The SNC-Lavalin affair has highlighted the urgent need for a fresh look at the pros and cons of separating the current dual roles of attorney general and minister of justice at the federal level in Canada.
Currently, the two responsibilities rest with one person. This creates a very awkward situation, as the attorney general is the chief law officer of the Crown and is supposed to make decisions absent from cabinet as a whole. In Britain, the AG’s office is separate from the justice ministry. In fact, the office of the attorney general has been a stand-alone since 1243!
So I was pleased to hear Prime Minister Justin Trudeau commit to having a look at separating the AG and justice minister roles. I would predict that if there is any good to come out of all this, it will be that Mr. Trudeau does separate these conflicting responsibilities. This debacle might never have arisen in the first place had the two roles been separate.
One even wonders why they were combined in the first place. A former holder of this dual role, Irwin Cotler, former MP for Mount Royal, laid out this very recommendation many years ago as he retired. A former AG/minister of justice from 2003-06, during the Jean Chrétien era, Mr. Cotler recently reiterated the same idea, pointing out how the dual portfolio creates an avoidable conflict of interest.
As an aside, I was so pleased to see my former law school professor, the now-retired Chief Justice of the Supreme Court, Beverley McLachlin, considered as an example of the kind of person to provide Jody Wilson-Raybould with a second opinion when the latter was still the justice minister and AG.
Ms. McLachlin is such a well-respected individual she has been retained by all three political parties to conduct the inquiry into the recent alleged spending abuses in our provincial legislature. Wouldn’t she also be the perfect candidate to provide the prime minister with advice regarding finally separating these two conflicting roles at the federal level?