Viscount Bennett | News and Events | Spring & Summer 2022 | NEXUS Magazine | The Faculty of Law | UNB

Global Site Navigation (use tab and down arrow)

Faculty of Law
UNB Fredericton

Back to NEXUS Magazine

Chief Justice Richard Wagner discusses diversity of legal traditions at the 42nd Viscount Bennett lecture

On April 7th, The Right Honourable Richard Wagner, Chief Justice of Canada gave the forty-second instalment of the Viscount Bennett Memorial Lecture. The topic was Reflections on Diversity of Legal Traditions in Canadian Law. The event, which had over 100 in attendance, was long-awaited by many, having been postponed twice due to COVID-19 restrictions.

“It was incredible to see the Mary Louise Lynch room full again,” said Prof. Jane Thomson, a member of the Speaker’s Committee. “Our students have been through a lot over the past few years; the live lecture felt like a return to a normal and important part of the law school experience.”

Those in attendance included The Hon. Brenda L. Murphy (ONB), Lieutenant-Governor and her honour, Linda Boyle, The Hon. J. C. Marc Richard (LLB ‘83), Chief Justice of New Brunswick, The Hon. Tracey K. Deware (LLB ‘94), Chief Justice of the Court of Queen’s Bench, members of the local courts, representatives from the Law Society and local Bar, alumni, and of course, a room full of UNB Law students, who had been anxiously awaiting the Chief Justice’s visit.

This event marked not only the first major event to be held in the law building since 2020, but it also marked the first Viscount Bennett Lecture to feature a sitting Chief Justice of the Supreme Court of Canada.

Chief Justice Wagner’s lecture focused on the importance of encouraging diversity in law. He describes the Canadian Judicial system as one that reflects the diversity of its people through the incorporation of different legal traditions, such as common law, civil law, international law, and indigenous law. The lecture highlighted the need for legal diversity to ensure equal representation within the legal system and to act as a tool for courts to complete a more thorough analysis.

According to the Chief Justice, “the existence of different legal traditions is one of the strengths of the Canadian judicial system,” because it enables Canadian judges to look beyond one system of law in their decisions.

This method has been adopted by Canada’s highest court on several occasions. For example, Chief Justice Wagner referenced the reliance on civil law techniques to resolve the 2020 Supreme Court of Canada case, CM Callow Inv v Zollinger. He also cited the landmark judgment from 2014, Tsilhqot’in v British Columbia, where the Supreme Court relied on comparing aboriginal practices to common law practices in order to define the law surrounding aboriginal title. Furthermore, customary international law was incorporated into Canadian law via the doctrine of adoption in the 2020 Supreme Court decision of Nevsun Resources Ltd v Araya.

Chief Justice Wagner dedicated the second half of the evening to something he values greatly when travelling on behalf of the Court, interacting with students. He answered students’ questions on topics including the impact of the pandemic on the justice system and particularly access to justice, the role of the Supreme Court in reconciliation, the importance of regional representation on the Court, consensus and dissent among the judges, his time as Administrator of Canada in the absence of a Governor-General, and the experience of taking the Court on the road to Winnipeg.

The final question answered by the Chief Justice was on the qualities and values that a young lawyer being called to the bar today should bring to the profession. Chief Justice Wagner left UNB Law students—and all young lawyers—with the following advice; “It is a privilege to be a lawyer; trust your instincts, have confidence in your means, and don’t undermine the possibility that you have. Second, I would say, try to do some probono work. You will grow yourself in doing that, and you will help others.”

UNB Law would like to thank Chief Justice Wagner for making the 42nd Viscount Bennett such a memorable experience for the law school, and his staff team—particularly Renée Thériault, Executive Legal Officer—for their hard work in organizing this event. Thank you to Prof. Jane Thomson for moderating the Q&A, and to Prof. Anne La Forest for inviting Chief Justice Wagner to UNB Law.

To watch Chief Justice Wagner’s full lecture and Q&A, please visit the UNB Law YouTube channel or Facebook page. A transcript of the lecture will also be published in the 73rd edition of the UNB Law Journal.

By Adora Bustard

Continue reading this issue of NEXUS