Chief justice and proud alumnus

Justice Richard Wagner, smiling and wearing his Supreme Court robe with ermine collar as another justice applauds

"Here I received first-rate training in law while forging friendships that have stood the test of time."

— Chief Justice Richard Wagner

"The Faculty of Law at the University of Ottawa is unique"

Justice Richard Wagner was sworn in as chief justice of the Supreme Court of Canada in December 2017. In keeping with its tradition of celebrating new appointments to the Court, the Faculty of Law had the pleasure in January 2013 of welcoming him back to the University where he earned his political science and civil law degrees. Below are excerpts from his remarks at that event, which was attended by all nine Supreme Court justices.

The ceremony this evening has taken on special significance: as luck would have it, if we can even speak of luck, I am the first student of the Faculty to be named to the highest court in the land. And believe me, I am very proud of this distinction.

My appointment to the Supreme Court represented something of a homecoming for me. You must understand that the University of Ottawa is closely tied to the careers of several of my family members: my father Claude was an alumnus; my sister Johanne earned her bachelor’s degree in social sciences here, and my daughter Catherine earned her degree in civil law and common law here as well.

Headshot of a young Richard Wagner in a university yearbook

1978-1979 Faculty of Law yearbook

I myself earned a bachelor’s degree in social sciences and my licentiate in civil law here in 1978 and 1979 respectively. In short, I don’t believe that I am stretching the truth to say that I am coming home. I am happy to see that the Faculty continues to excel, distinguishing itself from other Canadian law faculties thanks to a curriculum that reflects a global perspective. Here I received first-rate training in law while forging friendships that have stood the test of time.

The Faculty of Law at the University of Ottawa is unique. It is one of the largest law faculties in the country, one that provides legal training in both common law and civil law under one roof, and in Canada’s two official languages. And so it’s with great pride that I note that in an increasingly globalized world where knowledge is becoming more universal, the two sections of the University of Ottawa’s Faculty of Law have not shied away from this international perspective, preparing their students by offering them a modern academic background without sacrificing the excellence of the Faculty’s professional curriculum.

With this in mind, I would like to share with you an anecdote that will surely interest current students of this university. As part of my duties with the Montreal Bar Association some years ago, I had occasion to share information about our legal system with representatives from other jurisdictions, many of which were located in Europe. I was told, many times, that young Canadian jurists were highly sought-after and appreciated by international organizations, such as the International Criminal Court or other similar organizations.

Justice Richard Wagner in his Supreme Court robes

Photo credit: Andrew Balfour/Supreme Court of Canada

These representatives confirmed that the bilingualism of these Canadian legal professionals, along with their familiarity with both civil and common law, were significant assets, not to mention that they were also well versed in how to examine and cross-examine witnesses, techniques not normally familiar to those who come from a strictly civil law background.

In my time, the practice of law was limited to one’s own province and rarely took us abroad. Today’s young legal professionals can legitimately look to occupy functions that will give them a leg up internationally. The University of Ottawa continues to progress in this direction and remains at the forefront of educating students whose career options, both here and abroad, are correspondingly enhanced.

Read the full text of his remarks in the Ottawa Law Review or listen to a recording of the event.


A dozen smiling men and women sitting or standing around a couch in a book-lined office

Richard Wagner (at left) with other Supreme Court justices and University of Ottawa law faculty deans at a reception on campus in 2015.



"Modest and approachable"

Céline Lévesque, Dean of the Faculty of Law, Civil Law Section:

The students, staff members and professors of the Civil Law Section are very proud of Justice Wagner’s appointment. Since the beginning of my term in 2014, Justice Wagner has always responded positively to our invitations and has been generous with his time. Even though he is very accomplished, he remains modest and approachable. He truly enjoys his discussions with our students and we could not wish for a better role model for them to emulate. I am convinced that as Chief Justice, he will exercise great leadership while remaining humble.


"Always happy to get involved with his alma mater"

Émie Dubuc (LLL, CO-OP), vice-president, Association de droit constitutionnel des étudiantes et étudiants de l'Université d'Ottawa.

Approachable and attentive are two qualities that come to mind when I think of Chief Justice Richard Wagner. He enthusiastically agreed to give a lecture to the Association de droit constitutionnel des étudiantes et étudiants en droit civil de l'Université d'Ottawa (an association of uOttawa civil law students interested in constitutional law). He is always happy to get involved with his alma mater.




Richard Wagner reads the oath of office from a certificate held by a woman, as Julie Payette and Justin Trudeau look on

Richard Wagner (BSocSc '78, LLL '79) is sworn in as Canada's Supreme Court chief justice in the presence of Governor General Julie Payette and Prime Minister Justin Trudeau. Photo: MCpl Vincent Carbonneau / Rideau Hall


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