N.B.: The detail displayed about each honorary degree recipient varies, as
the database was compiled from a variety of sources. However, more information may
be available at the University Archives.
Convocation date: May 16, 1985
Discipline / contribution: human rights
Citation / biographical information:
Mr. Chancellor, on behalf of the Council and Senate, I present to you The Honourable Thomas R. Berger.Degree received: Doctor of Laws
Justice Berger was born in British Columbia. He received his education there -- graduating in law from the University of British Columbia and then called to the Bar in 1957.
Thereafter, and in a remarkably short space of time, he established a national reputation as counsel, first in the field of civil rights -- then, and most significantly, in the area of native rights.
May I dwell for a moment on that. It is appropriate to do so. This spring our province and country commemorates the North West Rebellion of 1885. A time when the Metis Nation — with Cree allies — rose in an attempt to strike down what they perceived, and rightly, to be grave injustices. Their attempt failed. One hundred years ago yesterday their leader, Riel, surrendered into the custody of General Middleton.
The injustice, and problems, faced by native people are not confined to the prairies -- or to the year 1885. In many ways they are still with us. They cannot ail be solved by the law. Political will is needed. But the law can help. That brings me to the point. In the early 1960's a small cadre of Canadian lawyers commenced to devote their professional skills to the establishment of fundamental aboriginal and treaty rights. Justice Berger was in the van of that distinguished group. His efforts culminated in a landmark decision of the Supreme Court of Canada. It involved the Nishga nation of the Nass Valley in British Columbia. The case affirmed that Indian people had and have legally recognized rights of ownership in their traditional lands. The decision caused the Federal Government completely to reverse its position in thereafter dealing with native land claims.
Justice Berger has also played a part in the political life of our country and of his province. He sat as New Democratic member of Parliament in 1962-63 -- and as a member of British Columbia legislature from 1966 to 1969.
His outstanding qualities as a lawyer led to his appointment to the Bench of the Supreme Court of British Columbia in 1971.
In 1974 the Government of Canada appointed Justice Berger as Commissioner of the McKenzie Valley Pipeline Inquiry. His extraordinary work in that endeavour, and his ultimate report, have made the name of Thomas Berger familiar to almost all Canadians, in all walks of life — and established an international reputation for him.
In 1983 Justice Berger resigned from the Bench, in order that he might be free again to involve himself directly in the fields of native and human rights. He has wasted no time in doing so. In that same year he was appointed by the Inuit Circumpolar Conference and The World Council of Indigenous Peoples to undertake a review of the 1971 settlement, by the American Congress, of native land claims in Alaska — an undertaking in which he is now engaged.
Eminent Chancellor, I present to you Thomas R. Berger and ask that you will confer on him the degree of Doctor of Laws, honoris causa.
Degree presented by: Roger Carter, professor of Law
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