National Treasure #140: Thomas Berger

Here come da Judge. – Laugh-In recurring schtick

Before being appointed to the BC Supreme Court in 1971, Thomas Berger was a lawyer and a politician:

  • NDP Member of Parliament (1962 – 1963)
  • NDP Member of the Legislative Assembly of BC (1966 – 1969)
  • Leader of the provincial NDP (1969)

He led the Mackenzie Valley Pipeline Inquiry, and in 1977 this Royal Commission recommended against the proposed pipeline and suggested an alternate route, which was approved but has not yet been used.

On Berger’s recommendations, the Government of Canada rejected the Arctic Gas pipeline proposal, established wilderness parks in the Northern Yukon to protect the Porcupine caribou herd and agreed to a moratorium on major development in the region and the settlement of Aboriginal land claims. In 1977, it was unheard of to rule against economic benefit in favour of Aboriginal peoples and the environment, and the outcome is still considered a landmark victory today. – Peter C. Allard School of Law, Alumni Profiles

His legal, political, judicial, and post-judicial careers have been characterized by a consistent focus.

Berger considered teaching and journalism before choosing law, and he made his choice without anticipating the kinds of cases he would take on during his career. “I was animated by a belief,” he writes in his memoirs, One Man’s Justice, “and now it is a profound belief — that the law as enforced in the courts can move us incrementally towards a just society.” – Peter C. Allard School of Law, Alumni Profiles


Thanks to Marilyn Smith for suggesting Judge Berger for this list.

This entry was posted in Appreciating Deeply, Through Canada and tagged . Bookmark the permalink.

8 Responses to National Treasure #140: Thomas Berger

  1. Tom Watson says:

    Your tribute to Thomas Berger leaves me with a question: Are we still moving incrementally towards a just society? On my good days, I think so. On other days, well…

    I guess there’s an associated question: What would a truly just society look like? Plato defined justice as “giving each part its due.” Is that it? Or something else?

    It’s Sunday. I have more questions than answers.

    • Isabel Gibson says:

      Tom – I think it was Richard Feynman who said he’d rather have questions that can’t be answered than answers that can’t be questioned. So ask away!

  2. Laurna Tallman says:

    I am glad to see the expression of belief of one person “inside the system” that the law can move our society closer to a just one, because my experience of the law is that it is being used primarily as an instrument of control, not as an opportunity to remedy the injustices inherent in the existing laws.

    • Isabel Gibson says:

      Laurna – They say that eternal vigilance is the price of freedom: so, too, perhaps, is it the price of justice.

  3. Tom Watson says:

    Re Richard Feynman saying that “he’d rather have a question…” I am reminded of something Northrup Frye once said: “The function of an answer is to lead to the next question.”

    • Isabel Gibson says:

      Tom – Small children go through a phase like that. Presumably Northrup Frye had something less fatiguing in mind.

  4. Tom Watson says:

    Frye was a pretty rigorous scholar, and an ever-inquiring mind, so not sure.

    Your reference to small children reminds me of when my grandson Clark was about 4. He asked me something and I explained it to him, to which he asked “Why?” and I explained that, and we went on a couple of more rounds until I said, “Clark, why do you think it is?” And he capped it off with looking at me and saying, “I ask the questions.”

    • Isabel Gibson says:

      Tom – That’s hysterical. That sort of quickness is (usually) valued in adults, but can be a bit trying in children.

Comments are closed.