Roger writing the LAWmag
Nov 2011

Christine Tourigny,Vous Nous Manquez

Twenty-five years is a long time in any endeavour.

It is a milestone traditionally marked by lawyers, often as the beginning of the end or the end of the beginning. It is, though, and in any event, an occasion for reflecting on the people that have shaped their practise of law. For each 25-year old black gown, the mentors are different.

The Judge

Christine Tourigny graduated from the law school at the Université de Laval in Quebec City in 1966 and arrived upon a Barreau du Québec with very few women. She bounced around in private practise for a decade and was a founder of the Quebec City Bar Association.

In 1979, she was appointed deputy minister within the Government of Quebec, the first female deputy minister, ever, in the Province.

Chrtsine Tourigny and Baie-Comeau courtroomFrom 1982 to 1985, Christine Tourigny was a senior lawyer with the Quebec Attorney General.

Then, she "got the call" as part of the discreet initiative of the Progressive Conservative government of Brian Mulroney to feminize the bench of superior-level courts in Canada. Christine Tourigny became Votre Segneurie, Madame la juge Christine Tourigny when she was appointed to the Superior Court of Quebec in 1985.

To get her feet wet and to avoid potential recusations given fresh professional lawyer-lawyer relationships in Quebec City, the Court administrator sent her to outlying areas of the province, such as Baie-Comeau.

The Lawyer

There, on a cold day, early 1986, was a junior lawyer with Sabourin Corriveau Nadeau Tremblay Francoeur Dionne et associés, an over-confident, wet-behind-the-ears bilingual barrister.

I had a family law client who came to see me explaining that his former wife was moving some 500 miles away - to Val d'Or - and bringing their two young sons with her. The father had, and was exercising extensive visitation rights, practically shared custody and was despondent with the prospect of his sons moving so far away. The children were almost teenagers and had expressed to their father that they would prefer staying in their home town with him.

We prepared an emergency  petition to the Cour Supérieur and I drew a new appointee, Christine Tourigny.

Good: it would be rookie and rookie, in the bright, wood-panelled Baie-Comeau court house; my familiar church of law and justice.

Mid-way through my opening submissions, I indicated that the children would be called to testify as to their preferences. That immediately brought an interruption from the bench as Justice Tourigny politely but firmly indicated that she would not allow the children to testify, citing a new section of the Civil Code.

I was aware of this amendment but also of the still-fresh Charter of Rights and Freedoms, still all the rage in Canada`s courtrooms. I questioned the constitutionality of the legislation which clearly discriminated on the basis of age.

She then recessed and asked to see me in Chambers.


This was unusual. What had I done? One of my very first cases and already I was to be privately chastised by a judge? Had I been too forceful? Was I going to be disbarred?

On my way there, I caucused with my client, who was in tears. He was very angry and wanted to speak up in court. He wanted to criticize the judge's refusal to hear his two sons.

"How dare she! Who the hell does she think she is! Why can't my boys testify? They want to stay with me!"

There were a few tabernacs and hosties thrown in (Baie-Comeau is a blue collar town).

I told him to stay calm, that I would see why the judge had convened me to chambers and report back to him.

In chambers, privately with me, the judge explained that in her opinion, the children were too young for their evidence to be taken. I replied that they were in their early teens, this was their lives we were arguing about, and that she should hear them first before deciding that.

She took my polite but firm barrage politely but added that if I were to continue my constitutional arguments that she would have to be recuse herself as she had, in a previous life been a Québec attorney-general lawyer and she had actually drafted the contested section of the Civil Code!

This was a far more important problem because time was of the essence for my client (the move was scheduled for that week).

I told the judge that my client was despondent. But this judge had a unique soft, wise, caring and articulate manner.

I decided to throw caution to the wind and asked her how she would feel about bending the rules and explaining to my client, in chambers, the inclination of the court with regards to the continuity of parental authority under all the circumstances. My thought was that the client would be impressed with a "warmer" communication of what must have seemed like cold rules of law.

I asked the other party's lawyer for permission. They said it was alright and I then told my client. He was warned to be very polite and that the judge had no responsibility to do this (in fact, it is a breach of normal procedures for a client to meet a judge in chambers).1985 Duhaime called to bar notice

Justice Tourigny was very compassionate towards my client. He was able to say his piece, politely, but he left her office still sad but with the impression that justice did, at times, have reasons that the heart might not yet, or ever, understand.

The Judge II

As a young lawyer, I learned a lot that day; that justice was not always black and white or easy; and that judges could be tough yet brilliant, compassionate and adorable. I had her in a few more cases and she was always just the best of judges.

Soon after, we went our separate ways and I never saw her again. I had moved to Ottawa. Back in Quebec, Christine Tourigny was elevated to the Quebec Court of Appeal, where she sat from 1987 to 1998.

On September 16, 1991, for the first time in the British Commonwealth, an all-women panel of judges sat together on a Court of Appeal to hear a case: Justices Tourigny, Louise Mailhot and Therese Rousseau-Houle.

On September 22, 1998, I read in the Victoria, British Columbia newspaper a small news item: Quebec Court of Appeal judge Christine Tourigny had succumbed to a long illness at the age of 55. My entire face dropped. My wife asked me what was wrong and I could only answer:

"Oh, never mind."

Former Supreme Court of Canada justice Claire l'Heureux-Dubé, also from Quebec City, later wrote:

"Christine Tourigny passed away, in the prime of life, a few years ago while she was a member of the Quebec Court of Appeal, where she replaced me when I was appointed to the Supreme Court. She was an ideal colleague, an accomplished jurist who made her mark on the Court of Appeal and within the Bar, which honoured her by establishing the Christine Tourigny Award of Merit (presented by the Quebec Bar every year to a woman lawyer who has made a special contribution to the advancement of the law). Christine was a remarkable woman and a life-long friend whose humanity and intellect I greatly respected and whose friendship enriched my life."

As one small lawyer left the Province to serve prime ministers and other legal adventures that would eventually take him to British Columbia, Madam Justice Christine Tourigny continued to share her kind, thoughtful female ways and wisdom to the Quebec lawyers who were fortunate enough to draw her: a woman's ways and wisdom so welcome to the profession of law and to what ought to never again be the bastion of only men, ways and wisdom that, in small measure, I hope are still large within after 25 years of service to law and justice.

Somewhere, over the Canadian rainbow, twenty-five years later, but a speck on the Canadian legal landscape, a Quebec lawyer practises the common law, an amalgam of the honourables judges Claude Tremblay and Michel Dionne of the Court of Quebec, his lordships Paul Corriveau and Serge Francoeur of the Quebec Superior Court, the Right Hon. Pierre Blais, Chief Justice of the Federal Court of Appeal, and an avocat I am so proud to have articled under, Maître Jean Nadeau.

And to the late Christine Tourigny of the Quebec Court of Appeal to whom I never had a chance to say merci.

Posted in Legal Profession and Lawyers

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