Russell Brown of Burns Lake has stepped down from his position as judge on the Supreme Court of Canada. (Supreme Court of Canada photo)

Russell Brown of Burns Lake has stepped down from his position as judge on the Supreme Court of Canada. (Supreme Court of Canada photo)

Burns Lake’s Russell Brown resigns from Supreme Court

Allegations of misconduct lead to Brown stepping down from SCC

Supreme Court of Canada (SCC) justice Russell Brown has stepped down from the nation’s highest legal institution. Burns Lake’s most notable legal figure has been under legal fire of his own, for most of 2023, and it was due to these allegations that he chose to retire.

“Justice Brown was appointed to the Court on August 31, 2015. He has been absent from the Court since Feb. 1, 2023, while the Canadian Judicial Council reviewed a complaint against him. The Council announced today that the matter has been closed, given the resignation of Justice Brown,” said a statement from the SCC.

“On behalf of the Supreme Court of Canada, I would like to acknowledge Justice Brown’s contribution over the last eight years and wish Justice Brown all the best in his future endeavours,” said the Right Honourable Richard Wagner, P.C., Chief Justice of Canada.

Brown’s legal representative had stronger language for Brown’s contributions to the nation.

“Justice Brown’s meteoric rise to the Supreme Court of Canada, his unblemished reputation as a judge, and his significant contributions to Canada’s jurisprudence in the areas of commercial, constitutional, tort, Aboriginal and criminal law, must be celebrated. We know that his contributions to law and to our legal culture will both endure and continue,” said a statement issued by lawyers Brian Gover and Alexandra Heine, Brown’s legal representatives. “Justice Russell Brown has made the extremely difficult decision to retire from the Supreme Court of Canada to allow a replacement judge to be named and so that the work of the Court will not be impacted during its busy fall term, and for possibly another year. He has made that difficult decision in an effort to serve the public interest and the best interests of the Court on which it was his privilege to serve.”

The investigation in question stemmed from allegations being considered by the Canadian Judicial Council.

“The Council announced on March 7, 2023, that it was reviewing a complaint into the alleged conduct of Justice Brown, stemming from events which took place while he attended a banquet in Arizona on Jan. 28, 2023,” said the council. “Per the Judges Act, the Canadian Judicial Council has the duty to investigate complaints made against federally appointed judges. Since Justice Brown is now no longer a judge, the Council’s jurisdiction over the complaint against him has ended under the Act. As such, proceedings before the Council that involve Justice Brown have come to an end.”

Brown issued a statement of his own, following his announced retirement, and it was provided to the Lakes District News.

It said: “Unfortunately, as a result of a complaint made against me in connection with an event in late January in Arizona, I have not participated in the (SCC’s) work for over four months. During this time, the Court has had to hear and decide important appeals without the benefit of a full panel. At this point, it is impossible to know how much longer this delay would continue to impact on the Court’s work. Given the progress so far, it is not unreasonable to think that this process may continue well into 2024.

“The process has also imposed a significant strain on my family and me. I cannot ignore this.

“While my counsel and I are confident that the complaint would have ultimately been dismissed, the continuing delay is in nobody’s interests – the Court’s, the public’s, my family’s or my own.

“I have therefore decided that the common good is best served by my retirement, so that a replacement judge can join the Court in time for its busy fall term.

“In light of publication earlier this spring of certain aspects of the complainant’s version of the events, however, I believe I should clear the record.

“To that end, I have authorized my counsel to release a statement disclosing evidence that disproves the claims made against me. It shows that the person who punched me was described later by police as ‘argumentative, hostile [and] antagonistic,’ and who ‘began swearing profanities.’ The officer concluded that this was due to intoxication. The complainant apparently complained to both the police and the Canadian Judicial Council, in the words of one of his companions, to ‘get ahead of it,’ apparently to avoid the legal repercussions of his actions.

“Because the allegations made against me are false, I had hoped this issue would be dispensed with quickly and would not significantly impact the Court’s business. Sadly, that has not been the case.

It has been an honour to deliberate on the important issues facing our country and I am deeply appreciative of the opportunity that I’ve had to serve Canada.”

The SCC stated that it was now turning to the prime minister, who’s responsibility it is to facilitate the naming of Brown’s replacement.

To read the details of Brown’s rebuttal of the allegations, as presented by Gover and Heine, see the online version of this story at the website for the Lakes District News.

Statement of Counsel for Justice Brown

This decision was the regrettable result of a spurious complaint that was lodged against Justice Brown by a 31-year-old ex-Marine who, while intoxicated and belligerent, punched Justice Brown without provocation and later weaponized Canada’s judicial discipline process.

The evidence uncovered during the investigation into the complaint demonstrated that the complainant’s allegations were fraught with glaring contradictions, inaccuracies, and embellishments.

The substantial evidence refuting the allegations included:

– Surveillance video footage depicting the entirety of Justice Brown’s interactions with the complainant’s companions;

– The evidence of the Hotel’s bartender, who was working a few feet away from the table where Justice Brown and the complainant’s group were sitting;

– The evidence of the Hotel’s security officer who attended at the scene of the incident and interacted with Justice Brown at length;

– The recording of the complainant’s 911 call;

– The legal opinion of the former Chief Justice of the Supreme Court of Arizona, who, after examining the evidence in this case, concluded that under Arizona law, there was no basis for the complainant’s allegations of harassment and that there was no possible legal justification for his attack on Justice Brown;

– The Body-Worn Camera footage, which showed where the incident took place; and

– The investigative reports prepared by a very experienced and capable investigator, who is a former police detective.

Remarkably, the complainant’s two female companions made public social media posts about the incident, which showed that they found the incident humorous and used it to benefit financially. One of them stated “I’d like to personally thank the country of Canada for an unforgettable and complimentary girls trip.” The other commented with a series of emojis, including a heart, a laughing-until-you-cry smiley, two punches, a police officer, a sunrise, and a bag of money. After the incident was reported by the press, these two individuals deleted their social media posts.

This evidence and the other evidence uncovered increasingly pointed in one direction: to a calculated plan by the complainant to concoct an account in which Justice Brown was the aggressor – to “get out ahead of it,” in the words of one of the complainant’s own companions.

We are confident that, in light of all this evidence, Justice Brown would have been completely vindicated at the conclusion of the Canadian Judicial Council’s process. However, the effect of the process on the Court and the considerable strain on Justice Brown and his family, have led him to this decision to retire.

Today marks the end of an unmistakably regrettable chapter in Canadian legal history. It is extremely disappointing that, for the first time in the CJC’s history, the complainant’s unchallenged accusations were released to the public. It is beyond unfortunate that an unmeritorious complaint – brought for the purpose of weaponizing the CJC’s process – went as far as it did.