TORONTO -- Opposition parties are accusing Prime Minister Paul Martin of packing the nation's Supreme Court with homosexual-rights supporters little more than a month before it must consider the legality of same-sex "marriage."
Justices Louise Charron and Rosalie Abella were named to the nine-member court last week. Both come from the Ontario Court of Appeal and have made controversial rulings that extend spousal rights to same-sex couples.
"The prime minister, I think, chose those individuals to advance his political agenda in that respect," charged Vic Toews, a Conservative Party member of Parliament.
"Most analysts have come to that conclusion. I'm not going to agree or disagree with that conclusion."
Courts in three of Canada's 10 provinces in the past year have redefined marriage to include homosexuals, arguing that anything less would violate the country's Charter of Rights and Freedoms.
The Supreme Court, facing one of the most contentious issues in years, now must decide whether that definition is valid and whether it should be extended to the whole country.
Conservatives have argued that rather than leave such an important issue to the court, Mr. Martin should take it to Parliament for a free vote in which members could follow their consciences rather than be bound by party lines.
The government has been unwilling to do that, but for the first time has allowed an ad hoc committee of Parliament to review the appointments. However, the committee was not allowed to question the nominees or overrule the appointments.
"Here in Canada, the constitution is entirely different" from in the United States, where Supreme Court appointments are subject to Senate approval, argued Justice Minister Irwin Cotler at a press conference.
That did little to assuage the opposition, whose members have focused their anger on the process, rather than on the nominees themselves.
"Our party has taken no position on these two judges," Mr. Toews said. "We had neither the time nor the information to make an appropriate assessment as to whether these individuals were eminently qualified."
During the ad hoc committee's review last week, Mr. Cotler denied that the sex of the judges or their stance on homosexual rights had been the deciding factor in their appointments.
"They were not chosen because they were women. They were chosen because they are outstanding," he said.
One of the justices being replaced also is a woman -- Louise Arbour, who stepped down to accept an appointment as the United Nations' high commissioner for human rights.
Nine of the 10 provinces have indicated that they will honor the new definition of marriage if the Supreme Court rules that way. The only exception is Alberta, perhaps the most conservative province in the country.
Same-sex "marriages" are recognized in Ontario, Quebec and British Columbia. Tens of thousands of same-sex couples, including some from the United States and other countries, have been declared "married" in those provinces.
Polls show that Canadians support the legalization of same-sex "marriage."
A survey last year by the Environics Research Group found that 56 percent supported the practice, while 42 percent were opposed and 3 percent were undecided. Support for same-sex "marriage" in Canada tends to be strongest among women and those under 45.