Editorial: Chance for a reset

There was plenty of praise for Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s choice of British Columbia’s Jody Wilson-Raybould as federal justice minister last week.

“This is a real breath of fresh and experienced air in the ministry,” defence lawyer Bill Trudell told Legal Feeds after Wilson-Raybould’s appointment to the post last week.

And according to lawyer James Morton, the appointment “is clearly sending a signal” that aboriginal issues will be important for the new government given Wilson-Raybould’s background that includes serving as a treaty commissioner and a regional chief of the Assembly of First Nations in British Columbia.
And as a former prosecutor, she certainly has experience in the courts and the criminal justice system.

While there are plenty of Conservatives in the legal community, more than a few lawyers will be hoping the new government will represent a substantive change from the previous regime given disagreements with some of them over issues such as mandatory minimum sentences and aboriginal rights. It’s unclear whether the Liberals will offer much change on that issue, but their approach so far and the appointment of Wilson-Raybould — who touts herself as having “brought people together” in her career — at least suggest a potential shift toward a more co-operative tone. And with 46 lawyers in the Liberal caucus and seven of them in Trudeau’s 30-member cabinet, he’ll have plenty of legal expertise to draw from.
For Wilson-Raybould, a key immediate priority will be figuring out the government’s response to the looming deadline on physician-assisted suicide. With one year almost having passed since the Supreme Court’s ruling to lift the ban, the new minister will have to decide whether to come up with legislation quickly or seek an extension of the deadline.

On that and other matters facing the government, it would be prudent for the Liberals to avoid rushing to take action. On the assisted-suicide ruling, it would be perfectly reasonable for the government to continue the consultation process and take some time to draft its legislative response. The same applies to promises such as the one to bring 25,000 Syrian refugees to Canada this year. It’s a laudable goal, but Canada can demonstrate its commitment to acting on the issue without moving too fast in the face of the many logistical challenges.

There’s no doubt lawyers will have plenty of squabbles with the new Liberal government as well, but if it acts with prudence and based on evidence and consultation, there’s a chance for a reset of the relationship. Let’s hope Wilson-Raybould takes advantage of it.

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