National Post

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Monday, August 23, 1999

Lamer cites collegiality of bench as triumph
Losing passion for his job
Shawn Ohler
National Post


John Lehmann, National Post
Chief Justice Antonio Lamer and his wife, Daniele Tremblay

EDMONTON - Antonio Lamer, the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court of Canada, says his retirement on Jan. 7 will add even more spark to a bench revitalized by the recent appointment of Louise Arbour.

"It's very good to have new blood come in and help us, the old boys," Judge Lamer said this weekend after announcing his decision to leave the Supreme Court in an emotional, tearful speech to the Canadian Bar Association.

Judge Lamer shocked 1,000 delegates at the CBA's five-day annual conference in Edmonton when he said that, at 66, he was beginning to lose "le feu sacre [sacred fire], the necessary enthusiasm of spirit and intellect" needed for sitting on Canada's highest court.

"Having reflected over the summer on my time at the court and the upcoming session, I realized that after the coming term, I will gradually start to lose that degree of enthusiasm, I dare say, of passion, for my work that the litigants and the public deserve to expect in members of the Supreme Court of Canada," he said.

Judge Lamer's announcement immediately fuelled speculation about who would replace him as Chief Justice The most likely successors from within the Supreme Court are said to be Beverley McLachlin, the former chief justice of the British Columbia Supreme Court, and Frank Iacobucci, a former chief justice of the Federal Court of Canada.

Judge Lamer would not comment on his replacement, except to say he hoped the court maintained its increasingly collegial atmosphere upon his departure.

"When I came to the court, judges remained in their chambers and did their thing . . . There was a dialogue, but it wasn't as intense as it today," he said.

"Today, if I write a set of reasons with which a colleague disagrees, that colleague will nevertheless maybe send me a memo or knock on the door and say: 'By the way, I'm not going to be agreeing with you, but you overlooked such a case that is supportive of your position.' "

He also reflected on the ramifications of the Charter of Rights and Freedoms, which gave Canadian jurists unprecedented powers to interpret personal rights and mould laws when it was introduced in 1982.

"I know of many judges who retired on the day they could because of that. They were amongst the older judges, of the older school, and they just could not accept this complete change in our job description."

Fellow judges and lawyers commended Judge Lamer on a 30-year career with the judiciary, the last 10 of which he spent as Chief Justice.

Richard Scott, chief justice of the Manitoba Court of Appeal, said the Supreme Court's backlog of cases has all but disappeared under Judge Lamer's efficient watch.

"The other thing that should not get lost is that he has written many great judgments, and not just concerning the Charter," Judge Scott said.

Barry Gorlick, president of the Canadian Bar Association, said the standing ovation given to Judge Lamer after his surprise disclosure proves his stature among the nation's legalists.

"I think you saw raw emotion from our members. Lawyers have the image of being hard-nosed or jaundiced," Mr. Gorlick said.

"Not when it comes down to the top legal officer in Canada telling us that he's retiring because his work was starting to become a job."

Judge Lamer was coy about his future plans, saying he planned to stay in Ottawa with his wife, Federal Court Justice Daniele Tremblay, wanted to do some fishing and has even toyed with trying his hand at journalism.

"I'm not retiring, it's just that after 30 years in the law, it's enough. I want to pass on to something else," he said.

"I might try to get back at some of you. I think journalism would be interesting. You do command lots of power, but I think not. I'm not a very good writer."

Judge Lamer even managed a last dig at the scores of lawyers who have argued their cases before him. While posing for a photograph in Edmonton's grand railway hotel, the Hotel MacDonald, Judge Lamer sat with his chin in his hands.

"This is what I do," he said, "when I'm listening to a dull lawyer."

He called Ms. Arbour, who will join the court Sept. 15 from her post as chief prosecutor for the International Criminal Tribunals for Rwanda and the former Yugoslavia, "a very able judge" with an international reputation.

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