British Columbians should be concerned about their province not having a Supreme Court of Canada justice

    1 of 1 2 of 1

      This morning, I read a thought-provoking article by CBC News journalist Laura Lynch on the public broadcaster's website.

      It was prompted by NDP justice critic and Victoria NDP MP Murray Rankin's statement that B.C. should always have one member among the nine justices on the Supreme Court of Canada.

      This notion was pooh-poohed by Attorney General David Eby, who thinks it's more important to have an Indigenous justice.

      A former Social Credit attorney general, Brian Smith, also dismissed Rankin's concerns.

      Recently, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau appointed a second Alberta judge, Sheilah Martin, to Canada's highest court to replace Beverley McLachlan, a former B.C. Supreme Court chief justice.

      McLachlan was born in Alberta, studied law in Alberta, and moved to B.C. to work as a law professor at UBC.

      The second Alberta judge on the Supreme Court of Canada, Russell Brown, was born in B.C. and studied law in B.C.. He moved to Alberta to work as a law professor at the University of Alberta.

      Does it make a difference that B.C. won't have a seat on the Supreme Court of Canada for a very long time?

      Rankin made the case to Lynch that B.C. differs from other western provinces because of its unique issues relating to resource use and First Nations.

      I would argue there's an even more compelling reason: in recent decades, B.C. has been the source of more fresh ideas regarding social and political innovations than the rest of the country combined, with the possible exception of Quebec.

      It's necessary to have a judge on the highest court who's in fully touch with the imaginative and interdisciplinary thinking that sets B.C. apart from the more hidebound intellectual traditions of Toronto and Montreal.

      Here are some examples:

      B.C. is the only province that allows citizens to launch initiatives and recall campaigns when they're dissatisfied with what their provincial politicians are doing.

      B.C. led the country in advancing equal rights for gays and lesbians, both in the courts and in the provincial legislature, long before this became an issue of national concern.

      British Columbians were far ahead of other most residents in other provinces in looking at illicit-drug addiction as a medical issue that required harm-reduction measures, such as a supervised-injection facility. Only now is the rest of the country waking up to this.

      British Columbians have focused more attention than residents of most other provinces, with the possible exception of Quebec, in promoting environmental responsibility, the circular economy, the preservation of farmland, and the protection of species at risk.

      B.C. municipalities were the first to take steps to curb tobacco smoking.

      B.C. municipalities were also the first to adopt a more enlightened view of cannabis shops. Why not allow them and tax them and ensure they follow proper zoning rules like every other business? Why wait for Ottawa to finally get around to legalizing a product that causes far less harm than some legal activities, like drinking alcohol, extreme sports, or consuming unnecessarily prescribed drugs approved by Health Canada?

      The City of Vancouver is a national leader in advancing reconciliation efforts with First Nations. It didn't host Canada 150 celebrations. It put on Canada 150+ events that fully reflected the Indigenous history of the region.

      Vancouver also has the highest percentage of cyclists among commuters in North America. Now, Victoria is taking aggressive steps to increase its percentage of cyclists.

      Vancouver and Victoria are aiming to rely 100 percent on renewable energy by 2050.

      The list goes on and on and on.

      So why wouldn't the prime minister want a Supreme Court justice who's a product of the open-minded intellectual climate in B.C. that produced these innovations?

      Defenders of the status quo will point to Brown and say, "Hey, he's from B.C. That should be good enough for British Columbians."

      That misses the mark.

      Brown has not lived in B.C. for well over a decade. This means he's out of touch with the magnitude of changes that are taking place on the ground in B.C., particularly at the municipal level. He's not hearing about this in coffee shops, at parties, or in the workplace.

      Brown is not part of B.C.'s culture. He fled to Alberta, which is home to a much more conservative intellectual culture that's most visible at the University of Calgary but which also permeates its media and business community.

      Some might look at this discussion about a B.C. member on the Supreme Court of Canada as a mere parlour game.

      But given the intense frustration in B.C. over the federal government's support for the Kinder Morgan pipeline expansion, this is not a trivial matter.

      Before veteran broadcaster and former politician Rafe Mair died, he was openly favouring B.C. separating from the rest of Canada.

      The lack of a B.C. member on Canada's highest court is one more grievance that people who think like Mair can add to their list.

      Three justices from Ontario, three from Quebec, and two from Alberta just doesn't seem like a fair deal.

      And it's going to take a helluva long time before a future prime minister is going to be able to fix this.