The Honourable Andrew Parsons
Minister of Justice and Public Safety and Attorney General
Welcoming Ceremony in honour of the appointment of the Honourable Mr. Justice Malcolm Rowe to the Supreme Court of Canada
December 2, 2016
As a young aspiring lawyer, I always hoped I might appear at the Supreme Court of Canada. But never did I imagine that I would be standing here as Minister of Justice and Attorney General for Newfoundland and Labrador and recognizing our province’s first Justice to be named to this illustrious bench, Justice Malcolm Rowe.
Madam Chief Justice McLachlin, Minister Wilson-Raybould, Justices, members of the Canadian legal community, Mrs. Mardi Dunn, the Honourable Mr. Justice Malcolm Rowe, Family and Friends, and to the many Newfoundlanders and Labradorians watching from home. It is an honour and a privilege for me to join you today. To say it is a proud day would be an understatement of great magnitude.
First of all, I would like to thank Justice Rowe for his many years as a public servant and jurist in Newfoundland and Labrador. Further, I would like to commend him for all of his hard work in becoming the eminently qualified Justice that we are celebrating today. This is a reflection on Justice Rowe as an incredible individual along with the entire legal community in Newfoundland and Labrador.
No doubt, most of you may be familiar with the image of Newfoundland and Labrador as a province of hard working fish harvesters who earned their living from the sea. In fact Justice Rowe’s family comes from a small island off the North East coast of Newfoundland known as Fogo Island.
Although the fishing industry has played a significant role in our history, there is a misconception that everyone in Newfoundland and Labrador fishes for a living; that we all walk around in sou’westers, dining on cod tongues every night. However, the picture shared across the country of Justice Rowe upon his appointment, of him looking casual and relaxed in a boat on the water certainly didn’t do anything to squash that misconception.
During the course of Justice Rowe’s career, he has been involved with key matters; disputes over Canada’s Atlantic maritime boundaries and exploitation the Grand Banks; negotiation of a new United Nations convention on high seas fisheries; and Canada’s litigation in regards to the seminal fisheries case before the International Court of Justice. This last matter was a particularly sensitive and complex issue, in which Justice Rowe formulated the strategy that ultimately led to success for the province, and for Canada as a whole.
Denominational education was a contentious topic in the history of Newfoundland and Labrador. Justice Rowe was Clerk of the Executive Council at the time, facing the unenviable task of balancing the collective good to put quality education ahead of religious differences during difficult economic times.
He coordinated the efforts to achieve the constitutional amendment necessary to create the nondenominational educational system we still have today. He and government as a whole faced criticism at the time, but he did what was necessary, not what was easy. Indeed, this is an example of Justice Rowe’s ability to have a measured approach to difficult decisions.
All of these roles, and his accomplishments in each, have consistent threads running throughout – fairness, balance, resolve, the importance of sending a larger positive message, and one of inclusiveness to those who may feel marginalized. As one former public servant expressed recently, he believes Justice Rowe will be a champion for all minorities who seek to be recognized as good Canadians because he understands that harnessing positive energy is how you build a nation and this is a valuable asset to the Supreme Court of Canada.
The Government of Newfoundland and Labrador was receptive to the new process announced by Prime Minister Trudeau for appointing Supreme Court of Canada Justices. It reflects our own value for openness, transparency and accountability.
I have always contended that our province has eminently qualified jurists and we felt confident that the new approach would serve our province well, and in so doing, our region and our country. The process at the end of the day confirmed regional representation – a reflection of the beliefs of all Atlantic Canadians and what is true and fundamentally right.
There was much debate about whether or not our province could put forward a judge who could speak in both official languages. This was discouraging, but we knew it was something that would not be an issue.
The first documented French presence in our province dates back to 1504 and in 2004, many communities in our province celebrated 500 years of French presence. There has also been a 35 per cent increase in the Francophone community over the last decade.
Nous avons toujours appuyé l’idée d’un Canada bilingue et le juge Rowe sera un modèle à suivre pour nos jeunes. We have always embraced the notion of Canada as a bilingual country and Justice Rowe will be a role model for our youth.
