The Passing of the Right Hon. Antonio Lamer

Former Supreme Court of Canada Chief Justice Anonio Lamer has died, the is reporting. Lamer, a puisne justice from 1980-1990, and a Chief Justice from 1990-2000, was 74. will endeavour to bring you more details, as well as commentary about Lamer and his impact on the Supreme Court, in the coming days and weeks.

The following are excerpts from The Globe and Mail’s online story:

Mr. Lamer was appointed to the court in 1980 and quickly won a reputation as a renowned legal reformer who was determined to breath life into the Charter of Rights and Freedoms.

After the Charter was enacted in 1982, the first cases began to filter up to the Supreme Court judge as Mr. Lamer was hitting his stride. A troika of Chief Justice Brian Dickson, Madame Justice Bertha Wilson and Judge Lamer viewed the Charter as a vital document that would be unstintingly used to strike down legislation and reform controversial areas of law.

When he retired in 1999 after being the court’s chief justice for almost a decade, Mr. Lamer was strongly identified with the protection of the rights of the accused.

When it came to striking down legislation and crafting the law, Chief Justice Lamer had few peers – a track record that transformed him into something of a judicial lightning rod.

”He was not just an expert, but a very imaginative judge whose judgments made a significant contribution to the development of criminal law under the Charter,” Prof. [Don] Stuart said after Mr. Lamer retired. ”He has often been falsely tagged as being unremittingly pro-accused. A fair look at his record shows that he also not-infrequently favoured the state’s law-enforcement interests.”

At a time when the Supreme Court bench was staggered by illness and strong-minded individualists who frequently wrote their own concurring or dissenting reasons for judgment, Mr. Lamer managed to forge a strong record for administrative efficiency. He eliminated the court’s backlog and issuing timely judgments.

His major decisions ranged from the rights of accused people to a revolutionary aboriginal-rights case known as Delgamuukw. Mr. Lamer played an especially instrumental role in interpreting the moral culpability involved in certain crimes, the right to legal counsel, and the right to be free of improper search and seizure.

Some critics have compared him unfavourably with his predecessor – the much-revered Chief Justice Brian Dickson – whose leadership position was supreme and unchallenged.

These critics cite the number of two-way and three-way splits in decisions during his tenure. As well, they note the frequent dissenting judgments issued by Madam Justice Claire L’Heureux-Dubé and a series of stinging comments Mr. Justice Gérard LaForest offered about the Lamer era when he retired.

Increasingly on the defensive as chief justice, Mr. Lamer took to railing against those who have questioned judicial motives. He strongly denied that judges make inherently political decisions and worried that judges might begin subconsciously tailoring their decisions in high-profile cases for fear of a backlash.

His observation followed a widely reported speech to the Canadian Bar Association in which he posed a blunt question to his audience: Should lawyers and judges begin to respond publicly to criticism? ”I think the answer he got was loud and clear,” said Peter Russell, a former University of Toronto political scientist. ”We all said, ‘No.’ But I suppose you have to give him credit for asking.”

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