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Tuesday, October 05, 1999

Retiring justice predicts vast new legal frontier in 21st century as Arbour sworn in to Supreme Court
Janice Tibbetts
Southam News

Fred Chartrand, The Canadian Press
Louise Arbour was sworn in as a Supreme Court justice at a small ceremony in Ottawa yesterday.

OTTAWA - Court fights over cloning, reproductive technology and genetic engineering will be the legal frontier of the 21st century, predicts Antonio Lamer, chief justice of the Supreme Court of Canada.

"In addition to the obvious moral and ethical concerns, one can only imagine the vexing legal issues that may arise from scientific developments in these areas," the retiring justice said in a speech yesterday welcoming Justice Louise Arbour as his court's newest judge.

"I will be leaving it to this court, including its newest member, to deal with the legal problems of the next millennium."

Battles over reproductive technologies are beginning in the United States but have yet to make their way into Canadian courtrooms.

In Chicago, for instance, an estranged couple went to court last month in a custody battle over frozen embryos. The case pitted a woman, who wanted to be implanted, against her former partner, who did not want to be forced into fatherhood.

Judge Lamer, who did not elaborate, predicted the battle in Canada will take shape in cases involving intellectual property, family law and regulatory law.

Other areas that will become part of the new legal order will include telecommunications and information technology, said the chief justice, who retires in January after 20 years on the Supreme Court.

He cited an example involving a malpractice suit that he said "is not in the slightest far-fetched, even at present."

What would happen, he asked, if a Canadian citizen received medical treatment at Mount Everest from a paramedic who sent computer-generated data by satellite to a cardiologist in the United States for analysis and diagnosis?

"Against whom, in what jurisdiction, in which court, applying which country's laws and what forms of evidence could a medical malpractice suit be brought in such circumstances?"

Judge Arbour, who joined the court yesterday after more than two years as head of the international war crimes tribunal in The Hague, said she does not yet have a sense of legal issues in the next century.

Judge Lamer's assessment of the future of Canadian law "is very plausible but there is also a kind of science fiction quality to it," she said in an interview.

Judge Lamer's glimpse into the next century also included a prediction that the Supreme Court will continue to iron out contemporary issues through the next decade, including rights for gays, women and the disabled, as well as aboriginal and treaty rights and legal responsibilities among family members.

"I soon will be watching all of this from the sidelines with great interest, and I confess, more than a little relief," said Judge Lamer, 66, who was named chief justice in 1990.

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