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How to Become a Judge in Canada

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Unlike many American courts, Canadian judges aren’t elected, but appointed. If you’re interested in the Canadian judiciary, there are multiple court levels in Canada: provincial courts, which oversee small claims courts, traffic cases, family law and minor criminal matters; superior provincial courts, which handle more serious matters; the courts of appeal; and the Supreme Court of Canada. The first requirement for the job of judge is to be a Canadian citizen; you’ll also be expected to have legal experience.

Become a lawyer. You’ll need to be a practicing lawyer with at least 10 years experience to qualify for any superior provincial court. The Superior Court Judges Association says it helps to have been active in legal societies, to have a record of volunteer or charitable work and to have made a “significant contribution” to the legal profession. Standards for the lower courts vary between provinces, but the Canadian Encyclopedia website says even provinces where non-lawyers can legally become judges no longer consider candidates without judicial experience. Supreme Court appointments only go to lawyers with 10 years courtroom experience unless they’re already superior-court judges.

Learn the standards for your province if you want to be a judge in the lower courts. Ontario’s government website says you need 10 years membership at the bar in Canada, preferably in a courtroom, though experience in administrative tribunals or academia might be acceptable. Ontario won’t accept a candidate with a criminal record, and if an attorney has professional complaints against him, they must be resolved.

Submit a written application, which will be reviewed by a committee. Ontario’s committee includes two judges, seven laypeople, one representative of the Ontario Judicial Council and three members of the legal community. The committee reviewing superior-court appointments includes judges, lawyers, government officials and members of the public. The committee will then forward the recommendations to whoever has the final say: The Ontario Attorney General for that state’s provincial courts and the federal cabinet for higher appointments.

Move to Quebec if you want a position on the Supreme Court. Canadian law stipulates three of the judges on the court must be from that province. It’s customary, but not mandatory, that the remaining six judgeships will be divided up between two from the west, one from the Atlantic provinces and three from Ontario. Judges are appointed by the prime minister and have to undergo several hours of questioning by parliament first, though parliament can’t reject them.

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About the Author

A graduate of Oberlin College, Fraser Sherman began writing in 1981. Since then he's researched and written newspaper and magazine stories on city government, court cases, business, real estate and finance, the uses of new technologies and film history. Sherman has worked for more than a decade as a newspaper reporter, and his magazine articles have been published in "Newsweek," "Air & Space," "Backpacker" and "Boys' Life." Sherman is also the author of three film reference books, with a fourth currently under way.