MACLEAN’S INTERVIEWS

JOHN TURNER

October 1 1968
MACLEAN’S INTERVIEWS

JOHN TURNER

October 1 1968

JOHN TURNER

MACLEAN’S INTERVIEWS

The blue-grey Irish eyes were smiling with confidence. The engaging, I'm-on-your-side grin that punctuates his conversation like white exclamation marks was at its radiant best. John Turner, 39, the dashing young man of the Liberal machine, was briefed and ready to rewrite the antiquated annals of Canadian justice. Turner’s image is immaculate. It combines gravity (he was once a sound corporation and trial lawyer in Montreal), gaiety (this is the man who whirled Princess Margaret around a dance floor) and guts (remember how he hung in there during last spring's leadership convention?). The message was unmistakable: if such a man can’t push through the long-overdue reforms to our judicial system, then nobody can. All that remained to be worked out were such secondary details as priorities and parliamentary tactics.

When he gave this interview to Staff Writer Douglas Marshall, the new Justice Minister had just moved into his office. It was abustle with youthful activity. Aides and assistants, none of whom appeared to be over 30, kept wandering in “to have a few words with John.” Turner, in his discussion, was cautious about proceeding from generalities to particular cases. The cabinet still hadn’t decided whether the omnibus bill amending the Criminal Code, initiated by Prime Minister Trudeau, would be introduced in the Commons as one big motion or would be broken up into several smaller ones. Turner was toying with the idea of adding a couple of amendments of his own in the crucial areas of bail and compensation for victims of violent crimes. Wat he talked about, expansively and enthusiastically, were his own ideas about justice: Maclean’s: What do you as Justice Minister conceive as a just society? Turner: i think the fabric of outlaws must be such that everyone must be guaranteed equal access to the courts and to redress of grievances. That means a man has to have equal right to counsel, that provisions like bail have to operate equally between rich and poor, that the system of laws must be dynamic enough to reflect changes in society.

Maclean’s: You seem to be conceding that there is one law for the rich and another for the poor in the system that operates at present.

Turner: I’m not conceding that. I’m conceding that there are things that could be done that would better ensure equal access. Maclean’s: Justice is an absolute. Either there is equal access or there isn't; and if there isn’t then something is wrong.

Turner: The idea of justice is an absolute. The attainment of that absolute is a series of relatives — improvements and reforms in the law and in society. So we move toward the absolute within the limitations imposed on us as human beings. I'll be trying to move us forward.

Maclean’s: You mentioned bail. Detention before trial is considered by most of the experts I've talked to as being the principal area of injustice in Canada. Why weren't reforms included in the omnibus bill?

Turner: It should be in the omnibus bill. There should be an early reform on bail and detention before trial. Whether I'm going to have time to do the necessary mobilizations of research and include it in that bill. I don’t know'. If I don’t

get it in that bill, I’ll get il in a subsequent bill.

Maclean’s: Why has such an obvious abuse been left for so long? Turner: Society moves through a series of priorities. During the St. Laurent-How'e days those priorities were grow'th and economic development. They should still be very important. During the Pearson days those priorities were a redistribution of wealth, a filling out of our welfare program and a reconciliation between Englishand Frenchspeaking Canadians. I think that the Trudeau administration, certainly in its early years, will be noted for its reforming and revising of some of those inequalities existing between citizen and citizen as well as the relationship between the citizen and the state. This involves the Bill of Rights, the reconciliation of the law with current moral standards, and the recognition of personal options and personal choice. In those spheres the Department of Justice is going to have a part to play. 1 am going to have a part to play. Maclean’s: It seems that justice ministers have been making prom-

ises about reforms since Confederation but until now' few abuses have been corrected. Do you think that Canada has a bad judicial system?

Turner: I think we have one of the world’s best. But I also think the delays in the processing of the law are too long. Certain civil and criminal trials, as they proceed to the courts, take so long that the person aggrieved is almost beyond redress by the time he gets justice. That’s not only a problem of the administration of justice by the courts; it’s partially because in certain areas we may not have a sufficient number of judges. It may also mean that in certain areas the administration of justice isn’t as efficient as it should be. It may mean, too, that lawyers are to blame for a lot of these delays. Lawyers are entitled to some delay to prepare their cases but they are not entitled to delays just to satisfy their own personal convenience.

