The announcement that Chief Justice Brian Dickson would be taking early retirement brought a chorus of praise for his accomplishments. James MacPherson, Dean of the Osgoode Hall Law School said, “I think he will be remembered as the most outstanding judge who ever served on the Supreme Court of Canada. He’ll be remembered personally and professionally for his great humanity and his kindness, compassion and sensitivity for the disadvantaged in Canadian society.”
Peter Russell, a political scientist at the University of Toronto, made a similar comment. “I think he’s probably our greatest Chief Justice. He was superlative both on the administrative side and as a jurist. He really brought the court to the highest point it ever reached.”
Edward Ratushny of the University of Ottawa Law School said that he was an excellent leader during the most important time in the history of the court. “He led by example intellectually. In the early Charter decisions, he set a tone the whole court followed: he was bold and progressive, but kept a sense of responsibility and never went off half-cocked.”
Other observers stressed just those qualities that MacPherson stressed – his humanity and compassion. In 1986, for example, he took the position that the individual rights of workers should take precedence over those of shopkeepers who wanted to open on Sundays. “Going on a picnic with your children is a right that we balanced against the right to shop on a Sunday, and a merchant’s right to sell on a Sunday. I thought (going on a picnic) was a pretty important value. …I place that very high on my list of considerations.”
In spite of such evidence of his humanitarian feelings (and many more examples were forthcoming), acclaim must be severely qualified. A person can hardly speak for human values when he finds it possible to defend the slaughter of the innocent.
As an example of Dickson’s so-called wise humanity, the newspapers selected the most noteworthy sentences in his written judgment in Morgentaler:
Section 251 clearly interferes with a woman’s bodily integrity in both a physical and emotional sense. Forcing a woman, by threat of criminal sanction, to carry a fetus to term unless she meets certain criteria unrelated to her own priorities and aspirations, is a profound interference with a woman’s body and thus a violation of security of the person.
Pregnancy is still the natural result of intercourse. Birth is a natural consequence of pregnancy. It is not natural for a woman to want to kill her own child, born or unborn. It is flagrantly wrong for a Chief Justice to succumb to the feminist propaganda that makes it seem that a baby is an unwelcome parasite in its mother.
Chief Justice Dickson had an inadequate understanding of the natural law and of human responsibilities. Writing of the 1968 Morgentaler decision, the late Canadian philosopher George Grant called it a victory for those who believe in the triumph of the will. Its advocates, he said, “give us a taste now of what politics will be like when influential groups in society think meaning is found in getting what they want most deeply at all costs. They illustrate what pressure this puts upon a legal system rooted in liberalism, whose leaders have not been educated in what that rootedness comprises. Even its highest ranks the legal system in its unthinking liberalism simply flounders in the face of those who find meaning in the triumph of the will.”
To put it simply, Canada’s highest court floundered in the face of those who insist that goodness and justice must be put aside when the will of an individual woman is in question. “When society puts power in the hands of the courts,” Grant said, “they had better be educated.” His implication was clear: the Supreme Court is not educated, and that is in large part the Chief Justice’s fault. If he determined the course the Court would follow, as his admirers say, he led it in the wrong direction on this most basic issue.