The appointment of Justice Rowe also serves as a symbol for our province’s place in Canada. For the first time ever, a Newfoundland and Labrador perspective sits at the Supreme Court of Canada level.
It seems Justice Rowe has always stood out amongst equals and his most recent accomplishment which we celebrate today is indeed, history in the making.
Since 1875, six Atlantic Canadian appointments to the Supreme Court of Canada have been from New Brunswick, five from Nova Scotia, and PEI has had one: Sir Louis Henry Davies. He was appointed to the Supreme Court of Canada in 1901, and later went on to become Chief Justice of the court.
Now, you might be asking… why is this guy giving a history lesson? Well, consider for a moment who was Prime Minister at that time. It was Sir Wilfrid Laurier. Prime Minister Laurier has gone down in history as being known as the “great conciliator”. He has been quoted as saying, “I have had before me as a pillar of fire a policy of true Canadianism, of moderation, of reconciliation.”
Here we are today, with Prime Minister Trudeau earning a reputation for those very same qualities. It occurred to me that the decision faced by our Prime Minister Trudeau along with Minister Wilson-Raybould is strikingly similar to that faced by Sir Wilfrid over a century ago.
At the time of Davies’ appointment, the four prior Atlantic Canadian appointments to the Supreme Court consisted of two from New Brunswick and two from Nova Scotia. Prior to Justice Rowe’s appointment, the four prior appointees were also two from New Brunswick and two from Nova Scotia. One wonders whether Prime Minister Laurier, in appointing a judge from PEI in 1901, recognized the need for diversity on the bench along with the benefit of including all provinces in this important institution of the nation.
Of course, a similar scenario has faced Prime Minister after Prime Minister since Newfoundland and Labrador’s confederation with Canada in 1949. Just as Laurier and Trudeau share qualities such as a penchant for conciliation, for “sunny ways”, for positivity rather than negativity, I find it fitting that it is the Trudeau government that has followed suit in a historic selection from a province where no Supreme Court Judge has come from before.
This of course, is more than likely a happy coincidence. The true reason we are standing here today is because Justice Rowe is the best person for the job. He is a sharp mind with a wealth of experience.
Evidence of his vast experience and his extensive understanding of the role of the Supreme Court of Canada can be found in his application. I was most struck by his remarks on what it means to be a judge in a constitutional democracy. In it he stated for example:
“The Supreme Court is not, primarily, a court of correction. Rather, the role of the Court is to make definitive statements of the law which are then applied by trial judges and courts of appeal.”
“…the Supreme Court judges ordinarily make law, rather than simply applying it.”
Firstly, I will commend Justice Rowe for his courage in saying such things. It is an undeniable fact that the Supreme Court of Canada sometimes delves into policy; this is a testament to how crucial the Supreme Court of Canada is.
The fact that Justice Rowe explicitly recognizes this, and did so in a context where it had significant personal consequences is a testament to the man.
It is a controversial issue, as some say that it is inappropriate for the court to “make law”, but to those people I say, where would this country be with matters such as same sex marriage, abortion, and physician-assisted dying without the Supreme Court of Canada?
Whereas politicians may be susceptible to partisan winds and political influences, the Justices of the Supreme Court of Canada cannot be. While it is preferable that the legislative branch of government take such hot-button issues by the horns, the reality is that it is often left in the hands of the judiciary.
It is essential that we have a Supreme Court comprised of capable, steady hands. I know Justice Rowe will fit in well with his new colleagues in that regard.
This story is only just beginning and I know Justice Rowe will go down in history as making Canadians proud.
He certainly made Newfoundlanders and Labradorians proud as we cheered him on when he performed so well in the Question and Answer sessions. His forthcoming decisions will help form the fabric of what we know as “Canada”. For that, we will all benefit.
As Attorney General of the Province of Newfoundland and Labrador, I certainly never thought I would ever say, “I am proud that Justice Rowe is no longer ours”. Yet, here I stand and I am extremely proud, elated to say, that Justice Rowe is now “all of ours”… and as a nation, we are all better off for it.
Thank you so much for this opportunity today.