Dickson, Brian (1916–98)

Canadian Supreme Court Chief Justice Robert George Brian Dickson was born in Yorkton on May 25, 1916. After attaining an LLB from the University of Manitoba in 1938, he enlisted in the armed forces and served overseas in World War II. Wounded in 1944, Dickson returned home to practice and lecture in law. After serving on both Manitoba’s Court of Queen’s Bench and Court of Appeal, he was appointed in 1973 to the Supreme Court of Canada, and became its Chief Justice in 1984. Dickson presided over some of the most important and controversial judicial decisions of late 20th-century Canada, including: striking down part of Quebec’s language law (Bill 101) in 1988, a move circumvented when Quebec invoked the notwithstanding clause; the 1985 ruling that Cabinet decisions were subject to judicial review; the decision to remove abortion from the Criminal Code in 1988; and the landmark 1989 ruling that a fetus cannot be legally recognized as a person.

Upon retirement in 1990, Dickson continued to work for legal, military, political and civil reform. He chaired committees and advised on Aboriginal rights, military justice, the North American Free Trade Agreement, and civil justice. Dickson was still working, attending meetings even in ill health, when he died on October 17, 1998.

Merle Massie


Further Reading

Macdonald, M. 1999. The Dam the Drought Built. Regina: Canadian Plains Research Center.