Judge who visited protest teepee on Regina legislature grounds faces judicial review

·3 min read

REGINA — A judge who visited a Metis man at his protest camp on Saskatchewan's legislature grounds after ruling he was entitled to stay there is facing a review by his fellow judges.

The Canadian Judicial Council says a panel will look into the actions of Court of Queen's Bench Justice Graeme Mitchell.

"Under council’s bylaws, a Judicial Conduct Review Panel may be established when it is determined that a complaint might be serious enough to warrant the removal of the judge," a release from the council said Tuesday.

The council referred to "complaints" in its release, but did not say who filed them.

Mitchell was the judge who heard a case last summer in which the provincial government was trying to force Tristen Durocher to leave the legislature grounds in Regina.

The Metis man had walked 635 kilometres from northern Saskatchewan, set up a teepee and began a fast to draw attention to the high rate of suicide among Indigenous people.

The provincial government argued that Durocher was violating park bylaws that prohibit overnight camping and said his presence posed a safety risk.

Durocher's lawyer argued that the ceremonial fast was protected under the Charter of Rights and Freedoms.

Mitchell said in his ruling Sept. 11 that park bylaws failed to provide exemptions to allow for "constitutionally protected political and spiritual expression" and must be changed. He also ruled that the legislature grounds are, in effect, a public square where dissent is legitimately expressed.

Mitchell visited Durocher in his teepee two days later as his 44-day hunger strike came to an end.

At the time, Durocher said: "To the politicians who are going to scream bias, bias, bias — because a judge who signed his decision wanted to see the freedom of expression and freedom of religion that his profession is supposed to be fighting and rooting for — by all means go ahead, because you just look that much more ridiculous.''

Margherita Vittorelli with Saskatchewan's Justice Ministry said she couldn't determine if the complaints had come from government.

"We cannot confirm if any member of government submitted a complaint in an official capacity," she wrote in an email. "Any member of the public can make a complaint about a judge’s conduct."

Chief Bobby Cameron of the Federation of Sovereign Indigenous Nations, which represents 74 First Nations in Saskatchewan, called the review "ridiculous."

He said the judge was just doing what dozens of other members of the public were doing that day.

"This is a clear indication of why we need an immediate change in the justice system," Cameron said.

He said he hoped Indigenous jurists would be on the panel that will review Mitchell's case.

The council says Mitchell is to face a five-member panel, which will include one member of the public.

The panel may dismiss the complaints or require the judge to undertake remedial training or coaching. If the matter is considered serious enough, a public inquiry could be called, which could result in the judge's removal.

Mitchell was named a Queen's Bench judge in 2018. A former vice-chair of the Saskatchewan Labour Relations Board, he spent more than a decade as Crown counsel and then as director of the constitutional law branch of the Saskatchewan Ministry of Justice.

He has taught constitutional law and has appeared before the Supreme Court more than 40 times.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Dec. 22, 2020.

— By Bob Weber in Edmonton. Follow @row1960 on Twitter

The Canadian Press