A Canadian judge in Hamilton, Ontario, has been suspended after wearing a Donald Trump hat on the day after Trump’s victory in the US presidential election. The judge, Bernd Zabel, reportedly made explicit pro-Trump comments in court. Both actions violate a judge’s obligation to be politically neutral.
The court announced on December 21 that Zabel would not be assigned cases until further notice. In mid-November, Zabel apologized for the hat, calling it a “lapse in judgment,” and “a breach of the principles of judicial office. This gesture was not intended in any way as a political statement or endorsement of any political views, and, in particular, the views and comments of Donald Trump. I very much regret that it has been taken as such,” said Zabel.
“What I did was wrong,” he told The Globe and Mail. “I wish to apologize for my misguided attempt to mark a moment in history by humor in the courtroom following the surprising result in the United States election.” Many have cried foul on Zabel’s apology, based on public comments he made. “Brief appearance with the hat. Pissed off the rest of the judges because they all voted for Hillary… I was the only Trump supporter up there, but that’s OK.” How a Canadian judge could vote in an American election, Zabel did not reveal.
Hamilton city councillor Matthew Green has called for Zabel to be removed from the bench, believing that Zabel’s actions undo a quarter century of steadfast service. “Given the divisive nature of the recent American election with its clear racism, sexism, and xenophobia, this alarming display by a [sic] Ontario Court Justice only serves to underscore the distrust many Canadians feel in our own so-called ‘Justice system’,” tweeted Green. “If I was [sic] a person convicted by this man I’d be quickly filing for appeal.”
A later comment from Green read that, “this Judge was using the power of his bench to promote a political agenda. One that is founded in bigotry, misogyny, antisemitism [sic], Islamophobia, abelism [sic] and of which has NO place in our Canadian judiciary.” Some suggest that it is not that Zabel is making a political statement that has caused the councillor to demand his disbarment, but explicitly because Zabel is a Trump supporter. Fortunately for Zabel, Ontario Chief Justice Lise Maisonneuve opted for the less severe punishment of a suspension. Michael Lacy, with Canada’s Criminal Lawyers’ Association said that a transparent investigation of Zabel’s decisions, to find out whether politics drove them, will be conducted soon. “The core of our judiciary in Canada is that judges be independent and objective, that they not be politically partisan in any way,” said Lacy.
Zabel is a judge with the Ontario Court of Justice, the provincial court of Canada’s largest province, appointed to the bench in 1990. Previous notable decisions include refusing to imprison an 80-year-old woman who assisted her Alzheimer’s-ridden husband in committing suicide in 2003, tripling the attorney-recommended sentence of a convicted child molestor in 2011, and ruling that a man threatening to “roll another man’s turban down the street” did not constitute a hate crime in 2012.