Some Canadian Commissions of Inquiry

AuthorEd Ratushny
chapter three
Some Canadian Commissions
of Inquiry
The previous chapter discussed the nature and purpose of commis-
sions of inquiry by analyzing the characteristics that permit them to
perform their unique “residual” role within our system of government.
This chapter will add some f‌lesh to that analysis by describing a broad
range of commissions that have been established over the past few
decades. Since they are ad hoc bodies that complete their business and
expire, it is diff‌icult to appreciate their collective contribution to Can-
adian society.
A few years ago, the Literary Review of Canada compiled a list “of the
100 most important Canadian books, chosen by a panel of experts.1 The
list contains six royal commission reports! The f‌irst of these was L ord
Durham’s report, describ ed brief‌ly in the f‌irst section of the previous
chapter. The second is the report of the Kellock-Taschereau Commis-
sion into the communication of “Secret and Conf‌idential Information
to Agents of a Foreign Power” (1946). This commission was established
following the defection of Igor Gouzenko, a cipher clerk at the Soviet
embassy in Ottawa, who provided documentation of spying activity to
the RCMP. Both commissioners, R.L. Kellock and Robert Taschereau,
1 Matt Goerzen, “List of Top 100 Books Ref‌lects Literary ‘Backbone’ of Canada” Ot-
tawa Citizen (18 November 2005).
34 the conduct of public inquiries
were judges of the Supreme Court of C anada at the time. Although the
hearings were held entirely in secret, the subsequent release of their
proceedings revealed extremely unfair treatment of witnesses. The re-
port led to numerous criminal convictions, including of a C ommunist
member of Parliament, and spawned a number of books when the docu-
mentation was made public some thirty-f‌ive years later.
The other commissions listed are:
The Massey-Lévesque Commission on National Development In •
the Arts, Letters and Sciences (1951), which examined Canadian
cultural identity and the protection of its independence from the
United States.
The Hall Commission on Health Services (1964), which led to the •
adoption of a system of universal health care in Canada.
The Laurendeau-Dunton Commission on Bilingualism and Bicultur-•
alism (1967), which ultimately led to the establishment of legal and
constitutional rights to bilingual services and the recognition of
“multiculturalism” as a feature of Canadian society.
The Macdonald Commission on Economic Union and Development •
Prospects (1985), which led to the Canada-United States Free Trade
The last three are described more fully below.
It has been a challenge to determine which commissions to select for
this overview because of their diversity as well as their sheer numbers,
at both the federal and provincial levels. The descriptions are very brief
and general, in contrast to the reports themselves and the media re-
ports, scholarly articles, and books written about them. But they should,
cumulatively, provide a good sense of how commissions of inquiry have
been deployed in Canada in the past and the circumstances that led to
their creation. There are unique features and experiences associated
with each of them.
This overview will also provide a broad context for the more detailed
analysis in the chapters that follow. To assist the reader, they have been
grouped into f‌ive broad categories that describe their general roles.
These categories are:
Investigative Inquiries that inquire into specif‌ic events and the •
related conduct of those involved;
Some Canadian Commissions of Inquiry 35
Policy/Advisory Commissions that examine broader societal issues •
and advise governments on how these should be addressed through
public policy;
Wrongful-Conviction Inquiries that inquire into the factors that •
resulted in the criminal conviction of an innocent person;
Inquiries Investigating Crimes; and•
Ongoing Inquiry Bodies that are not commissions of inquiry but •
have similar powers to conduct inquiries on an ongoing basis.
When conducting investigative inquiries, a commission generally exam-
ines events that have occurred in the past and determines how they
came about. Usually the inquiry must also examine the conduct of indi-
viduals associated with those events in order to reach its conclusions.
The Landreville Inquiry examined the conduct of a superior court judge
and the Stevens Inquiry examined that of a federal Cabinet minister.
The Westray Inquiry investigated the tragedy of a mine explosion and
the Walkerton Inquiry that of the contamination of a community’s water
supply. The Somalia Inquiry was to investigate the behaviour of Can-
adian troops deployed on a peacekeeping mission and, particularly, the
torture and killing of a Somali teenager, but it was unable to complete
its mandate.
1) Landreville
Leo A. Landreville was a very successful lawyer in Sudbury, Ontario,
with a thriving law practice and many lucrative investments. He was
elected as mayor in 1954 and appointed as a superior court judge in 1956.
The story of his downfall is told in William Kaplan’s fascinating book Bad
Judgment: The Case of Mr. Justice Leo A. Landreville.2
At the time of his appointment, all superior court judges in Ontario
were required to live in Toronto where they had their off‌ices, in Os-
goode Hall. They heard cases throughout the province by going “on
circuit.” Justice Landreville might be described as “f‌lashy ” in his life-
style, with a villa in Mexico, garish off‌ice furnishings, and Cadillac car,
2 Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 1996.

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