A Passion for Justice: The Legacy of James Chalmers McRuer
Patrick Boyer's portrait of James Chalmers McRuer (1890-1985), one of Canada's most outstanding jurists, sets out to discover the character of the man who played a key role in the evolution of Canadian law. His career of more than fifty years included service on the Archambault Royal Commission on Penal Reform from 1936 to 1938. He was appointed judge on the Ontario Court of Appeal in 1944, chief justice of the Ontario High Court in 1945, and from 1964 to 1971 he was head of the Royal Commission Inquiry into Civil Rights. From 1964 to 1977 he was chairman and later vice-chairman of the Ontario Law Reform Commission. The commission, the first such body in the British Commonwealth, was created largely through his efforts. He was its moving spirit for more than a decade, and his work on it was his most important legacy to future generations.
The driving spirit behind McRuer was his passion for justice, rising from his conviction that the justice system should serve the oppressed, regardless of their ability to pay. As a law reformer, McRuer saw a pressing need to adapt the law so that it could better serve all people in the changed conditions of the twentieth century. He possessed a sharp sensitivity to the often hidden injustices existing in an advanced industrial society and a bureaucratic state.
In his pursuit of the impulses that fuelled McRuer's career, Boyer reveals the anomalies within the man who was committed to penal reform but was known as 'Hanging Jim' for his readiness to send people to the gallows. A curious personal insensitivity was combined with legendary kindness. Not many people know that it was James Chalmers McRuer who `discovered' the tenor Jon Vickers, and rescued him from a job at Kresge's to send him to the Royal Conservatory of Music in Toronto.
McRuer in his judgments and in his public work, articulated much that underlies the sense of Canadian law.
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