Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has nominated Newfoundlander Malcolm Rowe to the Supreme Court of Canada. The appointment is historic in that the province has never had a representative on the Supreme Court since it joined Confederation in 1949.
“I am greatly excited to announce the nomination of Mr. Justice Malcolm Rowe, whose remarkable depth of legal experience in criminal, constitutional, and public law will complement the extensive knowledge of the other Supreme Court justices,” the prime minister said in his statement announcing the appointment.
Rowe said Monday he was “very honoured” to be chosen to fill the vacancy, and said he was looking forward to a planned question and answer session at a special meeting with members of the House of Commons Justice and Human Rights Committee on Oct. 25.
The St. John’s-born jurist was first appointed to Newfoundland’s Supreme Court in 1999, and was elevated to the Court of Appeal of Newfoundland and Labrador in 2001. As an appellate judge, Rowe has dealt mostly with criminal cases, and has written extensively about the complexity of sentencing. He also helped draft the rules in his province around the use of sentencing circles for some Indigenous offenders.
Prior to his judicial appointment, Rowe worked as a senior bureaucrat, and secretary to the cabinet under Liberal Premier Brian Tobin’s government. Tobin tapped Rowe to lead his government’s efforts to secure a constitutional amendment to replace the province’s denominational school system in favour of a secular one.
According to a questionnaire he completed to apply for the position, Rowe is bilingual. He said he could read and understand court materials in both official languages, converse with counsel in court and understand oral submissions.
He also presents himself as a follower of the “living tree” constitutional doctrine, a belief that the document’s interpretation can change progressively over time — rather than strictly adhere to the text’s original meaning.
“Is what Viscount Haldane wrote a century ago how we should determine whether actions of the federal or provincial governments are within or beyond their jurisdiction?,” he wrote. “In this regard, judges should have regard to changes in the role of governments relating especially to the economy and technology in dealing with such issues.”
Rowe also sees an active role for the top court in actually crafting laws, rather than simply interpreting them.
“The Supreme Court is not, primarily, a court of correction. Rather, the role of the Court is to make definitive statements of the law, which are then applied by trial judges and courts of appeal. Thus, the Supreme Court judges ordinarily make law, rather than simply applying it,” he wrote.