Saturday, November 12, 2016

Complaint vs. Ontario judge who celebrated Trump victory from the bench

On Friday, The Globe and Mail and The Hamilton Spectator reported that Ontario Justice Bernd Zabel wore and then prominently displayed a pro-Donald Trump baseball cap in his Hamilton, Ontario, courtroom. I know of a number of people who are filing formal complaints at this behaviour, and I have decided to join them...and I encourage you to do the same, at the address below. Note that I'm not a lawyer, so I have no idea if I have framed or worded my complaint effectively, but the guidelines make it seem like the system is meant to deal with complaints from lay people. Also note that I have my own deep misgivings about the legal system that are much more fundamental and systemic than I express in this letter, and I am also pretty skeptical about what in-system complaints mechanisms are likely to achieve. For me, however, an important part of taking this small action (and making it public) is as a gesture towards refusing the normalization of white nationalist politics, which I think is important. Anyway, here's what I said...I'd be keen to see what you say in your letter.

The Ontario Judicial Council
P.O. Box 914
Adelaide Street Postal Station
31 Adelaide Street East
Toronto, Ontario
M5C 2K3

Re.: Conduct of Ontario Court Justice Bernd Zabel

Dear Madam/Sir,

I am writing to lodge a complaint about the conduct of Ontario Court Justice Bernd Zabel, as reported in The Globe and Mail ("Ontario judge's pro-Trump baseball cap causes courthouse uproar," Nov. 11, 2016) and The Hamilton Spectator ("Hamilton judge under fire for donning Trump hat in the courtroom," Nov. 11, 2016). In those articles, it was reported that, in his courtroom, Justice Zabel wore and prominently displayed a hat bearing a campaign slogan of United States president-elect Donald Trump, "Make America Great Again."

I am not a lawyer, so I cannot speak to the formal rules of judicial conduct, but basic fairness and decency demand that this action be condemned in the strongest possible terms. As a resident of the city in which this action took place, I am asking that Justice Zabel be fired.

If all that was at issue here was a judge, in normal political circumstances, expressing a political preference from the bench, I would be content with a milder reprimand. These circumstances are not normal, however, and history teaches us that we must resist pressures to normalize them.

In the course of the campaign, the president-elect was shown as admitting that he had assaulted women and gotten away with it; regularly engaged in brazenly sexist, racist, and xenophobic behaviour; campaigned openly on doing harm to marginalized groups; and made statements at various points calling into question his commitment to the rule of law. History teaches us that this is a very dangerous combination.

The open celebration of these stances from the bench calls Justice Zabel's ability to do his job -- his ability to adhere to the standards of impartiality that the judicial system proclaims as central to its legitimacy -- into fundamental question.

To cite but one example, given that the campaign in question opened with the candidate labelling Mexicans as "rapists," what does the celebration of that campaign say about the ability of Justice Zabel to preside fairly over proceedings involving Mexican-Canadians? Countless similar examples involving many other marginalized groups could be listed.

Jusitce Zabel's conduct is an embarassment and a disgrace, and he should be fired immediately.


Scott Neigh


sybil said...

It not only shows poor judgement on the judge's part but hints at tacit approval of certain biased views expressed by the President-elect (ooops threw up a little in my mouth typing those last two words).

Hardly something one would expect from an Ontario judge.

I will write. Thanks.


Scott Neigh said...

Thanks, Sybil!