Honorary Degree Citation - Thomas R. Berger

by Marcel Danis, June 1994

Mr. Chancellor, I have the honour to present to you Thomas R. Berger, Q.C., an accomplished jurist from the province of British Columbia and prominent champion of Human and particularly, Aboriginal Rights in Canada.

Mr. Berger practiced law from 1957 to 1971 in the city of Vancouver after graduating from the University of British Columbia in 1956 with a Bachelor of Arts and a Bachelor of Laws degree. During this time, he was active in public life and served as the Member of Parliament from Vancouver-Burrard from 1962 to 1963, and as MLA for Vancouver-Burrard from 1966 to 1969.

Mr. Berger was appointed to the Supreme Court of British Columbia in 1971, the youngest Judge appointed to the Court in this century. While on the bench, Mr. Justice Berger continued to play major roles in public service. From 1974 to 1977, he headed the MacKenzie Valley Pipeline Inquiry to study the social, environmental and economic impact of the proposed Arctic Gas Pipeline. His work pioneered the struggle of Native peoples for protection against the incursion by technology and capital. As a result, the Government of Canada rejected the Arctic Gas Pipeline proposal. In addition, Mr. Justice Berger received a Distinguished Achievement Award from the Sierra Club of North America in 1978, and was named an honourary member of the Engineering Institute of Canada in 1979.

Durant son passage à la magistrature, Monsieur Berger a présidé deux autres commissions royales d'enquête: la première, en 1973-1974, sur le droit de la famille et de l'enfant, créée par le gouvernement de la Colombie-Britannique, et la seconde, en 1979, sur les régimes de santé des Amérindiens et des Inuits.

Conventional wisdom would have seen Mr. Justice Berger continue his service to Canada from the bench. His most remarkable principles and commitment are not at all conventional.

After Mr. Justice Berger's public intervention, instrumental in the inclusion of Aboriginal Rights in the new Canadian Constitution in 1981, he resigned from the bench in 1983. He sought the freedom to speak on questions of Human Rights. In August of that year, citizen Berger headed the Alaska Native Review Commission sponsored by two international organizations of Aboriginal Peoples, the Inuit Circumpolar Conference and the World Council of Indigenous Peoples.

From 1983 to 1986, he taught law at the University of British Columbia and continues to act on behalf of Native People, and to speak out and arbitrate fundamental Human Rights issues.

Douze universités lui ont rendu hommage; et en 1990, l'Ordre du Canada lui a décerné le titre d'officier. Personnellement, je ne saurais trop souligner son dévouement inlassable à la promotion des droits de la personne dont il a fait le cheval de bataille de toute une vie.

Mr. Chancellor, it is my privilege and a personal pleasure to present to you, on behalf of the Senate and by the authority of the Board of Governors, Thomas R. Berger, Q.C., so that you may confer on him the degree of Doctor of Laws, honoris causa.