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New Chief Military Judge … and it only took four years …

30 March 2024


On 27 March 2024, the Minister of National Defence, Bill Blair, announced that the Governor in Council had designated Captain (Navy) Catherine Julie Deschênes as the new Chief Military Judge.  The designation was accompanied by promotion to her current rank.

Congratulations, Captain (Navy) Deschênes.

The position of Chief Military Judge had been vacant since 20 March 2020, when Colonel Mario Dutil, the previous Chief Military Judge, retired.

In the intervening four years, the Deputy Chief Military Judge, Lieutenant-Colonel Louis-Vincent d’Auteuil, had been the de jure Acting Chief Military Judge.

The announcement was not accompanied by any explanation why the Governor in Council took four years to designate a new Chief Military Judge.  The duration of this vacancy has been – by a significant margin – the longest that any position of Chief Justice or Chief Judge in Canada has remained vacant.  This prolonged vacancy coincided with a challenge to judicial independence within the military justice system that is presently the subject of the appeal in Edwards, et al v Rex, SCC Docket 39820, before the Supreme Court of Canada.  We are still awaiting a judgment.  The earlier judgment from the Court Martial Appeal Court of Canada may be found here: R v Edwards, et al, 2021 CMAC 2.

In light of this development, perhaps we don’t have too much longer to wait for the Governor in Council to get around to amending art 3.01 of the Queen’s Regulations and Orders for the Canadian Forces, in order to introduce the legislative changes that are required to amend the rank designations for junior non-commissioned personnel who wear a navy uniform.  After all, those proposed changes were first announced – by CANFORGEN – in August 2020.  Since then, many people, including military judges, have been using the proposed rank designations even though the legislative actor empowered by Parliament – the Governor in Council – has still not enacted the requisite legislative amendments.

Since the amendment of the rank designations was proposed about 5 months after Colonel Dutil retired, presumably, it will be one of the next items on the Governor in Council’s “To Do” list.

It appears that grievances are not the only processes under the National Defence Act that are plagued by unreasonable and unexplained delay.

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