Maclean’s: What are you going to do about these delays?

Turner: I think you ought to talk to some of the good chief justices who have responsibility for administering their courts. They’ll tell you that their main difficulty in setting up a roll of cases is ensuring that the roll is proceeded with an time because the lawyers ask for postponements. We’re going to have problems, for instance, in the widening area of divorce. We’ll undoubtedly have to appoint some judges there. Then there's the fact that automobile cases occupy about 80 percent of the time of the superior courts across the country. We may have to consider establishing arbitration boards for automobile cases involving damages below a certain level. It’s the volume that provokes the problem and it is not going to decrease. We’ll have to expand our facilities.

Maclean’s: What other methods of improving the machinery are you considering?

Turner: The main fields for reform at the federal level are amendments to the constitution, to enshrine a Bill of Rights in the BNA Act, and amendments to the Criminal Code. 1 can also ensure that the operation of the federal court system across the country is efficient by cooperating with the chief justices. But I’ve got to be careful there because the administration of justice on a daily basis is a provincial matter. / continued on page 50

continued ƒrom page 14

“Laws are administered by men: interpretations will differ”

One area where I can improve things is in the matter of appeals. I think there is an inadequate basis for appeals from administrative tribunals, boards and commissions in Canada. And insofar as I have any authority over the federal boards and commissions, I’m going to introduce — I hope — a new system of federal

courts that will provide a method of appeal from administrative and bureaucratic tribunals.

Maclean’s: What happens at the moment?

Turner: At the moment an appeal from, say, the Transport Commission or the Tariff Board is by leave to the Supreme Court of Canada and only

on a matter of law. Leave is very seldom granted by the Supreme Court, so citizens are caught with administrative decisions from which they have no adequate ground for appeal. I think there’s a lot to be said for broadening the Exchequer Court of Canada into a federal superior court with a trial division and an appeal division.

It would be a court of first instance for all cases involving the federal government’s authority and would provide at the same time a basis for appeal from administrative tribunals. Maclean’s: Making it easier, in other words, to sue the Crown?

Turner: Yes, it will be easier to sue the Crown and the Crown should be held to account.

Maclean’s: Are there any other improvements, things for instance that occurred to you when you yourself practised law?

Turner: Well, as I say, I would like to see a lot of the procedural issues disposed of between lawyers and judges in chambers before they get to full trial. 1 like to see a trial fought on its merits and not on technicalities. But here again the rules of procedure are provincial matters. I don’t have all the weapons needed to solve the problems but 1 have a lot of persuasive value outside my jurisdiction and 1 intend to use it.

Maclean’s: isn’t the distinction between the federal and provincial domains of justice a weakness in our system?

Turner: This is one of the reasons we have a federal system. There are different views about life across the country. When the Fathers of Confederation devised the constitution there were some matters left to local administration that were thought best handled there. In terms of the administration of justice, there’s something to be said for it being better handled in local geographical areas. It’s more efficient.

Maclean’s: But it is also less uniform. Why should an offender, say a homosexual, be given a harsh prison term in one part of the country when he’d receive only a small fine in another, more enlightened part? Shouldn’t justice be the same in Victoria and St. John’s?

Turner: In terms of the criminal law. it is. But if the law provides the same range of sentences and you are going to have a variety of men as judges, then you are going to get different types of sentences. 1 think that if those sentences are appealed, they get into the appeal structure and eventually into the Supreme Court of Canada. There you get a uniformity of sentences.

Maclean’s: That could take a long time and cost a lot of money. Isn’t there an easier way to ensure equality?

