Two Supreme Court Justices Retiring: Which Dark Forces Will Harper Unleash Upon Our People?

Justices Charron and Binnie. Isn't it weird that we make them dress like Santa?

On May 13 Justices Louise Charron and Ian Binnie announced their retirements. This is a little weird, both because it’s very rare that two justices retire at the same time and because Charron is only 60, while the mandatory age of retirement from the Court is 75.

This also means that five of the nine justices of the Supreme Court of Canada will retire during the current Conservative government. And Stephen Harper is going to be the guy who replaces them.

That chill that just ran down your spine is a perfectly normal reaction. But surprisingly? This might all turn out OK. Even for women, gay people, and visible minorities! I know, I was kind of shocked too.

The first opportunity Harper had to influence the Supreme Court was in 2006, when he appointed Marshall Rothstein. Rothstein was questioned by a parliamentary committee with representatives from all parties present — and was the first justice to go through that interview phase, which only started with him — and most of the work behind his appointment was done by the previous Liberal government. During the selection process, Harper said, “this hearing marks an unprecedented step towards the more open and accountable approach to nominations that Canadians deserve.” Rothstein’s nomination was also seen as proof of the non-partisan strength of the Supreme Court. At the time, Patrick Monahan, the dean of Osgoode Law School, said, “Unlike in the United States where the election of a Democrat or Republican president changes who gets appointed, in Canada, the same person still gets appointed. So I think it’s an indication that he’s appointed for his outstanding abilities.”

However, the Prime Minster still gets the final say in who is (or isn’t) appointed (unlike in the US, provinces and parliament don’t get a lot of input). And if you don’t like or trust his agenda, this could be a little worrisome.

According to the Toronto Star,

“How Harper makes his choice will also be important. He promises to follow a more open process, gathering names from Ontario’s attorney general, leading members of the legal community, and the public at large. Five MPs from the major parties will review them and provide a short list of six to the government. Then Harper’s nominees are to answer questions before a parliamentary committee before being appointed.”

However, the process has been changed in the past. While the interview was introduced in 2006, it was skipped in Thomas Cromwel’s 2008 appointment because of an election. There’s also the risk, as the Star points out, that partisan politics could interfere with such a discussion, resulting in a entertaining and hilarious but ultimately probably depressing public “debate.”

The takeaway from all of this is wariness. Obviously Harper can’t go around appointing whoever he wants, because there’s a System to prevent it and because he can be an idiot, but (and I’m saying this very grudgingly) not that much of an idiot. Appointing middle of the road judges is as much in his interests as it is in anyone’s: while they may not explicitly agree with, for example, supporting a left-wing social agenda, they also aren’t supporting a crazed paternalistic patriarchy (at least, not so far). According to an editorial in the National Post,

“Mr. Harper has an unprecedented opportunity to shape a thoughtful, prudent and experienced court, one which respects both the rights of litigants and the limits of judicial power. We hope that the Prime Minister chooses his appointees wisely, and that he does so through a transparent process that allows both MPs and the Canadian public to understand the legal philosophy of the men and women who sit on our top court.”

In other words, regardless of your personal opinion on Harper, ranging from “a person who exists” to “possible Skynet cyborg,” the fact that he will ultimately be responsible for so many Supreme Court appointments is… not completely terrifying. At least not yet.

Before you go! Autostraddle runs on the reader support of our AF+ Members. If this article meant something to you today — if it informed you or made you smile or feel seen, will you consider joining AF and supporting the people who make this queer media site possible?

Join AF+!

Ryan Yates

Ryan Yates was the NSFW Editor (2013–2018) and Literary Editor for, with bylines in Nylon, Refinery29, The Toast, Bitch, The Daily Beast, Jezebel, and elsewhere. They live in Los Angeles and also on twitter and instagram.

Ryan has written 1142 articles for us.


  1. “Isn’t it weird that we make them dress like Santa?”

    Yes. Just borrow some of those wigs that the British use and add a beard and you’re all set for Christmas at the mall.

    I feel like anything Stephen Harper says about everything should be taken with a grain of salt, don’t know if I’d be so quick to trust him on this ‘inclusive’ process.

  2. I discussed this recently with people and we are pretty much screwed. 5 is a -lot- of people.

  3. Soooo are their clerks elves? DO THEY WEAR GREEN LEGGINGS?!?

    Canada is such a magical land!

    Sigh, our justices look like executioners or puritans or puritan executioners.

  4. PFFF CANADIAN SUPREME COURT JUSTICES DON’T EXIST. Your parents just tell you that when you’re little so the judicial system seems magical and special.

  5. I fear that he will be moderate on this issue in order to hold it up as a smokescreen in front of all the people who try call him on the other bad, distinctly non-moderate bills he and his lackeys will pass in Parliament with their majority.

    I don’t think I can overstate how legitimately scared I am for the next four years of Conservative majority in the House. :/

  6. I live in this country, people. And, compared to some countries, my country is doing well. Extremely well.

    Seriously: “Which dark forces will Harper unleash upon our people”?

    Grow up.

    Harper does what he must. What he must do, and has done, granted, perhaps under some duress, is maintain the status quo. I invite you to do better, under the pressures. Do you think it’s easy? Do you seriously think you could do better? If you’re American, I invite your discourse. I do. Because quite frankly, we’re doing okay.

