Claude Wagner was a lot of things in his cancer-shortened life: lawyer, prosecutor, judge, Quebec cabinet minister, federal Conservative leadership candidate, senator.
And, it would seem, a father who could inspire greatness. His son, Richard, publicly took the oath as the newest member of the Supreme Court of Canada on Monday and paid tribute to his formidable father.
“His generosity and noble spirit always inspired me to follow in his steps,” Justice Richard Wagner of Quebec told a formal gathering in the main courtroom of the Supreme Court. “He will always be my hero.”
The 55-year-old Judge Wagner is the middle child of his father, who died in 1979 at the age of 54. The new justice, whose mother died 20 years ago, said he wished his parents could have attended the regal ceremony that marked his arrival.
Before he addressed the gathering, a series of speakers heralded him as very much his own man: an accomplished lawyer and judge, a fierce defender of an independent judiciary, a champion of accessible justice for all and a writer of clearly articulated rulings that avoid legalese.
As Judge Wagner took his seat at the end of the nine-member bench, clad in the red robe, trimmed in white, which marks a justice, he affirmed his commitment to the law and outlined his philosophy towards it.
And he offered a few, concise words about his father.
“He was the first person to inspire me in my choice of career,” Judge Wagner said. “He taught me to keep my head up high during good times and in bad times.
“His strength of character allowed me to accomplish many things in a very short period of time. I think about him every day.”
He cited his new boss, Chief Justice Beverley McLachlin, as another inspiration.
Judge Wagner referred to a 2008 speech Judge McLachlin gave to Quebec lawyers in which she said judicial decisions must reflect contemporary realities and contribute to a peaceful, prosperous future where rights are affirmed and the rule of law is respected.
Judge Wagner was actually sworn in at a private ceremony shortly after he was appointed earlier this fall by the Conservative government.
“Though the time has been brief, our new colleague has already demonstrated a passion for the law and an innate curiosity, qualities that foreshadow a career at the Supreme Court of great judicial distinction,” the chief justice said Monday.
Judge Wagner appeared before a House of Commons committee in October where his appointment to the Supreme Court was vetted by MPs.
Judge McLachlin said she was struck by Judge Wagner’s testimony there.
“Justice must not be without a soul. And it must always, first and foremost, respond to the needs of those being tried,” said Judge McLachlin.
“This is a noble, generous justice, an efficient justice. These words perfectly sum up the spirit that he is bringing to the Supreme Court.”