his experience and views before Trudeau finalizes his recommendation.

Asked what being from Newfoundland would bring to the bench, Rowe says that while legal principles are common across Canada, context matters and it’s important the top court does not have blind spots.

The Liberal government has changed the Supreme Court appointment process to encourage more openness, transparency and diversity, and to require high court justices to be functionally bilingual.

The opposition assailed the Liberals for saying they would not necessarily follow the custom of regional representation, which would have required that the successor to retiring Justice Thomas Cromwell, from Nova Scotia, be from Atlantic Canada.

Daniel Justras, the McGill law professor moderating the session, says the format does not allow Rowe to comment on complex hypothetical situations, how he would have handled past rulings differently or to explain his Newfoundland and Labrador Court of Appeal decisions.

Here are some of the Newfoundland and Labrador judge’s thoughts and exchanges.


Sen. Mobina Jaffer said it is unacceptable that not a single person of colour sits on the Court’s and asked how Rowe could represent all Canadians.

“I have sought to absorb and I have sought to understand and all I can do personally is seek to bring the understanding that I’ve gained from speaking with others, from understanding their circumstances, to bear as best I can,” said Rowe.

“The composition of the court is not in my hands. The composition of the court is in the hands of others. All I can do, is to do the best that I can in terms of being mindful, being sensitive and being aware and not disappearing into an ivory tower, but to maintain a connection with people throughout the country in big cities, small towns, North.”


“There has been a very significant change over the past few decades to deal with the forgotten party in crime and that is the victim,” said Rowe, adding that victims play an important role.

For judges, Rowe, said, “The principle issue is guilt or innocence. … In the course of arriving at that, you have to be sensitive to the situation of the person who has brought the complaint and you have to try and ensure there is a fair hearing and it’s not distorted by things like myths relating to prior sexual conduct and the like,” he said.


“The component which the courts themselves deal with is where the judges have to focus: procedure, costs, being flexible in terms of how people appear, looking for ways to encourage law firms to provide pro bono advice, things like this,” said Rowe.

“The courts have a part to play, but they’re by no means the only actors. It’s governments and legislatures as well, but we have to play our part in a co-ordinated way.”


“Public awareness, an acceptance of the reality that has occurred, the damage that has occurred, the need to rebuild, the need to give again a place of meaning and autonomy for indigenous peoples _ I guess that’s where it starts, but in terms of moving forward through institutions, it’s governments and indigenous leadership,” said Rowe.

“The courts could make a mistake if they move too quickly to define things that are better defined on a nation-to-nation basis, always bearing in mind that everyone has a right to go to court and have their rights vindicated.”

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