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The Hill: Decision against federal lawyer’s election run sparks outrage in Ottawa

A federal government lawyer has lost her right to come back to her government job if she runs and loses in this fall’s federal election.

The Public Service Commission of Canada made the ruling last December. It has the public service, particularly federal lawyers, up in arms.

Emilie Taman, a brilliant young lawyer with the Public Prosecution Service of Canada, is fighting back and taking her case to the Federal Court of Canada to overturn the ruling against her on the grounds it’s a violation of her rights under the Constitution. Her union is backing her and is even supplying the lawyers for her.

The commission has the final decision on who in the government can get time off to run in a federal election and who can return to their old job if they lose. Len MacKay, who heads the Association of Justice Counsel, says Taman’s job advising senior bureaucrats is in no way open to partisan bias. Her bosses make final decisions on cases, not her.

Taman handles cases dealing with immigration and refugee issues, the Fisheries Act, and Income Tax Act matters.

Brian Saunders, who’s Taman’s boss as director of the Public Prosecution Service of Canada, said that going after a party nomination would “undermine the independence” of his service.

The commission accepted his thinking and said in its ruling that Taman’s ability to come back and do her old job after the election might be “impaired or perceived to be impaired.”

Taman is no neophyte to the law. She graduated from law school in 2004 and has been a federal lawyer since 2008.

Her mother is Louise Arbour, a former justice of the Supreme Court who also served as chief prosecutor for the war crimes tribunals in Yugoslavia and Rwanda.

Taman’s husband, Michael Spratt, is a noted Ottawa defence lawyer.

She has never been involved in a political party, she says. She says she wants to run in Ottawa-Vanier but for now won’t say for which party.

We can guess, however. The incumbent in Ottawa-Vanier, a strong Liberal riding, is veteran Liberal MP Mauril Bélanger, who’s running again. The Conservatives, meanwhile, don’t have much of a chance in the riding.

But the NDP has been holding back on a nomination meeting, perhaps waiting for the outcome of Taman’s court case. Wisely, Taman isn’t tipping her hand right now.

Unlike her, MacKay isn’t holding back on anything. To him, it’s plain the commission violated the Constitution in its ruling.

Taman should have the same constitutional rights as any other Canadian citizen, he says. “It’s spelled out right in the Constitution.”

MacKay says that when the commission described what Taman does in her job, it could have been talking about any Canadian prosecutor as well any police officer. That’s what made its ruling so frightening. “It would be tantamount to a blanket prohibition on federal prosecutors seeking elected office,” he says.

MacKay says it’s so outrageous that the federal government will eventually have to rewrite the rules that deal with time off for elections for public servants who want to run.

He has lined up two noted Ottawa lawyers, Janice Payne and Christopher Rootham, to represent Taman.

NDP justice critic Françoise Boivin, meanwhile, is furious. The suggestion offered by the commission ruling that former candidates can’t make good, loyal government lawyers after they come back infuriates her.

“I nearly fell off my chair when I heard about this case,” she says.

It’s “odious and insulting,” she suggests, to say that a lawyer going back to a previous government job after a failed election bid will be biased.

“Those two roles in society are so different,” she adds.

“I am really upset.”

Boivin has been both a lawyer and an MP and she knows the difference.

“I am really upset and I hope she wins her case in Federal Court . . . for all of us,” she says.

The union hopes to be able to get Taman’s case into Federal Court before the fall election so she can at least have a chance to run for the nomination. 

For more, see "Should prosecutors be able to run for political office?"


Richard Cleroux is a freelance reporter and columnist on Parliament Hill. His e-mail address is richardcleroux@rogers.com.

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