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History and Achievements

Early Supporters

ICJ Canada was established in 1958 as a national section of the International Commission of Jurists. The founding members of ICJ Canada were eminent Canadian jurists:

  • Ivan Cleveland Rand, a Judge of the Supreme Court of Canada;
  • Joseph T. Thorson, President of the Exchequer Court of Canada;
  • Ernest Gordon Gowling, Cuthbert Aidan Scott and Bert Lawrence, prominent lawyers in the City of Ottawa;
  • Arthur Lloyd Foote, Professor of Law of Ottawa; and
  • Alexandre Taché of the City of Hull, a Judge of the Magistrates’ Courts of Québec.

The driving force of ICJ Canada was unquestionably Justice Joseph Thorson of the Exchequer Court who in his travels across Canada recruited judges and lawyers to join and support the new organization. He served as President of ICJ for a number of years.

Another strong supporter was Professor John Humphrey, a distinguished legal scholar and international public servant of the United Nations who drafted the text of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.


One of the activities of ICJ Canada during its early years was to recruit distinguished jurists to represent the ICJ as observers at trials which threatened judicial independence and the rule of law. For example:

  • In 1979 the Honourable Lionel Chevrier went to Tahiti to observe and report on a political trial.
  • In 1981 Professor André Tremblay acted as observer at a political prosecution in Morocco.
  • In the early 1980s, Ian Scott was virtually on the plane to go to South Africa to observe a political trial, but at the last minute was refused permission to enter.

In the 1980s, ICJ Canada was also involved in the drafting of the United Nations Basic Principles on the Independence of the Judiciary, a project which culminated in the 1982 Montreal Conference chaired by Justice Jules Deschênes.

ICJ Canada also promoted international exchanges with judges and lawyers from Eastern Europe, Africa and South Asia. Notably, during the three-year period commencing in the year 2000, visits were exchanged between Canada and Croatia. During a series of intensive seminars, Croatian and Serbian delegates were introduced to the workings of the Canadian judicial system, with particular emphasis on the independence of the judiciary. The success of this project led to an expanded project on the Independence and Impartiality of the Judiciary in the South-East Adriatic countries, which concluded in 2005. A total of 427 judges from the former Yugoslavia participated in 24 seminars and conferences organized by ICJ Canada abroad and in Canada.

ICJ Canada Members in Geneva

Many distinguished Canadians served ICJ Canada as President or as ICJ Commissioners in Geneva. A few of those who made significant contributions are:

  • Gordon Blair of the Ontario Court of Appeal served as President 1979-1981.
  • Claire L'Heureux-Dubé of the Supreme Court of Canada was President 1981-1983. During her tenure the annual ICJ Essay Competition for Canadian law students was introduced.
  • David MacDonald of the Alberta Court of Queen’s Bench served as President 1983-1984.
  • Walter Tarnopolsky, perhaps Canada’s most prominent human rights scholar and advocate, was President 1984-1987. After his untimely death, the Tarnopolsky Medal was established by ICJ Canada in his honour. It is awarded annually to a Canadian who has made an outstanding contribution to human rights.
  • Eileen Mitchell Thomas and later Brad Smith served as Secretary-Treasurers throughout most of the 1970s and 1980s and were instrumental in keeping the organization alive and functioning.
  • Michèle Rivet was President 1996-2001 and was the driving force in developing our international projects involving judicial education and training in the Balkans. She now serves as ICJ Vice President.
  • Ed Ratushny was President 2001-2006. He was instrumental in reforming our internal governance structure and in raising the image of ICJ Canada in the university community throughout Canada.
  • Ian Binnie, one of Canada’s most distinguished jurists and formerly a judge of the Supreme Court of Canada and a longtime supporter of ICJ Canada, served as an ICJ Commissioner representing Canada for several years.