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Russell Brown brings 'wide experience' to Supreme Court, says chief justice

Last Updated Jul 28, 2015 at 5:40 pm EDT

OTTAWA – Russell Brown, an Alberta appeal court justice with strong academic credentials but relatively little bench experience, was welcomed by his new peers Tuesday as the latest appointee to the Supreme Court of Canada.

Brown, Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s third appointment to the high court in the last 15 months, was lauded by Chief Justice Beverley McLachlin as a “distinguished jurist.”

“He brings a rich background as an academic, practitioner and judge,” McLachlin said in a statement.

“I look forward to his contributions to the court.”

Brown was named Monday by Harper to replace the retiring Marshall Rothstein, whose departure takes effect Aug. 31, as does Brown’s appointment.

A member of the bars of both British Columbia and Alberta, Brown currently sits in Edmonton, where he also serves as an appeal judge for both the Northwest Territories and Nunavut.

His rise within the legal ranks has been swift. Brown has been a judge for two-and-a-half years, first appointed to the Court of Queen’s Bench of Alberta in 2013 before being promoted a year later to the Alberta Court of Appeal and the appeal courts of the Northwest Territories and Nunavut in March 2014.

“Brown brings extensive expertise and experience to the highest court,” association president Michele Hollins said in a statement.

“He served most recently as a judge on the Alberta Court of Appeal, as an academic — associate dean at the faculty of law at University of Alberta — and before that in legal practice in Vancouver, Victoria and Edmonton.”

Brown’s appointment is timely in that it gives the high court a full complement of justices as the busy fall court session begins, Hollins noted.

Harper has appointed seven of the nine Supreme Court judges. His last appointment was high-profile commercial trial lawyer Suzanne Cote, who was named last November.

Cote was appointed after the court ruled Harper’s original choice, Justice Marc Nadon, was ineligible to sit on the bench as one of the court’s three designated members from Quebec.

Brown joins McLachlin as the only other member of the high court from western Canada.

He is a proponent of including property rights as part of the Charter of Rights and Freedoms — something the Supreme Court has never accepted.

In 2009 he wrote a paper examining the idea, calling the state’s power to expropriate property “a contradiction in the law.”

“The extra-constitutional nature of restrictions on the state’s power to take, and a lack of doctrinal rigour are shown to have allowed the risk of incoherence to materialize in Canada by creating a distorted body of law,” he wrote.

“The modest constraints which Canadian law imposes upon regulatory takings fail to cohere to rights conferred upon landowners under various treaties and declarations to which Canada has subscribed.”

Brown holds an arts degree from the University of British Columbia and a bachelor of laws degree from the University of Victoria, as well as a master’s and a doctorate of law from the University of Toronto.

He also served as an associate professor and associate dean of the University of Alberta’s faculty of law.

Rothstein was Harper’s first appointment to the Supreme Court, which came shortly after the Conservatives came to power in 2006. He announced his retirement in April.

While the statement announcing his appointment didn’t specify whether Brown is bilingual, the Prime Minister’s Office has confirmed that Brown can write and speak in both official languages.