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Former Supreme Court justice Louis LeBel remembered for eloquence, humour, intellect

OTTAWA — Former colleagues of a long-time Supreme Court justice are remembering Louis LeBel as a strong legal mind who was kind with sharing his insights. The former justice died Thursday at the age of 83.
Supreme Court Justice Louis LeBel laughs during his swearing-in ceremony in Ottawa Monday Feb 14, 2000. Former Supreme Court of Canada judge Louis LeBel has passed away after a 60 year career of overseeing hundreds of legal cases. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Tom Hanson

OTTAWA — Former colleagues of a long-time Supreme Court justice are remembering Louis LeBel as a strong legal mind who was kind with sharing his insights.

The former justice died Thursday at the age of 83.

Former prime minister Jean Chrétien appointed LeBel to the country's highest bench in 2000, where he served until his retirement in 2014.

Justice Minister David Lametti said LeBel was an accomplished jurist who was dedicated to advancing the law.

"I salute his service, which changed our country for the better," he said on Twitter. "He will be missed."

Former justice minister Allan Rock, who worked with LeBel at the University of Ottawa, said the former justice "embodied every virtue we prize in our independent and impartial judiciary."

"Justice Lebel was a favourite among counsel because his humility and gentle sense of humour meant that lawyers would receive a thorough hearing, rigorously testing their arguments, but always one marked by civility and good grace," Rock said in a statement.

"A champion of the Charter of Rights and Freedoms, Justice Lebel left behind a legacy of eloquent judgments that upheld and strengthened the rights of the individual when challenged by an over-reaching state."

Rock said LeBel's distinguished career is a testament to how one person can make an enduring difference in the law by being an expert and caring human being.

LeBel received degrees from the Collège des Jésuites in Quebec City, Université Laval and the University of Toronto before being appointed to the Quebec Court of Appeal in 1984.

Colleagues at a Montreal law firm he worked with after stepping down from the bench celebrated his six decades of service to the legal community in 2022.

He was considered a leading voice on labour law in Quebec, and his advocacy and writings on worker and union rights continue to be influential.

Dwight Newman, a legal scholar at the University of Saskatchewan who clerked under LeBel and helped edit a collection of writings on his legal legacy, said the former justice was someone with deep intellect and profound kindness.

"Justice LeBel approached his legal work with a distinctive understanding of how the Constitution mattered not just to individuals but also to groups, including Indigenous groups and various minority groups," Newman said in a statement.

"His love of literature and wide-ranging reading gave him a deep understanding of the human condition that led to a sensitivity in judging, always striving to render the legally right results with attention to all interests at stake."

Chief Justice Richard Wagner said in a statement that LeBel was a man of exemplary collegiality and wisdom whose love for Quebec civil law was unparalleled.

Wagner said LeBel demonstrated the highest regard for the Supreme Court and his legacy will live on in the decisions he wrote on administrative, labour and international law.

President of the Canadian Bar Association Steeves Bujold said in a statement that LeBel was a highly respected judge who "was often described by his former colleagues as a distinguished and sharp-witted legal intellectual."

This report by The Canadian Press was first published June 9, 2023.

David Fraser, The Canadian Press

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