Trudeau nominates Newfoundlander Malcolm Rowe to Supreme Court

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has nominated Newfoundlander Malcolm Rowe to the Supreme Court of Canada, ending speculation that he would snub Atlantic Canada and ignore the convention of designating a seat on the top court for the region.

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.

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. Prior to his judicial appointment, Rowe worked as a senior bureaucrat, and secretary to the cabinet under Liberal Premier Brian Tobin’s government.

Rowe, born to parents from small fishing communities, was instrumental in securing a constitutional amendment to replace the province’s denominational school system in favour of a secular one.

While in government he was also a key strategist in the “Turbot War,” when Canada successfully blocked Spanish and Portuguese fishing vessels from overfishing halibut just outside of the country’s 200-mile nautical limit. He also helped drafted a United Nations convention on high seas fisheries.

According to a questionnaire he completed to apply for the position, he is bilingual. He said he could read and understand court materials in both official languages, converse with counsel in court and understand oral submissions.

Rowe, 63, will replace Justice Thomas Cromwell of Nova Scotia, who retired last month.

Trudeau announced a new appointment process in August, promising a nationwide search for the next justice. The move worried some Atlantic Canadians who feared they would lose the seat traditionally reserved for their region.

In fact, the court has never gone more than a few months without someone from the Maritimes on the bench since its inception in 1875.

Former prime minister Kim Campbell, who was appointed by Trudeau to chair the new committee tasked with finding a new justice, tweeted Monday that she was “smiling” at the thought of jubilant Newfoundlanders celebrating their first Supreme Court justice.

Members the House of Commons Justice and Human Rights Committee and the Senate’s Legal and Constitutional Affairs Committee will be able to question the nominee at a special meeting on Oct. 25. 

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