Head of judge's disciplinary council resigns after conflict over who reviews judge's conduct

The long-time executive director of the Canadian Judicial Council, which includes chief justices from across Canada and is responsible for handling complaints against judges, has resigned after a court decision trimming the council's powers.

Colin Perkel, The Canadian Press

TORONTO — The controversial head of the council responsible for handling complaints against federal judges has retired.

In a statement Thursday, the Canadian Judicial Council said Norman Sabourin, executive director and senior general counsel, was leaving after 16 years.

The statement credited Sabourin with preparing for the "council’s renewal."

"The council wishes to thank Mr. Sabourin for his contribution and wishes him the very best in his next endeavours," it said.

Last May, a Federal Court judge rapped the council for acting extremely unfairly when it publicly rebuked a respected Ontario Superior Court justice without a prior complaint.

It was Sabourin who had initiated the action against Justice Patrick Smith for accepting — with permission of his superiors — an unpaid, temporary post as dean of a law school in Thunder Bay, Ont., in 2018.

The proceedings against Smith, who quit the post in response, sparked widespread outrage among other judges as well as lawyers.

The council argued that the 41-member council, comprising the country's chief justice as well as the chief justices and associate chief justices of the provincial and federal Superior Courts, was beyond second-guessing by a single judge.

The Federal Court ruling exonerated Smith and condemned the council's actions against him, prompting Smith's lawyer to demand an apology.

The council under Sabourin had previously drawn Federal Court criticism for attempting to argue the courts had no authority to review its disciplinary proceedings.

The issues prompted Chief Justice Richard Wagner in 2019 to launch a sweeping review, saying the council was in need of both internal and legislative reforms. Areas in need of scrutiny, Wagner said, included the crucial role of the executive director, who wields significant power as complaints gatekeeper.

Sabourin was also on extended leave for more than a year. There was no word on his replacement.

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