Liberal ‘cash-for-access’ gatherings potentially facilitated pre-appointment meetings between aspiring superior court candidates and high-ranking cabinet ministers, as unveiled by the Donating Judges exposé. This investigative series, stemming from an exhaustive eight-month data analysis, delves into the contentious landscape of federal appointments to Canada’s courts and tribunals.

Startling revelations have emerged, suggesting that at least six incumbent superior court justices might have participated in Liberal Party fundraisers, affording them a chance to meet the Prime Minister or Deputy Prime Minister, shortly before their appointments. The aftermath of this exposé follows a prior investigation conducted by the National Post and the Investigative Journalism Foundation (IJF), revealing a significant disparity wherein Liberal party donors secured judicial roles at a rate three times higher than Conservative counterparts since 2016.

The collaboration between IJF and the Post entailed cross-referencing the names and locations of federally appointed judges from the Orders in Council database with attendee records of fundraisers listed in Elections Canada’s Regulated Fundraising Events Registry (spanning 2019 to the present) and archived event records on the Liberal party’s website. It’s important to note that all fundraisers with ticket prices exceeding $200 and featuring prominent party figures necessitate reporting to Elections Canada.

Notably, several individuals with names resembling those of three federally appointed judges for Alberta’s superior trial court were identified on the fundraising registry. Attendees like Robert Armstrong and Michel Bourque, both hailing from Calgary, were observed at multiple fundraisers alongside top cabinet members. Intriguingly, their attendance at these events closely preceded the appointments of judges sharing similar names to Alberta’s Court of King’s Bench. For instance, Robert W. Armstrong and Michel H. Bourque were appointed to the bench in February and December 2021, respectively.

Participation records reveal that Michel Bourque from Calgary was listed as an attendee at five Liberal party fundraisers between October 2017 and September 2021, including interactions with Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and Deputy Prime Minister Chrystia Freeland. Similarly, Robert Armstrong of Calgary joined three Liberal fundraisers from July 2018 to October 2020, with two instances featuring Trudeau and one with Freeland.

Both Armstrong and Bourque, along with a Kevin Feth whose name closely resembles another Alberta judge, were potentially associated with the Laurier Club, an exclusive entity for top Liberal donors. To become a member, supporters must contribute $1,700 annually, the maximum legal limit for party donations.

Efforts to contact the three Alberta judges for confirmation were unsuccessful, with no responses to multiple outreach attempts. A spokesperson for the court confirmed that the judges were informed of the inquiries and given an opportunity to respond.

Meanwhile, Jana Steele’s case provides another intriguing instance. Appointed to the Superior Court of Justice of Ontario in May 2020, a Jana Steele from Toronto attended two Liberal fundraisers in 2018 and 2019, one of which was headlined by Trudeau. Despite these revelations, Steele did not provide a response to multiple communication attempts.

As the investigation continued, concerns surrounding the federal judicial appointment process heightened. While recommendations from independent Judicial Advisory Committees (JACs) and the Minister of Justice initiate the process, the Prime Minister holds ultimate discretion over appointments. This raises questions about whether the government bypassed other candidates in favor of those present at fundraisers.

Duff Conacher of Democracy Watch expressed apprehensions that prospective judicial applicants’ participation in fundraisers featuring the Prime Minister could erode public faith in the impartiality of judges. The membership of these individuals in the Laurier Club, providing exclusive access to politicians, accentuates the concerns of undue influence.

Amidst these developments, Democracy Watch initiated a court case asserting that the “too-political” judicial appointments process violates the Charter and principles of fundamental justice. The push for greater transparency continues as experts emphasize the need to balance political affiliations with merit in the appointment process, fostering trust in the nation’s democracy.

In light of these revelations, it remains to be seen how the Canadian judicial appointment landscape will evolve and whether measures will be taken to ensure a more equitable and transparent system.