THE ADVOCATE 553
VOL. 79 PART 4 JULY 2021
By Hamar Foster, Q.C.*
THOMAS RODNEY BERGER, O.C., Q.C.
In December 2020, Tom Berger argued his last case, representing the Peter
Ballantyne Cree Nation in the Saskatchewan Court of Appeal, by video link.
He died four months later, on April 28, 2021, a month after celebrating his
Tom’s important place in B.C. and Canadian history is due mainly to his
nearly six decades of advocating for Aboriginal and treaty rights—as a
lawyer, inquiry commissioner, politician, and writer and speaker. George
Manuel, a founder of the World Council of Indigenous Peoples and a giant
in his own right, said that Tom’s report on the proposed Mackenzie Valley
Pipeline in 1977 was “the best statement on Indian rights to come from any
government since the Europeans first came to Canada”. And that was just
one of Tom’s many, many achievements, so many that I can acknowledge
only some of them here in the course of remembering him primarily for
three qualities: his ability to listen, the strength of his convictions and his
moral courage. These made it possible for him to overcome obstacles and
help to change the nation.
The integrity and eloquence of Tom’s listening is evident in the videos of
the pipeline hearings in the 1970s. Not content to stay in the South, requiring
people to come to him, he travelled throughout the North, visiting every
community, bringing the inquiry to them. As he told a documentary maker:
“What the people of the North are forcing us to do is re-examine the economic
religion of our time, that there should be an ever-expanding cycle of
growth and consumption, that material well-being is the most important
thing in life. They don’t share those goals with us. They’ve made that clear
* Hamar Foster, Q.C., is a professor emeritus at the University of Victoria Faculty of Law. He has an old but trusty sailboat.