Remove Justice Zabel for unethical behavior

In the conduct of their official duties, all holders of public office are duty bound to speak and act in accordance with the ethical standards of behavior that apply to their respective professions.

Unfortunately for him and for all of us, a judge in Hamilton, Ontario has clearly demonstrated that he is not fit to serve on the judicial bench. He has ignored the famous maxim set out by Sir Gordon Hewart, Lord Chief Justice of England from 1922 to 1940:

“It is not merely of some importance but is of fundamental importance that justice should not only be done, but should manifestly and undoubtedly be seen to be done.”

The Judge in question is Ontario Court Justice Bernd Zabel. He entered the courtroom on November 09 last, wearing an easily recognizable baseball cap that formed part of the campaign gear of Mr. Donald Trump, the Republican candidate who had won the presidential elections in the USA on the previous day. Having sat down in his seat, Justice Zabel took off the cap and placed it prominently on the bench in front of him. The cap bore Mr. Trump’s well-known slogan:  “Make America Great Again”.

In his subsequent musings in the courtroom, he openly declared:

“Brief appearance with the hat. Pissed off the rest of the judges because they all voted for Hillary, so. I was the only Trump supporter up there but that’s okay.”

Those words and his actions provide information on Judge Zabel’s personal convictions.

While it is his right to have and hold any beliefs and preferences he chooses, he is not entitled to openly show and declare them when he is carrying out his judicial functions. There may even be situations when he may not be permitted to display some of those preferences outside of the courtroom.

The issue here is that persons who come before judges, whether these persons are appearing for the prosecution or the defence, deserve to feel that their cases will be heard and treated without any bias whatsoever. They and the wider public need to feel that Judges’ official actions and decisions in court are based on judicial considerations only.

In this specific case, persons appearing in a court presided over by Justice Zabel may be justified in fearing that his attitude to their cases may be given unfair and biased treatment. Their fear may arise because they belong to one or more of the groups that Mr. Trump attacks on his political platform: illegal immigrants, Mexicans, Muslims, female politicians, among others.

The requirements of ethical conduct apply across the board to persons holding official positions in all levels of government and in organizations that receive government funds.

We will do well to heed the warnings put to us by Mr. Van Jones on his recent visit to Canada. As a political analyst, journalist and former White House policy adviser, Mr. Jones was adamant that we Canadians must never presume that we are safe from the stoking of racial and class tensions that characterized the recent presidential campaigns in his country.

To the contrary, we need to stand up and to be vigilantly active in keeping those tensions from dominating our socio-economic and political narratives.

It is therefore for all of those reasons that we support the calls for the full administrative processes to be applied by the York Region District School Board in the case of Ms. Ghada Sadaka, the Principal of Sir Wilfrid Laurier P.S. in Markham. This Principal has been accused of posting anti-Muslim information on her Facebook page.

It is for all of these same reasons that we go even further than supporting the formal complaints filed against Justice Zabel by Osgoode Hall Law Professor Gus Van Harten and by the Women’s Legal Education and Action Fund.

We call on the Ontario Judicial Council to remove Justice Zabel from the judicial bench for his totally unethical and unprofessional conduct.