A great lawyer who fought for the recognition of indigenous rights passed away at the age of 88. Who was he ?
Thomas Rodney Berger was a lawyer, humanitarian, politician, judge and commissionaire.
Two months ago he was diagnosed with terminal cancer and had six months to live. On Wednesday, the still active lawyer died alongside his family.
He had just retired in 2020. But, he was still awaiting a court ruling in his latest case over a dispute between the Peter Ballantyne Cree Nation and the Government of Saskatchewan over hundreds of acres of flooded land. .
This is what his daughter confided Erin thomas in the media. Also a lawyer, she worked alongside her father for 15 years at Berger & Company.
Thomas R. Berger has distinguished himself during his career for his dedication to social justice, particularly in relation to the rights of aboriginal people.
His law practice began in 1957 in Vancouver. In 1973, he represented Nisga’a elders in an appeal to the Supreme Court of Canada to claim aboriginal rights. He emerged victorious from this historic cause which earned first recognition for indigenous rights.
In 1969, he became leader of the New Democratic Party of British Columbia. From 1971 to 1983, he was a judge of the Supreme Court of British Columbia and from 1974 to 1977, he was commissioner of the inquiry into the Mackenzie Valley Pipeline.
He received several recognition titles including the Order of Canada in 1990 and the Order of British Columbia in 2004.
Several reactions from the political class
Many politicians reacted to the death of Thomas R. Berger and offered their sympathies to the family.
“I join Canadians in mourning the loss of Thomas Berger, one of Canada’s most respected Indigenous and environmental rights lawyer and activist, and former justice of the Supreme Court of British Columbia,” said the Premier Justin trudeau.
“We will remember Mr. Berger as an accomplished spokesperson. Not only did he give a voice to those who did not have one, but he truly listened to them. In doing so, he gave a whole generation of leaders the tools to become spokespersons for their own communities, ”he added in his statement.
John Horgan, the premier of British Columbia recalls the lawyer’s work as commissioner in the Mackenzie Valley pipeline investigation.
“His work resulted in a report highlighting unresolved land claims, as well as the threat to wildlife upon which the local Indigenous peoples relied on for survival. An unprecedented public consultation process helped highlight what was at stake for the Indigenous peoples of the North, ”he said in his statement.
Jody Wilson-Raybould, the former federal justice minister and independent MP for Vancouver Granville also offered her sympathies to the family.
“Very saddened to hear of the passing of Thomas R. Berger, QC OC OBC. Tom was a great champion of a Indegenous peoples & rights… a true trail-blazer who helped change this county for the better while personally sacrificing to do so. Love & condolences to his family #RIP ”, she posted, adding a photo of the lawyer on Twitter.