An interview with the Honourable Louise Charron.

Author:Holland, Colin
Position:Former Canadian Supreme Court justice - Interview

The Honourable Louise Charron graduated from the University of Ottawa's Common Law Section in 1975. She worked in private practice and then as an Assistant Crown Attorney. Ms. Charron was also a professor at the University of Ottawa's French Common Law Program from 1978 until 1988. She was appointed to the bench in 1988 and served as a trial judge in Ottawa until 1995, when she was then appointed to the Court of Appeal for Ontario. Ms. Charron was appointed to the Supreme Court of Canada in 2004 and retired in 2011.

In an interview covering the span of her career, Ms. Charron reflected on her legal career and shared some of the wisdom she gained from it. Throughout the interview, the Ottawa Law Review offers a look into the choices that shaped Ms. Charron's notable career. Her remarks provide an encouraging reminder to all individuals in the legal field that there are many opportunities available to them. Ms. Charron's experiences further illustrate her belief that justice, in the end, will be better served when it is approached with an open mind and a willingness to work with others.

The Ottawa Law Review's Sam Weinstock, Colin Holland and Joel Kom met with Ms. Charron in the Judges' Library of the Supreme Court of Canada.

L'honorable Louise Charron a obtenu son diplome de la Section de common law de l'Universite d'Ottawa en 1975. Elle a exerce le droit dans un cabinet puis a occupe les fonctions de procureure adjointe de la Couronne. Madame Charron a egalement ete professeure au Programme de common law en francais de l'Universite d'Ottawa de 1978 a 1988. Elle a ete nommee a la magistrature en 1988 ou elle a exerce la charge de juge de premiere instance a Ottawa jusqu'en 1995. Elle a ensuite ete nommee a la Cour d'appel de l'Ontario. Madame Charron a ete nommee a la Cour supreme du Canada en 2004 eta pris sa retraite en 2011.

Au cours de cet entretien portant sur l'ensemble de sa carriere, Madame Charron a fait part des reflexions que sa carriere juridique lui a inspirees et des lecons de sagesse qu'elle en a recueillies. Tout au long de l'entretien, la Revue de droit d'Ottawa met en lumiere les choix qui ont faconne l'exceptionnelle carriere de Madame Charron. Ses observations rappellent a toute personne qui se lance dans le domaine juridique que de multiples possibilites lui sont offertes. Les experiences de Madame Charron illustrent sa conviction que la justice sera, au bout du compte, mieux rendue si ceux et celles qui la servent l'abordent avec un esprit ouvert et animes d'une veritable volonte altruiste.

Sam Weinstock, Colin Holland et Joel Kom, de la Revue de droit d'Ottawa, se sont entretenus avec Madame Charron dans la bibliotheque des juges de la Cour supreme du Canada


Ottawa Law Review [OLR]: What brought you to law school and to the University of Ottawa in particular?

Louise Charron [LC]: I didn't set out to be a lawyer until my third undergraduate year. From grade ten on, I wanted to become a psychologist, and I was intent on pursuing graduate studies in psychology. That brought me to Carleton University, in its experimental psychology honours program. I preferred that branch to the clinical psychology program offered at the University of Ottawa. It was really right before exams in my third year when I became a bit disillusioned with what I was doing. Not because there was anything lacking with the Carleton University program it--was excellent, actually--but my intent was to work with people, to deal with their problems, and to find solutions to them. Somehow, the hours I was spending in the lab with pigeons and rats just wasn't quite satisfying. I didn't think that a switch to clinical psychology would suffice either--the courses I had taken in that field were far too theoretical for my liking.

I decided to switch to law. You ask me why the University of Ottawa? The simple answer is that I lived in Ottawa, I enjoyed living in Ottawa, and I didn't see any reason to move. In addition, the University of Ottawa was renowned for having a fine. Faculty of Law. There was no reason not to go there. I only applied to one law school. The competition wasn't the same back then. I had an excellent record and I felt quite confident that I would be accepted. I can honestly say that if were applying now, I would still apply to the University of Ottawa. I would still like Ottawa as a place to live, and it is still a very time university. And the added attraction that makes me sure I would apply is that I could study common law in French.

OLR: What language did you study in?

