June 29, 2020 – By JEREMY APPEL
(Courtesy Alberta Jewish News)
The Jewish Federations of Edmonton and Calgary say they expressed concerns privately with the provincial government after an appointee to a judicial vetting committee was revealed to have promoted antisemitic conspiracy theories online.
Cold Lake, Alta., lawyer Leighton Grey abruptly resigned from the Provincial Court Nominating Committee (PCNC) on June 19 after CBC Edmonton uncovered social media and blog posts that compared a future COVID vaccine to Auschwitz tattoos and called Black Lives Matter a “leftist lie” promoted by Jewish billionaire George Soros. Another post accused Soros of financially manipulating the European Court of Human Rights.
The PCNC was established by the previous government with the goal of enhancing diversity in the selection of provincial court judges. Its role is to vet and select judges who have already been screened by the Judicial Committee.
Alberta Justice Minister Doug Schweitzer purged the committee of its NDP appointees on April 29, replacing them with more conservative-oriented ones through an informal, closed process.
In response to inquiries from the Alberta Jewish News, the Edmonton Jewish Federation said it sent a letter to the government expressing its concerns, but declined to make its contents public.
“We are dealing with this privately as we do with most advocacy issues where we have a partner who we trust and have a good relationship with,” federation president Steven Shafir said, citing Premier Jason Kenney’s “long-standing friendship with the Jewish community and Israel.”
In a statement announcing Grey’s departure, Schweitzer called Grey a “successful Indigenous lawyer with an exemplary record of service.”
“I also do not make judgments on Mr. Grey’s ability to carry out his professional duties in practising law,” the minister said.
He also clarified that the resignation was Grey’s own decision, made to avoid serving as a distraction from the committee’s work.
“Work on the committee is far from a full-time job, and members are not required to surrender their right to personal views or commentary,” wrote Schweitzer.
Before Grey’s resignation, NDP MLA Irfan Sabir brought the House’s attention to another of his posts that suggested too many female judges were being appointed.
“Eight of the past 10 superior court justices appointed in Alberta were women. Today it was announced that five of seven judges appointed to our Provincial Court are women. If Lady Justice is truly blind, then why does she see gender?” wrote Grey.
Schweitzer responded by calling Sabir’s line of questioning “absolutely disgusting,” before listing off previous PCNC appointees who were NDP donors.
After Grey’s resignation, NDP justice critic Kathleen Ganley asked the premier to explicitly condemn Grey’s remarks in the legislature.
Schweitzer responded by saying that Grey’s resignation was sufficient.
“Mr. Speaker, this individual resigned over a post that they made online. I’ve accepted that person’s resignation. I think that speaks for itself,” the minister said.
Opposition leader Rachel Notley issued a news release to highlight Kenney and Schweitzer’s refusal to outright condemn Grey’s remarks.
“It sends a dangerous signal to hateful extremists when the Premier of Alberta is silent when these opinions are being promoted by his own appointees,” said Notley.
“It should be extremely concerning to any supporter of human rights in Alberta that neither the Premier nor the Justice Minister would apologize for this appointment, or commit to ensuring that this will not happen again,” Notley said. “Jason Kenney must publicly condemn Leighton Grey’s comments, and apologize for his Justice Minister’s statement that prejudice has a place within a ‘diversity of views.’”
The next day in the legislature, Kenney said the Opposition “attacked an indigenous lawyer for his appointment.”
“That person made offensive comments. He’s no longer on the board.”
Jeremy Appel is a Local Journalism Initiative reporter with Alberta Jewish News.