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August 22, 1999
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Canada's top judge steps down

Tearful Lamer feared losing `the sacred fire'

By William Walker
Toronto Star Ottawa Bureau Chief

OTTAWA - With tears but few regrets, Supreme Court Chief Justice Antonio Lamer has announced he's retiring from a three-decade-long career on the bench.

One of Canada's legal giants will take his retirement next Jan. 7, leaving a gaping hole likely to be filled by British Columbia's Supreme Court Justice Beverley McLachlin, who would make history as the first woman chief justice.


`I have been a priest of the law for a number of years and you don't leave it without a little pang.'
- Supreme Court Chief Justice Antonio Lamer

``I have said to myself, and shared that thought with others, that I would step down when I lost the feu sacré (sacred fire),'' Lamer said in his speech to the Canadian Bar Association in Edmonton yesterday. He defined this fire as ``the necessary enthusiasm of spirit and intellect.''

  • Antonio Lamer profile; Likely successor

  • Lamer, 66, acknowledged the retirement speech was emotional for him. He and several others in the audience of 200 legalists had tears in their eyes.

    ``I have been a priest of the law for a number of years and you don't leave it without a little pang,'' Lamer told The Star later in an interview. He said he hopes to remain busy, possibly by teaching law.

    Lamer's departure also opens the door for Prime Minister Jean Chrétien to appoint a new Supreme Court justice from Quebec. The two frontrunners are Quebec Court of Appeal justices Michel Proulx and Morris Fish, both bilingual and experienced judges.

    The news comes at a time of upheaval for the Supreme Court and marks a retirement at least eight months earlier than the Montreal-born chief justice had planned.

    Justice Ronald Cory is retiring and being replaced by United Nations war crimes tribunal chief prosecutor Louise Arbour. Now the court, already facing a heavy caseload, will have to usher in a new chief justice and a judge to replace Lamer.

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