Ex-cabinet minister Vic Toews, now judge, subject of judicial council complaint

Probe into judge may not take long

OTTAWA — A review by the Canadian Judicial Council into the actions of former public safety minister Vic Toews may not take too long.

Toews, who is now a judge in Manitoba, is being investigated after the federal ethics commissioner ruled he violated conflict-of-interest rules shortly after leaving politics.

The judicial council says 80 per cent of its investigations are concluded within three to six months, although some — including those that involve full public hearings — can take much longer.

Last week, ethics commissioner Mary Dawson ruled Toews lobbied and consulted on behalf of two Manitoba First Nations within months of his leaving office.

Dawson said that contravened rules that prevent former ministers from consulting or lobbying on issues which they dealt with while in office.

The judicial council received a complaint about the matter on the weekend and will investigate whether the issue affects Toews’s ability to continue to be a judge.

The review is initially done by a single member of the council’s judicial conduct committee, who can either dismiss the complaint, recommend remedial measures such as counselling or training, or forward it to a review panel.

The panel, in turn, can dismiss the complaint, recommend remedial measures or order a full inquiry which is open to the public.

Duff Conacher, co-founder of the advocacy group Democracy Watch, said he feels Toews should be removed from the bench.

“The Canadian Judicial Council’s code for judges says that acting beyond reproach and upholding the highest integrity standards is key to ensuring and enhancing the public’s confidence in the judiciary and he has violated that standard,” Conacher said.

Chief Justice Glenn Joyal of the Manitoba Court of Queen’s Bench said Toews will remain a sitting judge while the investigation continues.

“The very specific and distinct jurisdiction and process of the ethics commissioner, whose jurisdiction, processes and related conclusions may be challenged by Justice Toews, are separate from the jurisdiction and focus of the Canadian Judicial Council,” Joyal said in a written statement.

“That separate Canadian Judicial Council process, to the extent that it will unfold in respect of Justice Toews, must be respected.”

Toews’s lawyer, Robert Tapper, did not want to discuss the matter Tuesday. He said he had not received any notice from the council that an investigation is underway.

Toews left politics in 2013 and in the spring of 2014 he was appointed to Court of Queen’s Bench in Manitoba by then-justice minister Peter MacKay, a former cabinet colleague.

In between, Toews provided strategic legal advice to Peguis First Nation related to the Kapyong Barracks dispute in Winnipeg. In 2007, Toews was the minister who signed off on the sale of the former military barracks, and was later named as a defendant in a lawsuit by First Nations, including Peguis, about the sale.

Toews also signed a contract to provide consulting services for Norway House Cree Nation. His work included touching on a trust fund which the First Nation had lobbied him directly about on two occasions less than a year earlier.

Former cabinet ministers are prevented from working for a group that lobbied them while in government for two years after leaving office.

The Canadian Press

Canadian Press

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