    (And just so you know, I didn’t vote for him this time around, but I also didn’t vote Liberal, which would have ensured I submit my left lung.)

    Comments like: “In other words, regardless of your personal opinion on Harper, ranging from “a person who exists” to “possible Skynet cyborg,” the fact that he will ultimately be responsible for so many Supreme Court appointments is… not completely terrifying.”

    The fact remains he IS responsible. And this kind of juvenile commentary does nothing, when in composite there is the US of A, which is doing even LESS.

    I strongly suggest that such commentary be wielded with a little less idealism, and a bit more realism. This is the world as it is…and the Canadian equivalent is far more promising than some others.

    In closing, until YOU are in a position to actually make a difference, choose your words and phrasing accordingly.

    • lol. what he must do…. yeah. okay.

      Im canadian but lived in the states and while the states is still scary, the nonchalannce that canadians are saying we should have toward harper is kind of naive.

      of course when you compare canada to like…uganda… the government sounds like utopia. that doesnt mean we allow ourselves to gradually shift to crappier things and act like it isnt happening. if you dont think 4 years can change things just take a look what happened from 2000-2004 to our southern neighbors.

    • I take serious issue with this comment. Correct me if I misunderstood you (and I apologize for being aggressive), but what I took away from it is that you are essentially saying that we should sit down and shut up and just be okay with the fact that Harper’s probably going to do some shit we don’t like. And the idea that because Canada’s better off than some places, we shouldn’t criticize the direction its government is taking is utterly absurd to me. Do you also think that we shouldn’t try to campaign for gay rights because we’re not being put to death just for being gay? There are some places where that happens, but Canada isn’t one of them, so hey! No sense complaining, right? It could be worse!

      • You can take serious issue with whatever you like. And frankly, I would never tell anyone to sit down and shut up (and my sorrow that you actually thought that I implied that…but please note I am not apologizing).

        And what you think is absurb is, quite frankly to me, amazing, when taking in consideration all that is happening outside of Canada. So by all means, spout off about: “Do you also think that we shouldn’t try to campaign for gay rights because we’re not being put to death just for being gay? There are some places where that happens, but Canada isn’t one of them, so hey! No sense complaining, right? It could be worse.”

        And when you’re done, understand that the country you live in (Canada, right?) does not do this. And that I NEVER SAID ASSHAT, that I was siding with THAT faction.

        Also, if I may address the previous respondent, you don’t have to live in the US to know what’s going on. That gains you no insight, fyi. If you think that the supposed “nonchalance” of Canadians vs the almost complete disregard of Americans is a valuable argument, by all means, have at ‘er. It gains you nothing.

        As I said: Grow up.

        And in parting March: Your aggressiveness notwithstanding, I’ve been campaigning for gay rights for a very long time. I strongly advise you keep others in mind, who may have been doing so longer than you, and who may be better at couching terms respectfully better than you, for better reasons. What you take away from what I said is all you took away.

        • “If you’re American, I invite your discourse. I do. Because quite frankly, we’re doing okay. ”

          why the specificity then?

    • My sole comment on this is: If our great country is doing so well, then why the hell does Harper want to devolve the issues that makes us Canadians so proud? If we’re such a great country, why are we letting Harper re-open the debate on abortion and same-sex marriage? Why should we let him drag us back 10 steps when we are viewed (and rightly so, no arguments here) as one of the best countries to live in? To keep up the reputation of Canada “not being so bad”, we need to keep Harper’s megalomaniac power in check to make sure he properly represents and defends our rights as Canadians. To be complacent is to otherwise allow him to ruin our reputation, and I fear that your comment encourages complacency when it, too, is as dangerous as ignorance.

      • I thought during the election he specifically said he was NOT going to be re-opening the abortion issue? Where did you hear he was re-opening the same-sex marriage debate?

        I have a feeling that he is going to screw up badly in the next 4 years, and by that time, the NDP will swoop right in there, hopefully.

        I think a lot of people were duped because he led a minority government before aka no power=no crazy decisions. Because there wasn’t much crazy (except for G20 & immigration discrimination) no one thought he did a BAD job. However, no one knows what his party will do with FULL control, and that scares me.

        • Well, Harper’s lied multiple times, so I don’t take anything he says to heart. The other week, though, I think a link was posted in a comments area that the conservative Right are pressuring Harper’s government to re-open the abortion debate. So, even though he may not be instigating it, he’s still getting pressure to put his power to those debates.

    • Not sure where to start. I should probably take a chill pill before I start this reply… Harper does what he must sounds like something he says to himself to try and get some sleep at night or something. No, his job is not easy but there are plenty of people prepared to take on the responsibility. He does what he must to keep his friends in Alberta happy and avoid any game changing criticism. He doesn’t really represent what I see as Canadian values, or democracy, or even what’s right.

      Being able to be queer and not be persecuted by the government for it is great and I am thankful to the hardworking activists and advocates and every day people who have made that possible. I know I am fortunate. I am not going to excuse Stephen Harper’s bad behaviour just because he’s smart enough to not compromise that. As I’m sure you are well aware, gay marriage happened despite repeated attempts by the Conservatives to prohibit it and in my experience, at least on a local level, this pretty much mirrors every advancement our community has made- despite, not because of, Conservative input.

      I’m not like the biggest Harper hater I know, I don’t think he’s like the antichrist or anything, but he’s not a good leader and we deserve better.

Comments are closed.