Allegations of conflict of interest against three judges dismissed

The Canadian Judicial Council has dismissed allegations of conflicts by three judges who attended privately sponsored receptions or conferences.

The three judges, all of whom hear tax cases, landed in hot water after the CBC and Radio-Canada reported that they had attended social events at an International Fiscal Association Conference in Madrid in September 2016. The conference was approved by the CJC as a continuing education opportunity for judges involved in tax law matters.

Federal Court of Appeal Justice Denis Pelletier was under scrutiny for attending two evening social events organized by the conference, which was in part sponsored by accounting giant KPMG. But since KPMG is not a party to disputes before the Tax Court of Canada and no dispute involving KPMG is or was pending before the Federal Court of Appeal in the days or months preceding the conference, “any suggestion of conflict of interest that would approach misconduct must be dismissed,” said a CJC letter to an unidentified complainant.

Tax Court of Canada Justice Randall Bocock was investigated for having attended a cocktail organized by the law firm Dentons LLP while he was the case manager of an appeal before the Tax Court of Canada involving KPMG and the Victoria-based Cooper family. Justice Bocock said he was unaware of Dentons’ involvement in the Cooper matter. But when he did find out, he recused himself.

“The potential for a conflict of interest in this matter seems remote,” said Justice Bocock in a letter to the complainant. “ “However, through inadvertence, the portrayal of a potential conflict, where all the facts are at first unknown, is possible.”

He added that “prudence and best practice would suggest that, in future, refraining from attending such off site sponsored conference receptions is a better and wiser choice. I certainly intend to follow this prudent conduct in the future.”

Tax Court of Canada Chief Justice Eugene Rossiter was the subject of a complaint because he had briefly attended a reception at the conference, and because he defended the practice at a Canadian Tax Foundation conference held in November 2016. He said he would continue to attend receptions, adding that “we will have pizza and we will have wine, and lots of it.”

The Chairperson of the Judicial Conduct Committee of Council, Michael MacDonald, mildly rebuked Rossiter for making such remarks in jest, calling them regrettable. “His controversial remarks were meant as a joke as part of his address on accessibility and involvement of judges in public events,” said the letter to the complainant.

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