“My interest in this project is virtually to help. There are huge challenges and one of the biggest is knowing where to start,” said MacDonald, speaking during an interview Monday.
The visit marks MacDonald’s second trip to the eastern European nation having travelled there in April to see first-hand exactly what some of the problems and concerns are facing the people.
“One group from one country will not be able to solve all the problems,” admits MacDonald, but adds there are skills and practices from a Canadian perspective that could assist with advancing democracy in the politically troubled country.
MacDonald, a native of Whitney Pier, notes that Nova Scotia courts were the first in the country to establish a Twitter account to better inform the public of the work of the courts.
“We’ve certainly done things here that have helped us reach out to the public,” he said, adding better communication between the judiciary and the public is a key element to building trust and respect.
Justice Mary Moreau of the Court of Queen’s Bench in Alberta and Justice Denis Jacques of the Superior Court of Quebec will be joining MacDonald on the trip.
They are expected to spend two weeks in the country meeting with fellow judges, lawyers, regional government officials, academics, journalists and civil society groups.
“For judges to be able to do their jobs, we need to be impartial and protected from undue influences,” said MacDonald.
He said it is unfortunate that the Ukrainian judiciary continues to be plagued with political interference and allegations of corruption that has eroded the public’s trust and confidence in the country’s judges and the courts.
The group is expected to divide its time between Odessa, in the south, and Ivano-Frankivsk, in the western region of the country.
Regionals courts in those areas will serve as pilot projects to hopefully demonstrate to other regions that the courts can be effective and credible institutions to achieving justice.
“Judicial independence doesn’t disappear overnight — it erodes over time with every bad decision, every negative news story and every inappropriate comment that government or other agencies make,” said MacDonald, adding that once the public’s confidence is lost, it’s difficult to get it back.
Joining the judges on the trip will be Peter Solomon, University of Toronto professor, Oleg Shakov, director of international programs for the Office of the Commissioner for Federal Judicial Affairs Canada, Jennifer Stairs, director of communications for the executive office of the Nova Scotia judiciary, and Mykhailo Buromensky, a Ukrainian law professor, member of the Constitutional Commission and president of the Institute of Applied Humanitarian Research.