(Alberta justice Sheilah Martin was named to the Supreme Court by Prime Minister Justin Trudeau)
The Canadian Press
OTTAWA – NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh says the requirement that Supreme Court judges be functionally bilingual should be waived in the case of Indigenous candidates for appointment to the country’s top court.
Singh says his party supports bilingual Supreme Court judges but he agrees with some Indigenous leaders who’ve argued that the language requirement creates hurdles for Indigenous appointees.
He says there needs to be an understanding of the unique historical situation Indigenous communities have faced as well as a recognition of Indigenous languages.
Sen. Murray Sinclair, the former chairman of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, and Assembly of First Nations grand chief Perry Bellegarde say an Indigenous appointment to the top court is long overdue and should be a top priority for the Liberal government.
Justice Minister Jody Wilson Raybould, who is Indigenous herself, says there is a substantial number of Indigenous jurists across the country and she suspects many will apply for positions on the court in the future.
Earlier today, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau appointed Alberta-based judge Sheilah Martin to the Supreme Court.
Here are some of the cases Martin has worked on.
Thomas Sophonow Inquiry _ After working as a professor and dean of the University of Calgary’s law school, Martin practiced criminal and constitutional law. In 2000, she testified as an expert witness in the Thomas Sophonow inquiry about the amount of compensation he should get for his wrongful murder conviction. Sophonow was tried three times and spent nearly four years in prison for the 1981 killing of 16-year-old Barbara Stoppel in Winnipeg. The Manitoba government awarded him $2.6 million.
Pro Bono Work _ Martin also acted pro bono for the Women’s Legal Education and Action Fund (LEAF) and the Alberta Association of Sexual Assault Centres in cases before the Supreme Court. In 2002, she represented LEAF as an intervener in the case of Ivon Shearing, the leader of a religious sect in British Columbia. He had been found guilty of sexually abusing several teenage girls. The high court upheld most of the convictions but granted a retrial in the case of one girl.
Dustin Paxton Trial _ In 2012, seven years after she was appointed to the Court of Queen’s Bench of Alberta, Martin convicted Dustin Paxton of torturing and starving his roommate before dropping him off near death at a hospital. She also declared Paxton a dangerous offender. “I simply cannot find on the evidence before me that there is a reasonable expectation, based on more than a hope, that the public will be protected by a long-term supervision order or by anything less than an indeterminate sentence,” she wrote in her decision. “An indeterminate sentence places the responsibility for an offender’s rehabilitation and future where it properly belongs: in Mr. Paxton’s own hands.”
Physician-Assisted Suicide _ In 2016, Martin granted what is believed to be the first court approval for a physician-assisted suicide in Canada. The federal government was still working on its new law when Martin ruled the woman had met the criteria set out by the Supreme Court and there was no need to prolong her suffering. The woman, known as Ms. S., was in the final stages of amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, or ALS, also known as Lou Gehrig’s disease. “I am satisfied that Ms. S. fully and freely consents to the termination of her life,” wrote Martin. “Her application is not made in a moment of weakness and her desire for physician-assisted death is long-standing.”
Ordered New Trial _ That same year, Martin reviewed the acquittal of a 16-year-old boy accused of raping a 13-year-old girl in a park. At trial, provincial court judge Pat McIlhargey questioned why the girl “did not scream, she did not run for help” or confide in a friend. Martin ordered a new trial, saying McIlhargey had allowed “unexplained myths and stereotypes to enter his assessment of the complainant’s credibility.”
Cindy Gladue _ Martin, appointed to the Alberta Court of Appeal in June of 2016, was on the panel that unanimously ordered a new trial in the case of Bradley Barton, an Ontario truck driver acquitted of first-degree murder in the death of Cindy Gladue. The Indigenous sex-trade worker was found dead in an Edmonton motel room. She bled to death after a night of what Barton called consensual, rough sex. The Appeal Court ruled in 2017 that the trial judge made serious errors, including how he charged the jury with the law of sexual assault relating to consent.
“Despite our society’s recognition of individual autonomy and equality, there still remains an undeniable need for judges to ensure that the criminal law is not tainted by pernicious and unfair assumptions, whether about women, Aboriginal people, or sex-trade workers,” said the decision.