Turner: There’s no inequality in that sense. Laws are administered by men and you are going to have different interpretations based on the law in a large country like Canada. While I can move toward reforming the law by making it more egalitarian in terms of the statutes, as citizens you and I arc still going to have to depend on other men and women administering that law. And you are going to find a whole range of human beings sitting on that bench. There are bound to be — depending on the personality of the judge sometimes — different interpretations. We try to bring uniformity into that through the appeal structure. Maclean’s: What about the calibre of the people sitting on the bench? Couldn’t you make improvements there?

continued on page 52

Turner: I think the calibre of the men and women sitting on the bench is very high. But certainly as a matter of conscience I'm going to be very careful in the appointments I’m responsible for.

Maclean’s: 1 understand the Canadian Bar Association wants to have some say in the matter of appointments. Turner: 1 will be consulting a committee of the Canadian Bar Association on judicial appointments. I also intend to consult the provincial bar associations and the chief justices, too, for their views on who are the competent lawyers pleading before the courts. So I’ll have a series of short lists, chosen on the basis of familiarity with the courts and competence and skill before the courts. And I will he able to screen them that way. But I wouldn’t subscribe to a system whereby someone other than the Minister of Justice and the cabinet chose the judges.

Maclean’s: Why not?

Turner: Because 1 think the judges must remain subject to the scrutiny of the people. 1 am responsible to parliament and I am responsible to the people and 1 can be held to account. The Canadian Bar Association can’t. You’re worried about politics in the appointment of judges. I intend to seek the appointment of honest, competent men and women. By and large we’ve had good judicial appointments over the years. Sure, there have been exceptions.

Maclean’s: What about elected judges? Turner: I think an elected judge

would he subjected to more pressures than an appointed judge. He’d want to be re-elected. And that, to my mind; is an abuse in the American system at a certain level.

Maclean’s: Reverting to the omnibus hill: it will tighten the regulations surrounding guns. Some people think the regulations should be tightened still more. Do you agree?

Turner: I want to review those aspects of the omnibus bill relating to the gun law. There’s got to be an adequate permit system or registration system. On the other hand, there are people in hunting clubs who do have a reasonably bonafide use of a gun, and hunting is still a legitimate sport. It might be useful to contemplate — I don’t know if this would fall under federal jurisdiction — a law requiring anyone who owns a gun to carry insurance covering any liability he causes by negligent discharge of that weapon. Just as we have to provide ourselves with adequate coverage when we drive a car. There are areas here I want to explore.

Maclean’s: What about policemen

carrying guns?

Turner: The policeman has a difficult role in a society where all the established areas of authority are being challenged. He is entitled to use all reasonable force to maintain law and order and the use of that reasonable force in a variety of circumstances sometimes demands very delicate use of judgment. 1 believe in strong civilian control over the police and I also believe they have a delicate and difficult job.

Maclean’s: The root of a lot of the criticism against the police these days is that they are not using their judgment very delicately at all. They insist on using crude arrest-and-detention procedures when a summons would be just as effective. Will you advocate wider use of the summons?

Turner: Well, I haven’t gone thoroughly enough into the remedies and I’ll have to reserve judgment on that. 1 think, though, that as a matter of principle a man ought to know why he’s being charged as early as possible and he able to gain his freedom before trial as equitably as possible. Five hundred dollars bail for citizen A might not mean much; for citizen B it might mean he stays in jail for two months until his trial. 1 don’t think that is a fair system.

Maclean’s: What about the question of wiretapping and the citizen’s right to privacy?

Turner: Wiretapping raises the balance of two legitimate rights. One is the right of the citizen to privacy and to know when he’s being kept under surveillance or listened to. The other is the right of the state to protect itself in security matters and the right of the police to maintain law and order. Now you have to balance those rights. A second feature of wiretapping is whether that type of evidence should be admissable in court or whether it should only be used as a means for obtaining further evidence. Those are two questions I’m going to have to look into. Maclean’s: I assume most of the

things you are looking into will take the form of future amendments to the Criminal Code. What puzzles many people is why some obviously outdated sections of the Code weren’t simply deleted or reworded in the present omnibus bill. Why is the death sentence for piracy still in there? Most lawyers think the whole Code is badly worded.

