Reflections on the Diversity of Legal Traditions in Canadian Law.

Date01 January 2022
AuthorWagner, Richard
  1. Introductory Remarks

    Good afternoon, and thank you Professor La Forest for the kind introduction. Thank you also for the invitation to present the Viscount Bennett Memorial Lecture. It is a real privilege for me to be here. The Right Honourable Viscount Bennett led Canada through some of the most challenging years of the depression. He did so with courage and determination. As an elected official, and later Prime Minister of Canada, he also helped put social policies and institutions in place. These include the Bank of Canada and the CBC, which continue to serve our country today. He also hoped, through this lecture series, to promote a greater appreciation of the law in contemporary Canadian society. I am pleased to be a part of that effort because I agree that the law plays a very important role in society.

    Je suis ravi de le faire ici, a l'Universite du Nouveau-Brunswick, oU tant de distingues juristes ont amorce leur carriere juridique. Le nom de l'honorable Gerard La Forest figure, comme vous le savez toutes et tous, sur la longue liste des eminents diplomes de cette institution. Le juge La Forest m'a precede au sein de la Cour supreme, mais sa jurisprudence continue, a ce jour, d'influencer les travaux de la Cour et elle continue d'influencer la societe canadienne en general, tout comme le fait l'oeuvre du vicomte Bennett a d'autres egards.

    In these uncertain times, I have been thinking a great deal about the role of the law. On the morning of March 15th, I was sitting in the House of Commons when the Ukrainian President, Mr. Zelensky, addressed parliamentarians. The House of Commons was absolutely silent as he asked Canadians to imagine bombs falling on our cities and our homes. The President said, and I quote, "We're not asking for much. We're just asking for justice

    Indeed, under the most horrific conditions, the Ukrainian government has sought a legal means to end the violence. For example, it has taken Russia to the International Court of Justice (the ICJ). Even when Russia did not show up for the hearing, Ukraine said it still had faith in the law. At the end of that court proceeding, the ICJ ordered Russia to stop the invasion, (1) but as we all know, it has not stopped. Yet again, Ukraine said it still believed in the importance of the rule of law. That conviction inspires me, and gives me hope for the future.

    We can all play a part in making the future better, which is the spirit of this lecture series. After all, it is not just for the courts to uphold the rule of law. Everyone can play a part. How? Well, take the time to share your knowledge about Canada's laws and legal system. Learn how to identify and stop the spread of misinformation and disinformation. We have seen how the spread of lies, even half-truths, can threaten democratic institutions around the world. In Canada, our courts are open, impartial and independent. Our justice system is strong and stable. These make up the foundation of a healthy democracy, which is something we should never take for granted.

    We are lucky to live in this country. Canada may not be an economic or military superpower, but it certainly is a democratic superpower. And we like to share that power! We did so, for example, with Ukraine. For many years, Canadian judges and staff from all court levels have worked closely with Ukrainian judges and their own staff to help them improve their judicial system. For example, we have helped them improve their processes for the selection and appointment of judges, for managing conflicts of interest, for processing cases, and even for judgment writing. Once the invasion ends, we will still be there, standing with Ukrainians, to help them restore their judicial system.

    Canada can indeed be proud of its laws and legal institutions. They reflect the diversity of its people, as well as their different legal traditions. This includes the common law and civil law, and even longer-standing Indigenous traditions. Canadian law is also influenced by international...

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