LC: I studied strictly in English. No common law courses were offered in French at the rime and I wasn't interested in studying civil law. As a Franco-Ontarian who did not envisage moving to Quebec, common law was the obvious choice. However, today as a Franco-Ontarian, I would choose la common law en francais, (1) but I would probably study civil law as well. I considered the idea then, but there was less mobility in the profession and the value in doing an additional year to obtain a combined degree was not so obvious to me. Today, even if one never steps out of a common law province, there can be a great advantage to having les deux formations. In retrospect, the combined degree would certainly have served me well, particularly on the Supreme Court of Canada bench.

OLR: Do you find that having studied psychology informed the way you studied law?

LC: It probably did. It was the same interest in people and solving their problems that brought me first to psychology and then to law. People who choose to study law come from such varied backgrounds. I was in contact with so many law clerks over the years as a judge and I loved to see how sometimes a background in music or in math would inform their analytical thinking in law.

OLR: What was your favourite subject in law school and why?

LC: I enjoyed several subjects, which maybe reveals my overall preference for variety. Commercial law comes to mind, and a lot of that had to do with Professor Hayek. (2) Professor Hayek is retired, but he had a very principled, organized way of presenting his lectures. It almost felt like a mathematics course, a field of study that I always liked. Even though I was in psychology, I took optional courses in mathematics--some people thought I was crazy! But I liked that analytical approach. Therefore, I really enjoyed commercial law. I also enjoyed real property and, again here, I think it was because of the professor, Dean Feeney. (3) Dean Feeney scared the living wits out of many students, and I have to admit I wasn't always brave in his class. But he was such a showman--such a fine professor. In his class, I always felt as if I was watching a play unfold.

I have to add torts and contracts to the list of favourite subjects. (4) Overall, I've always had a preference for "black letter law." Even as a judge, it was always a treat when I could say, "Oh, lovely! The issue here is whether a contract was formed and whether there was a breach! A good old contract case." I always liked the black letter law topics.

OLR: What was your least favourite class?

LC: It may surprise you to hear, but without a doubt, the subject that I liked the least was criminal law. (5)

OLR: The least?

LC: The least. Not a word of a lie. It may have been the way it was taught. Also, keep in mind that those were the days before the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms. (6) Criminal law was very technical. I think we spent right up to Christmas talking about actus reus, divided into twelve parts, and then we moved onto mens rea. I had no particular interest in criminal law. There it is--criminal law was not my favourite subject.

OLR: Can you tell us about your articling experience?

LC: I had great articles. I wasn't very attracted to bigger firms, so I purposely applied to small firms. I was also looking for a firm with a French clientele. Lalonde & Chartrand (7) was a francophone firm in Ottawa with four lawyers. (8) They did just about everything, except criminal law, but that didn't bother me as it was not my interest. They gave me a lot of responsibility as the articling year progressed, and I think I was right in believing that you are more likely to get hands-on experience in a small firm. Because there were just four people, the answer to the question "So who's going to argue the motion tomorrow?" was often "Well, Louise could do it...." It was great.

One of the lawyers, Robert Chartrand, had a satellite practice in Rockland, a small town east of Ottawa, and I would accompany him on Wednesday nights. At times, if he wasn't available, he let me go by myself. I loved it. It did wonders for building credibility with clients. As a woman, I was a minority from the start. One can just imagine an old farmer coming to see the lawyer who he's been dealing with for years, and instead he's greeted by this young woman. I was very proud of the fact that there were no objections from clients. They did agree to speak to me, and they did give me instructions. As an articling student, I was limited in what advice I could give to the clients, obviously, but I gained great experience.

I think articling is a very important stage in a legal education. Sometimes it is difficult to know what kind of practice one will really like until one tries it. Articles can provide an opportunity for hands-on experience in areas that one may not have otherwise considered.

OLR: Was your articling the first time you gained practical legal experience or did you gain practical experience during the summers?

LC: I did gain legal experience during the summers between my first and second years of law school. During the course of my first year, a classmate of mine, Jean-Francois Aube, developed a program proposal and submitted it for a grant. What we proposed was that three of us (Jean-Francois, John Huot and I) would open a "front street office" in Timmins, a city in northeastern Ontario, the following...

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