Bora Laskin

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The Right Honourable
Bora Laskin
14th Chief Justice of Canada
In office
December 27, 1973 – March 26, 1984
Nominated by Pierre Trudeau
Preceded by Gérald Fauteux
Succeeded by Brian Dickson
49th Puisne Justice of the Supreme Court of Canada
In office
March 23, 1970 – December 27, 1973
Nominated by Pierre Trudeau
Preceded by Gérald Fauteux
Succeeded by Brian Dickson
Personal details
Born (1912-10-05)October 5, 1912
Fort William, Ontario
Died March 26, 1984(1984-03-26) (aged 71)
Ottawa, Ontario
Spouse(s) Peggy Tenenbaum
Relations Saul Laskin (brother); John B. Laskin (nephew)
Children John, Barbara
Alma mater University of Toronto, Harvard Law School
Profession Lawyer
Religion Judaism

Bora Laskin, PC, CC, FRSC (October 5, 1912 – March 26, 1984) was a Canadian lawyer, academic and judge. He served on the Supreme Court of Canada for fourteen years, including a decade as the fourteenth Chief Justice of Canada.

Early life and family[edit]

Laskin was born in Fort William, Ontario, (now Thunder Bay), the son of Max Laskin and Bluma Zingel.[1] HIs brother, Saul Laskin, went on to become the first mayor of Thunder Bay.

Laskin married Peggy Tenenbaum,[2] and had two children: John, who followed in his father's footsteps and became a judge at the Court of Appeal for Ontario, and Barbara. His grandson (the son of his daughter) carries on his name. His nephew John B. Laskin is a prominent commercial lawyer in Toronto.[3]


Laskin was educated at the University of Toronto , earning a B.A. in 1933, He received the degrees of [[Master of Arts (postgraduate)|M.A].] in 1935 and LL.B. in 1936. While at the University of Toronto, he was a member of Sigma Alpha Mu fraternity.[4] In 1937, he received an LL.M. from Harvard Law School.


Despite his superior academic record, Laskin, who was Jewish, was unable to find work at any law firm of note, because of the anti-Semitism that pervaded the English-Canadian legal profession at the time. As a result, his first job after graduating was writing headnotes (i.e., article synopses) for a legal journal. Ultimately, Laskin decided to pursue his career in academia.

From 1940 to 1965 he taught at the University of Toronto (except for the period 1945 - 1949 when he taught at Osgoode Hall Law School). For twenty-three years he served as associate editor of Dominion Law Reports and Canadian Criminal Cases. He also wrote Canadian Constitutional Law and many other legal texts.

His career on the bench began in 1965 with his appointment to the Court of Appeal for Ontario. On March 19, 1970 he was appointed by Pierre Trudeau to the Supreme Court, becoming the first Jewish justice to sit on that Court. He was appointed Chief Justice by Trudeau on December 27, 1973, a position he held until his death in 1984.

On March 13, 1984 he was made a Companion of the Order of Canada.


Laskin was a liberal jurist who often found himself on the minority side of decisions. His specialty was labour law and constitutional law and he had a reputation as a civil libertarian.

On matters of federalism under the Constitution Act, 1867, Laskin has been considered the most aggressive supporter of the federal powers of any justice since Confederation. This made for a stark contrast with fellow Justice Jean Beetz, who was known as one of the strongest supporters of provincial powers under the Constitution.

In his earlier years on the Supreme Court, Laskin was frequently in dissent. He often took a position that was, years later, adopted by a majority of the Court. Among his most famous dissents was his opinion in Murdoch v. Murdoch, where he was the sole judge to vote in favour of the wife of an abusive husband in a case regarding the division of matrimonial property. The outcome of the case was highly controversial. Years later, Laskin said that the position he took in this case was the likely cause of his promotion to Chief Justice over the more senior Ronald Martland. With Laskin's promotion, the tradition of elevating the most senior Justice to Chief Justice was broken - indeed, Laskin was the most junior member of the Court - for the first time in many years (this was the third such occurrence, the first two such Chief Justices being Charles Fitzpatrick in 1906 and Francis Anglin in 1924).

He presided over a number of landmark cases, most notably the 1981 reference to the Court on Pierre Trudeau's attempt to have the federal government unilaterally patriate the British North America Act without the consent of the provinces (see Canadian Constitution). The Laskin court ruled that while such a unilateral action was technically constitutional, it would also violate the constitutional convention that had emerged since Canadian Confederation. Historian Frederic Bastien suggests that Laskin may have violated the constitutional separation of powers by discussing the deliberations of the court with politicians.[5] As a result of the decision, Trudeau decided to begin a new round of negotiations with the provinces, which resulted in a new Constitution being agreed to by all provinces save Quebec.


Laskin died in office at the age of 71 from pneumonia. A state funeral was offered by Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau but the family declined because Laskin "liked things very simple."[6]

Laskin is buried at Holy Blossom Memorial Park alongside his brother Saul Laskin in Toronto.


See also[edit]

Further reading[edit]

  • Philip Girard, Bora Laskin: Bringing Law to Life (Toronto: The Osgoode Society for Canadian Legal History, 2005).

External links[edit]


  1. ^ Supreme Court of Canada Biography: Bora Laskin
  2. ^ Eli Gottesman and Max Bookman, Who's Who in Canadian Jewry (Toronto: Jewish Institute for Higher Research, 1956), p. 24.
  3. ^ MacCharles, Tonda (2011-05-16). "Harper government to name two new high court judges". Toronto Star. Retrieved 2011-05-16. 
  4. ^ "The Hon. Bora Laskin: A Legendary Force at the University of Toronto". The University of Toronto Faculty of Law. Retrieved 2007-11-23. 
  5. ^ "Rapatriement de 1982: Québec étudie ses recours". La Presse. Retrieved 2013-04-10. 
  6. ^ "Bora Laskin buried". The Leader-Post. March 29, 1984. Retrieved August 24, 2011.