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tution and the courts, as minorities must, to protect their rights. In a democracy
you don’t put minority rights up for auction.”
One of the very last things Tom did was come to the defence of Sir
Matthew Baillie Begbie, British Columbia’s first judge. He did not think a
colonial judge was an appropriate symbol for the legal profession in the 21st
century, nor did he want the Law Society to restore the statue of Begbie that
the benchers had removed from the foyer of the Law Society building. But
he thought that both the report the benchers had acted upon, and the manner
in which they announced their decision, were flawed. Remaining silent
about what he saw as unjust treatment was inconsistent with everything he
stood for, notwithstanding that some of his admirers might not understand.
As he put it at the end of his mover’s statement in support of the resolution
he put to the Law Society membership at the AGM in October 2020, he
wanted a “fair trial for Matthew Baillie Begbie”—which of course is what he
wanted for everyone.
There is so much more to say. But I want to end by emphasizing that Tom
was a good friend of UVic Law. Going through 40 years of files, I was frankly
surprised by how often he appears. It is easy to forget some of the contributions
of those who contribute so much. Among other things, Tom worked
on cases with faculty members, spent a term with us at one point and was
front and centre at conferences organized by faculty and students to commemorate
the 30th and 40th anniversaries of the landmark Calder case. Perhaps
most importantly, a direct line can be drawn from the Calder case and
the Mackenzie Valley Pipeline Inquiry in the 1970s to the establishment of
the four-year J.D./J.I.D. program here at the University of Victoria more
than 40 years later. It is the first joint common law/Indigenous law degree
in the world, and is a timely development in this era of truth and reconciliation.
It is also the product of the hard work and imagination of so many
people, Indigenous and non-Indigenous alike. But its embryo was in the
determination of the Nisga’a and their lawyer, and the Dene and the commissioner
who listened, all those years ago. Students at UVic who study
Canadian and Cree criminal law, and Canadian and Gitxsan property law,
are descendants, not only of such organizations as the Allied Indian Tribes
of British Columbia (1916–1927), but of Tom Berger and the many First
Nations and other Indigenous peoples whom he represented.
The Faculty of Law at the University of Victoria wishes to extend our condolences
to Tom’s family and friends, and to express the hope that knowing
that so many grieve along with them will be some small comfort as they
come to terms with their loss.
Readers are encouraged to visit <www.theatreoffire.org>, which commemorates
Tom’s life and career.