Convoy protests showed Supreme Court security should be ‘a priority’: Chief Justice

The Chief Justice of Canada says the security of the Supreme Court of Canada building must be taken more seriously following this winter’s motorcade protest in downtown Ottawa.

Earlier this year, protesters who rallied against COVID-19 restrictions parked trucks along Wellington Street – the location of Parliament Hill and Canada’s highest court – for more than three weeks .

“The most recent events have shown that priority is being given to the Parliament Buildings and not so much the Supreme Court Building,” Chief Justice Richard Wagner told reporters at his annual press conference.

“And so I hope that the Supreme Court building will be considered a priority in terms of safety and security.”

The Supreme Court is outside the parliamentary precinct and therefore outside the jurisdiction of the Parliamentary Protective Service police.

Several parliamentary committees are looking at how police, security officials and the government have responded to the winter protests. One of these committees is studying the boundaries of the parliamentary precinct.

This committee heard from witnesses that jurisdictional boundaries between the Ottawa Police Service, the RCMP and the Parliamentary Protective Service made it more difficult to monitor protesters – who sometimes carried fuel cans and fireworks into the demonstration area. Committee members also heard calls to keep the street closed to vehicles.

Wagner’s security comments came just days after the U.S. House of Representatives passed a bill extending security protections to immediate family members of Supreme Court justices.

The United States Supreme Court has been the subject of protests in reaction to an early ruling restricting abortion rights. A California man arrested last week near the home of Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh has been charged with attempted murder.

Supreme Court of Canada Chief Justice Richard Wagner listens to a question during a press conference in Ottawa on Thursday. (Justin Tang/The Canadian Press)

Wagner said while he thinks Canada enjoys less polarized upper ground, he still urged caution.

“We must not ignore certain events that could also create problems for us. We must not undermine efforts to strengthen security,” he said.

“The events in Ottawa last January showed that this could be a problem. Hopefully we’ll talk about it as an anecdote in our story, but maybe it won’t. We never know. matter very seriously.”

During Thursday’s press conference, Wagner also spoke about the importance of upholding the court’s judicial independence.

“We have to continue our best efforts to support our democracy, to support judicial independence, to support the rule of law. Because that is the root of people’s trust and confidence,” he said. declared.

“When they lose faith in their institutions, problems arise. That’s my fear.”

Wagner says leak of draft ruling unlikely in Canada

The protests in the United States follow the explosive leak of a majority opinion draft last month that would invalidate Roe v. Wade, the 1973 Supreme Court decision that legalized abortion in the United States.

Wagner said he was confident such a leak would not happen here, citing what he called the professionalism of court staff and clerks.

Protesters carry signs as they demonstrate near a federal courthouse in Richmond, Virginia on May 3. The nationwide protests came after Politico released a leaked draft opinion that suggested the U.S. Supreme Court may be set to overturn the landmark 1973 Roe v. Wade case. who legalized abortion nationwide. (Steve Helber/Associated Press)

“Does that mean it could never happen in the future? No one can say that but I would be very surprised,” he said.

“We don’t have that polarization here in Canada on issues. Even on very sensitive issues, like in the Criminal Code for example, physician-assisted suicide for example, same-sex marriage — you name it, we’ve had to dealing with these very sensitive issues over the years. We’ve never had this polarization and that’s the main difference with what’s happening in the United States”

Wagner answered a wide range of questions from reporters. He was asked how courts should hear cases now that most COVID-19 restrictions have been lifted.

The top judge said the justice system should not revert to pre-pandemic ways and promoted remote hearings.

“Technology is leveling the playing field for everyone…It improves access to justice,” he said.

“Really, it doesn’t matter whether the lawyer is standing in front of them or appearing on screen. Strong, well-reasoned, and compelling arguments can be made from anywhere.”

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