Danielle Dewar —
On Nov. 9, 2016 at the John Sopinka Courthouse in Hamilton, Ont., Justice Bernd E. Zabel reportedly entered the courtroom wearing a red hat embroidered with the slogan “Make America Great Again.” The slogan is tied to Donald Trump’s 2016 presidential campaign. Justice Zabel explained to the courtroom that the 2016 US election was “a historic occasion.” He placed the hat on the bench, where it remained for the duration of the day’s court proceedings.
Today, LEAF submitted a letter of complaint to the Ontario Judicial Council (OJC) regarding Justice Zabel’s conduct in court. His actions are in breach of the OJC’s Principles of Judicial Office; specifically:
Principle 1.1: “Judges must be impartial and objective in the discharge of their judicial duties.”
Principle 3.2: “Judges must avoid any conflict of interest, or the appearance of any conflict of interest, in the performance of their judicial duties.”
Principle 3.3: “Judges must not abuse the power of their judicial office or use it inappropriately.”
The commentary on these principles states that: “Judges must not participate in any partisan political activity.” As an officer of the court, Justice Zabel must appear unbiased. To make a partisan display in a courtroom is a shocking violation of this principle.
In LEAF’s complaint to the OJC, Legal Director Dr. Kim Stanton states:
As an organization that advocates on behalf of women and girls, many of whom experience intersectional inequality as a result of their race, (dis)ability, sexual orientation and/or immigration status, LEAF is deeply troubled by Justice Zabel’s conduct.
For many Canadians, Trump is now inextricably linked with misogyny, violence, and discrimination. As Dr. Stanton notes:
How will a sexual assault survivor and/or a member of a racialized community targeted by Trump’s comments during the campaign feel as a witness, accused, litigant or counsel before a court in which the judge has made such a partisan display?
Justice Zabel’s conduct negatively impacts the public’s trust in our judicial system. LEAF urges the OJC to investigate this matter carefully and respond accordingly.
Click here to read LEAF’s letter of complaint.
About the Women’s Legal Education and Action Fund (LEAF)
Since April 17, 1985, when equality rights were enshrined in sections 15 and 28 of the Charter of Rights and Freedoms, LEAF has worked toward equality for women and girls. LEAF intervenes in key cases to ensure that when courts interpret equality rights, there will be a systemic improvement in women’s lives. For more information about LEAF, visit leaf.ca.