Statement made on 11 March 2010 by Senator David Smith
Hon. David P. Smith:
Honourable senators, I rise today to pay tribute to the late Philippe Casgrain, Q.C., of Montreal, who passed away on February 28, 2010.
Philippe was undoubtedly one of Canada's most outstanding trial lawyers and he was a larger-than-life figure in the legal profession. Philippe was the only living "name" partner in the firm of Fraser Milner Casgrain, one of Canada's larger legal firms with over 500 lawyers in six Canadian cities.
As I was chairman of the firm for nine years, I came to know Philippe well. I always had great respect for his legal skills, his vibrant personality and his contribution to numerous cultural, legal and social organizations.
Philippe was born in Rimouski, Quebec, in 1923 and came from a prominent legal family. His father and older brother were distinguished lawyers. His son Kirkland is currently a judge in the Superior Court of Quebec. Philippe graduated from Laval University in law and commenced practice in 1952 in Montreal.
In 1958, he was appointed Chairman of the Junior Bar Association of Montreal. Another president of this association in the 1950s was the Right Honourable John Turner, who frequently told me that one of the most fun experiences of his life was being President of the Junior Bar in Montreal during this period, and that the group of outstanding personalities who belonged to this organization was a collection of fascinating and talented characters — including Senator Angus, who also held the post of president.
Philippe also served as Chair of the Canadian Bar Association committee on commercial law for Quebec. He was appointed a Queen's Counsel, and he also served as Bâtonnier, which is equivalent to president, of the Bar of Montreal. The Bar of Montreal awarded him the prestigious honour of the Merit of the Bar Award in 2001, and the Quebec Bar Association awarded him the title of Advocatus Emeritus in 2007. In addition to these honours, he was also made a member of the American College of Trial Lawyers, to which few Canadians belong. Membership in this association is not something one applies for; it is by invitation only.
In an article in the Montreal Gazette on March 5, Justice Gérard Dugré of the Quebec Superior Court said in an interview "that Casgrain turned down judgeships — including an invitation by Prime Minister Brian Mulroney for a nomination to the Supreme Court of Canada — preferring the freedom to be able to always speak his mind." In the article in the Montreal Gazette, litigator Gérald Tremblay of McCarthy Tétrault LLP, stated: "He was a man of uncommon energy, a real lion in court. He would stand up and own the place while cross-examining a witness as no one else could do and arguing with vigour and courage, showing his deep knowledge and sense of culture with Latin quotations or citations from Balzac." The same Philippe who dominated any courtroom he was in, would also remind young lawyers who did not say hello to the law firm's receptionist of the debt they owed to their support staff and of the sacredness of a lawyer's word.
In closing, I also want to point out that Philippe was engaged in supporting the cultural community and, in particular, he was one of the patriarchs and a major financial supporter of École Nationale de Theâtre, also known as the National Theatre School, as well as being a senator of the Stratford Shakespearean Festival Foundation of Canada.
I, for one, will miss Philippe and, among other things, our legendary pre-Christmas annual black-tie, old-school dinners in Montreal.