Thomas Rodney Berger | The Canadian Encyclopedia


Thomas Rodney Berger

Thomas Rodney Berger, QC, OC, OBC, lawyer, judge, politician, humanitarian (born 23 March 1933 in Victoria, BC; died 28 April 2021 in Vancouver, BC). Thomas Berger practised law in Vancouver from 1957 to 1971. Berger represented the Nisga’a in the landmark Calder case (1973), which resulted in the recognition of Aboriginal title in Canadian law. From 1974 to 1977, he served as commissioner of the Berger Commission, which considered two proposals for natural gas pipelines in the North (seeMackenzie Valley Pipeline). Berger was New Democratic Party MP for Vancouver-Burrard in 1962-63, an NDP MLA 1968-69 and leader of the BC NDP in 1969. From 1971 to 1983 he served as justice of the Supreme Court of BC.

Berger's best-selling report, Northern Frontier, Northern Homeland (1977), eloquently recommended against the proposed Arctic gas pipeline from Prudhoe Bay in Alaska across northern Yukon and along the Mackenzie Valley. The report called for further study and the settlement of Indigenous land claims. He also called for a 10-year ban on pipeline construction in the Mackenzie Valley. Berger opposed building any pipeline across the sensitive caribou habitat of the northern Yukon. The Berger Commission involved the public and included Indigenous views more than any resource-related consultation had done before in Canada. The government of Canada accepted his recommendation to reject the proposal and approved an alternative route. The report's other recommendations were subsequently adopted.

Berger's public intervention in the constitutional debate in 1981 led to the inclusion of Indigenous and treaty rights in the 1982 amendments to the Canadian Constitution. In 1983, he resigned from the Court in disagreement with the Canadian Judicial council's view that judges should not comment on matters of great public concern. In 1983-85, he headed the Alaska Native Review Commission, sponsored by the Inuit Circumpolar Conference and the World Council of Indigenous Peoples. Its report, Village Journey, was published in 1985.

Berger returned to private practice in Vancouver, also continuing his writing and international service. In 1991 he published A Long and Terrible Shadow, a study of native rights and European values in the Americas since 1492. In 1991-92, he was deputy chairman of the World Bank's review of resettlement and environmental issues in the Sardar Sarover Projects in western India, which found the projects flawed and led to the withdrawal of Bank funding and the creation of a permanent Inspection Panel.

In 1995 he reported to the Attorney-General of BC on sexual abuse of students in Jericho Hill School for the Deaf. His recommendation for relief and compensation for those who were abused was accepted. Berger received the Order of Canada in 1990 and the Freedom of the City of Vancouver in 1992.

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