6 things we know about Canada’s new Chief Justice Wagner

6 things we know about Canada’s new Chief Justice Wagner

Change is in the air for Canada’s top court, and it’s in the form of a new Chief Justice whose legal decisions will likely leave a lasting mark on Canadian jurisprudence for years to come.

While judges in Canada often remain out of the spotlight for a number of reasons, there are a few things we know about Chief Justice Richard Wagner, who was appointed to the role on Dec. 18, 2017.

1. It's Wagner with a V

Substitute the W with a V and you’re well on your way to pronouncing the surname of Hon. Richard Wagner.

2. He’s an early bird

Sometimes lawyers like to stay up late reading cases throughout the night. But Canada’s newest Chief Justice is known to almost always get up at the crack of dawn.

“As a lawyer, I was always the first one in the office...That’s the way I was able to work. Mind you, at night I am not the last one to leave the place. Everyone has their own schedule and ways of working,” he said during a “Beyond Politics” series filmed by CPAC.

Wagner says the morning is a "special time" because its when he can review and read.

3. Canada’s new Chief Justice avoids legalese

Wagner C.J. has indicated in the past he’s not a fan of needlessly complicated lawyer jargon when simpler and more direct language can be delivered.

“For me, I always believe drafting clear reasons is part of access to justice.”

Wagner says  supreme court rulings are no longer confined to scholars and law professors.

“We have internet now, people want to read more”

4. Transparency in the judiciary is important to him

Wagner has repeatedly spoken out about the societal need for regular people to have faith in an independent and transparent judiciary.

“One way to achieve that goal is to provide information. I’m not telling you judges should be on the networks and give interviews every week. But they should take every opportunity to say to the citizens who they are. The more people who know about the functioning of the court, the more they would believe that justice is rendered. That’s part of our democracy.”

5. He appears to lean slightly to the right in areas of labour and crime

Although he has not penned controversial decisions and in fact remains a largely apolitical and centrist figure in Canadian society, Wagner’s dissent in a couple Supreme Court cases over the past few years hints that he leans ever so slightly towards judicial restraint in areas of crime and labour.

-In Sask. Federation of Labour V. Saskatchewan, Wagner strongly dissented with the majority on a decision to constitutionalize the right to strike for essential service workers in that province. In this judgement Wagner and his former colleague Marshall Rothstein were in the minority. Together the two declared “the majority is wrong to intrude into the policy development role of elected legislators.”

-Similarly in R. v. Nur, a case regarding mandatory minimum punishments for firearm offences, Wagner dissented with the majority who struck down a Conservative law as being “cruel and unusual punishment”. Along with justices Rothstein and Moldaver, Wagner deferred to the federal government’s authority rather than to “frustrate the policy goals of our elected representatives based on questionable assumptions and loose conjecture.”

6. He has the potential to shape Canadian Law well into the 2030s, 2040s and  beyond

If Wagner serves the maximum amount of time allotted to him before mandatory retirement kicks in, he will have sat on the court for a full 15 years if uninterrupted.

Of course, it’s hard to think about what the world is going to look like in the 2030’s, but it’s possible Wagner’s watchful gaze on parliament and the Canadian judiciary could last until this time, allowing the jurist to leave a truly lasting and lengthy mark on Canadian law which (because of precedent) will live on in many instances for decades after his retirement.


"A lawyer who never loses a case is not a litigation lawyer."

"I think I was a regular, normal kid--with plus and minus qualities and faults--but I like to argue"

"I found that when I came to the Supreme Court it was probably the easiest court to plead before, in a way that people are very noble and generous and very civilized and nobody would shout at you."

"If you would have told me a few years ago that I would have been a justice of the Supreme Court I would have laughed. I was never seeking that position. I knew that one day I would like to become the arbiter, the referee, of a superior court. For me, it was the reasonable and normal way of giving back to the profession and society, and all the skills I got from 25 years of pratice. It was the normal way to be useful."

“People will think I am nostalgic and they’re probably right”

"You see what happens in other countries in this world. They don’t have rule of law and suddenly it’s chaos. The line can be very thin between anarchy and rule of law; so we have to make sure people have accesss to justice."