THUNDER BAY — The newly-elected head of the Lakehead University Board of Governors has issued a strongly-worded defence of Justice Patrick Smith, the former interim dean of LU's law faculty.
Ross Murray says he finds it "saddening and tragic" that the Canadian Judicial Council is examining whether or not the judge should be removed from the bench because he accepted the university's invitation to lead the law school.
Smith, a semi-retired Superior Court justice, is under scrutiny by the council because, it alleges, he accepted the interim position "without considering the possible public controversy associated with the reaction from the chiefs of First Nations and without considering the political environment or the potential effect on the prestige of judicial office."
Smith's lawyers have applied in the Federal Court of Canada to halt the disciplinary process and conduct its own review of the fairness of the CJC's proceedings in the matter.
In a statement issued Wednesday, Murray said he is "very upset" that Smith's service to LU and the community may lead to his being put through a public inquiry.
He said "After just three months in the role, Justice Smith had established productive relationships with the Faculty's students and staff; provided the leadership necessary to allow for ongoing program delivery...and strengthened relations with the Indigenous community and the Faculty's Aboriginal Advisory Committee."
Justice Smith withdrew from the position in August as a result of the judicial council's investigation.
He was approached last April by the then-interim president of the university, Dr. Moira McPherson, to take the job temporarily after the resignation of former dean Angelique EagleWoman, who is Indigenous.
EagleWoman, the first Indigenous woman to lead a Canadian law faculty, made a public allegation of systemic racism at Lakehead.
In his statement, Murray noted that Chief Justice Heather Smith of Superior Court granted Patrick Smith a six-month leave from the court, and that federal Justice Minister Jody Wilson-Raybould had also supported his appointment.
"Justice Smith's leadership skills and knowledge helped the Law School at a critical time," Murray said, adding that he supports the judge "completely."