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Clyne Harradence in 2006.
Clyne Harradence in 2006.

Saskatchewan lawyer had larger-than-life presence in the courtroom Add to ...

He was a fighter who numerous times persuaded prison rioters to lay down their weapons. He was a showman driven by deeply held principles. “He loved the contest,” as his friend Ralph Goodale said, “and he sought to serve.”

Clyne Harradence, community leader, political contender, great churchman and criminal defence lawyer extraordinaire, died on March 17 at the age of 86.

In the courtroom he was a force of nature. On one occasion in Saskatoon, said Rev. Anthony Burton in his funeral address, “[Harradence]concluded an argument by taking a large knife that had been put into evidence, removing it from its plastic bag, handling it thoughtfully as he spoke, and finally, at the last word of his summation, stabbing it into the front of the jury box, leaving it there quivering before a saucer-eyed juror.”

He was famously aggressive, frequently rattling opposing witnesses and even lawyers to the point that they would make mistakes. Colleague Si Halyk called him “the Wayne Gretzky of the courtroom,” though another lawyer snorted that it might be more apt to compare him to one of the great enforcers – say John Ferguson or Eddie Shack.

Not everyone liked his style, but no one could deny it was effective. A smart and powerful fighter, he understood that a trial is an adversarial process, and he went into the courtroom to win. “You could be Clyne’s best friend,” remembered Saskatoon lawyer Mark Brayford, “but when you were on the other side of the case, don’t expect him to cut you any slack.”

Although Harradence dominated any room he entered, those who knew him best maintained that it was never about him. It was about bringing his larger-than-life energies to the task at hand, which he did unfailingly. Said Brayford, “When you hired Clyne Harradence, you got the best and he did his best.”

Agreed Burton: “He never phoned it in.”

He unquestionably loved a good fight, but Harradence had deeper motivations. Undergirding the theatrics were a passion for justice, a concern for the underdog and a profound belief in the rule of law. He never forgot that the most inarticulate or unlikeable of his clients was a human being. As his family wrote in his death notice, he was “powered by his belief in the principle best summarized by the legendary 20th-century English jurist Lord Denning: ‘True injustice occurs when the defendant is seen by the officers of the court as a docket to be cleared, and not a person accused.’ ”

No matter how determined he was to give his client the best possible chance at acquittal, Harradence never lost sight of right and wrong. Regina lawyer Michael Tochor, who articled with him, told a Prince Albert reporter about a time when a client contemplated changing his testimony. “Clyne erupted on him,” said Tochor, roaring, “ ‘If you think that you’re going to say anything but the absolute truth up on that stand then you’re going to find another lawyer!’ ”

Married to the daughter of the bishop who had confirmed him in the Anglican Church, he remained a deeply committed churchman throughout his life. He served for 42 years as chancellor (legal adviser) to the Diocese of Saskatchewan, largest and northernmost of the three dioceses in the province, and informally chose to act as pro bono solicitor-at-large for all the diocesan clergy. His behind-the-scenes canonical work led to the 1989 election of Canada’s first aboriginal bishop and “accelerated the movement towards indigenous self-determination” in the church, according to Burton.

The diocese honoured him in 2007 with its Order of Saskatchewan. He received the national Anglican Award of Merit the same year, in recognition of the fact that he had also been prolocutor (co-chair) of the general synod for several years, and its vice-chancellor for nearly 20.

A relative of “Cactus Jack” Horner, a federal cabinet minister, Harradence had politics in his blood. He ran three times as a Liberal candidate for Parliament (1979, 1980 and 1984), and while he never won, he did substantially improve his party’s standing in the riding. In 1980 he acted as co-chair of the Liberal Party’s national convention in Winnipeg. A year or so later, when Liberal MP Ralph Goodale’s residency status was challenged following a closely fought by-election, Harradence was called to the member’s aid.

“The Conservatives were represented by their best lawyer, Ron Barclay,” recalled Goodale. “The NDP sent their legendary George Taylor. On the bench was Saskatchewan Chief Justice Fred Johnson. All properly attired. And in the midst of it all sat Clyne,” who had somehow arrived without his court clothes, and had to borrow robes that turned out to be several sizes too small.

“But he knew his briefs, as he always did. He also knew about drama and timing. While the others went on endless fishing expeditions, Clyne asked about five pointed questions that established residency beyond a shadow of a doubt, and brought the whole matter to a crashing halt.”

Many distinguished litigators go on to become judges. But Harradence never did.

Brayford has a theory about that. “I kind of attribute it to the difference between pitching in the World Series and being the umpire.” Harradence just wasn’t the kind of man to sit quietly at the front of the room listening impartially to both sides. “He knew what he was good at, and he was a tremendous barrister.”

Those courtroom skills found a new outlet when he volunteered to serve as negotiator in a hostage-taking incident at the Saskatchewan Penitentiary in Prince Albert. Normally a lawyer would not take such a role. Negotiations are generally handled by law enforcement personnel. But such was Harradence’s stature in the community, and in the prison population, that he was recognized as the man for the job, not once but nine times. Retired warden Jim O’Sullivan said that Harradence “knew what the parameters were, what could and couldn’t be given.” He’d go in, put the cards on the table, and level with the rioters. On one occasion, when their demands were unrealistic, he said, “All you want now is the keys to the front door, and you’re not going to get that.”

Eight times Harradence was able to defuse these dangerous situations, and usually ended up representing the offenders in court. The ninth and most famous incident, in 1991, made national headlines when two of the hostage takers were shot and killed because even Clyne Harradence could not talk sense into them. However, for the next decade there were no hostage takings anywhere in Canada; and by then Harradence was retired.

Clyne Harradence was born on July 29, 1925, in Blaine Lake, Sask., the younger of two sons of Herbert and Cecilia Harradence. The family moved to Prince Albert while he was still a child, and lived half a block from John Diefenbaker. Herbert owned a hardware store.

Both Harradence boys became criminal lawyers following service in the Second World War. Milt, the elder, married into a prominent Calgary family, eventually becoming a driving force in the Alberta Progressive Conservative Party and a Court of Appeal judge. Clyne, meanwhile, returned to Prince Albert, where he articled in Diefenbaker’s firm (though Diefenbaker himself was by then spending much of his time in Ottawa). Called to the bar in 1950, the same year he married Helen Martin, Harradence became a partner in 1955, and built a practice covering most of northern Saskatchewan. He and his brother, who got along famously, used to joke that one province just wasn’t big enough for the two of them.

In 1979, when he had already served nearly two decades as chancellor of his diocese, Harradence was named doctor of canon law; in 1998 he received a distinguished service award from the Saskatchewan branch of the Canadian Bar Association. He retired in 2002.

Tragically, the man who once would cogently and eloquently address a jury for half an hour without a note succumbed to frontal lobe dementia, unable at the end to recognize even his dearly loved wife and four sons. But they, and the community, remembered all he had been, and flocked to honour him at St. Alban’s Cathedral in Prince Albert. So many people requested reprints of the local paper’s front-page tribute that normal operations were held up – one last Harradence showstopper, just for good measure.

Special to The Globe and Mail

Editor's note: An earlier version of this story incorrectly identified 20th-century English jurist Lord Denning as Lord Demming. This version has been corrected.

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