McLellan advises against splitting roles of attorney general, justice minister

The dual role of Canada’s attorney general and justice minister that’s now carried out by the same cabinet minister doesn’t need to be split, according to a new report by Anne McLellan, the former Liberal cabinet minister and deputy prime minister.

“I do not believe that further structural change is required in Canada to protect prosecutorial independence and promote public confidence in the criminal justice system,” McLellan wrote in the report released Wednesday.

“The model of having the same person hold the minister of justice and attorney general roles was deliberately chosen at Confederation, and for good reason. Our system benefits from giving one person responsibility for key elements of the justice system.”

McLellan’s report and recommendations were completed June 28 and made public just hours after the release of a scathing report by the federal ethics commissioner on the SNC-Lavalin affair. Marion Dion found Prime Minister Justin Trudeau violated the Conflict of Interest Act by trying to influence then justice minister Jody Wilson-Raybould to overrule a decision to not grant a deferred prosecution agreement to the Quebec-based engineering firm.

Earlier this year, Trudeau had asked McLellan to look into whether the cabinet roles of justice minister and attorney general should be reformed in the wake of allegations of political interference.

Some of McLellan’s other key recommendations include:

  • The attorney general develop a “detailed protocol” to govern ministerial consultations in specific prosecutions.
  • An education program for ministers and others on the role of the attorney general and related issues be implemented.
  • There be a new oath taken for the office to emphasize the unique role of the attorney general.
  • The name of the Justice Department be changed to Department of Justice and Office of the Attorney General of Canada.

Before her appointment as special adviser, McLellan, who held the post of justice minister and attorney general from 1997 to 2002 under then prime minister Jean Chrétien, had voiced she backs the idea of looking at splitting the current role.

She also argued that when she served in the post, its dual nature made for better policy.