Turner: Those lawyers are right. I agree there ought to be a completely new revision of the Criminal Code as a whole. But that is a five-year project and 1 think we have to go with what we have or we’re not going to have anything. Every rewording of that Code demands a great deal of research. It’s not an easy document and since it involves criminal law it’s not a document to be tampered with lightly. Maclean’s: Okay, but why wasn’t the confusing section on obscenity cleared up? The subject has been bothering the courts for years. Surely it should have had priority?

Turner: I can't answer that because T wasn’t responsible for the legislation at the time. But I imagine the reason is that nobody yet has come up with a satisfactory definition of obscenity. I agree the obscenity law needs to be revised but I think bail outranks it on the priority list.

Maclean’s: Let’s move further afield. You’re a Quebecker. Do you think Quebec is more corrupt than the other provinces?

Turner: Í was a Quebecker and I love Quebec, but I’m representing an Ontario riding. 1 don’t think Quebec is more corrupt than the other provinces.

continued on page 54

And what corruption there is in Quebec, the peopie there are more frank about. I’m always tempted to feel that the corruption in Ontario or British Columbia is far more hypocritically dealt with than it is in Quebec. One thing I’ve always enjoyed about the Gallic mind: when they’re wrong, they enjoy being wrong.

Maclean’s: What about yourself? Do you still feel saddled with the glamour-boy image?

Turner: it doesn’t come up very often now. You go through a series of stages in life. I’ve lived it to the full. I’ve never regretted it. The thing that people talk to me about now is the leadership convention. I think that is

the recognition factor between me and the ordinary guy on the street these days. He wants to know why I stayed in and what 1 think of Mr. Trudeau.

Maclean’s: Well, why did you stay in? Turner: Well, first of all, as the youngest candidate 1 was the least credible candidate. In order to per-

suade a lot of people that I was serious about it, I had to convince them as I had already convinced myself that I wasn’t there as somebody else’s agent, that I wasn’t going to withdraw in favor of Paul Martin or Pierre Elliott Trudeau. So I made a personal undertaking to all the delegates across the country that I was going to be in it until the end. I stressed that this was a delegates’ convention and that so far as I was concerned there would be no private deals among candidates to try to affect the eventual result of the nomination. 1 believed in that position and, having taken it, I had to leave my fate in the hands of the delegates. Which I did.

Maclean’s: Couldn’t you still have made an honorable withdrawal sooner?

Turner: There was also the question of whom I would have supported as we went down to the wire. If I had supported Trudeau, as I would have been inclined to do, that would have been two Quebec ministers standing against two Ontario ministers. The effect of that on the party would have been quite severe. If I had supported Winters or Hellyer, it would have been three English - speaking ministers against a French-Canadian minister. And that would also have divided the party quite severely.

Maclean’s: You don’t think you did yourself harm by staying in?

Turner: Every action has its liabilities. 1 don’t think so. Certainly Pierre was generous enough in his binding up of the wounds in the party. He gave me his portfolio. And he appointed Ron Basford, my national campaign manager, to my old portfolio of Consumer and Corporate Affairs. I respect the Prime Minister for doing that. Maclean’s: Basically, how much of a liberal do you think you are? Have the responsibilities of office changed some of your earlier feelings?

Turner: Yes, I think I’m a little more responsible in my liberalism than I was before. My ideas haven’t changed but now I have to consider a larger arena. What would have been liberal sentiments before now have to be carefully weighed, because in this portfolio I bear a heavy responsibility for what I say and do. But I intend to use the law as a dynamic force — as a weapon for change.

Maclean’s: I was thinking about a fiery and libertarian speech about the drug bill. You said that no matter what happens in the election, you’d see that the bill got through.

Turner: That drug bill will get

through. The Prime Minister is committed to it. If that bill weren’t reintroduced, I’d resign.

Maclean’s: Do you still regard yourself as a potential prime minister? Turner: I’d really like to be perfectly honest about it. I went to the well on the last one. I fought as hard as I could. I got knocked out of the ring. I’m only 39. The best man won that convention. Pierre was a response to his time; he’s the man I think the country needs. I’m very impressed, frankly, with the way he has taken hold of the thing, the way he administers the government and the cabinet, the way he communicates. And I think he and I share the same feelings about the job he gave me. Or he wouldn’t have given it to me. ÍK