Out of the Shadows:
The Civil Law Tradition in the Department of Justice Canada, 1868–2000

The Montréal Regional Office

The Montréal Office started off in a very modest way. In 1965, it had only one employee, a resident lawyer with the Department of Justice who was responsible for pleading criminal cases. Louis-Philippe Landry had been in Montréal since 1963, when the Attorney General of Quebec, Georges-Émile Lapalme, had appointed permanent provincial prosecutors to replace private sector agents. Landry had left the Department of Justice in Ottawa to enter the Quebec public service and to have the opportunity to work regularly in court.75

Landry soon realized that it would be useful to have a federal office in Montréal to deal with criminal matters, and he proposed to the Department of Justice that such an office be created. The Minister of Justice of the day, Guy Favreau, and T. D. Macdonald, the Assistant Deputy Minister (Criminal Law), supported this initiative, and they were delighted to have Landry come back to work for the Department. They had both known him since his arrival in the Combines Section in 1959. Landry was later transferred to the Criminal Law Section in 1961, and then replaced Gaspard Côté when Côté moved to the Civil Law Section in 1963.l Landry returned to the federal public service, and became senior legal counsel at the Montréal Office in July 1965.

It soon became obvious that a single criminal law specialist could not handle the work. In addition, civil law and tax law soon made their appearance in the office. After providing a legal opinion to the National Film Board, Louis- Philippe Landry became, as it were, the Board’s counsel, but on an unofficial basis. Instead of communicating with Ottawa, the NFB henceforth employed the services of the Montréal Office, and the same thing happened in other departments. The arrival of Gaspard Côté in 1967 also had an impact on the type of cases handled in Montréal, and on the growth of the office. Côté originally hoped to do tax law, even if he was not particularly familiar with it (“he did not even know how to use a calculator,” according to Landry). Côté brought with him files from the Civil Law Section in order to complete them, but Paul Ollivier continued to send him more complex cases (resulting in long telephone conversations between Ottawa and Montréal).m As a result, Côté had little time to devote to tax law. Finally, with the integration of all legal services, the office received lawyers from the Department of Revenue, the Department of Veterans Affairs and the Unemployment Insurance Commission, which were already in Montréal. In 1967, there were enough staff to set up an office officially, and Louis-Philippe Landry became the Director.76

Under the direction of Landry, the Montréal Office acquired a most enviable reputation. Judges appreciated the thorough knowledge of federal law that its lawyers possessed. This enabled the office to make a choice place for itself within the Quebec legal community. Since the office still had a small staff, Landry could allow himself to work both as manager and barrister. By accompanying young lawyers before the courts, the director could himself teach them the rudiments of the profession.n In addition, in order to foster closer relationships among the employees, he was in the habit of inviting them to his home for a party, or a barbecue after a softball game. These occasions gave the young lawyers an opportunity to meet their elders and, for those who might have lost interest, a chance to renew their ties with their colleagues. These gatherings provided an opportunity to cement the relationship between staff and management, and thus to develop a team spirit.77

This team had grown since the official opening of the Montréal Office. In 1971, Annie Côté joined the office as a trainee. At that time, the staff still consisted primarily of criminal lawyers, with a handful of lawyers responsible for civil cases.78 Landry had recruited Côté, a student who really wanted to do criminal law. At the time, however, there were hardly any women in this field, which was really a male domain. The Director of the Office in fact had told her “not to rush things” in that area. Annie Côté worked instead with Gaspard Côté, whose workload continually increased. Côté, who was in a sense the godfather of all the lawyers who went through the Montréal Office,o had such a passion for the legal profession that Annie Côté began to take a liking to civil law and to question her desire to go into the criminal law field.79

Annie Côté continued to be the only woman lawyer in the Montréal Office until 1974, when Suzanne Marcoux-Paquette was hired. Because of her special status, she sometimes found herself in somewhat comical situations. When she was still an articling student, John Turner, the Minister of Justice at the time, paid a visit to the office. After meeting just about everyone, he pointed out to the director that there were no women. People rushed off to find Côté, who had just returned from the law courts, in order to introduce her to the Minister. Before he left, Turner added that he hoped that on his next visit, the office would finally have a woman lawyer. Côté was hired as a member of the permanent staff in 1972.80 In this male-dominated environment, Côté and Marcoux-Paquette were undoubtedly pioneers. Through their efforts, the Department of Justice came to appreciate “… the contribution of … women to the day-to-day management of a law office.” Furthermore, as a successor of Landry would later say: “… thanks to them, we were able to become aware of certain realities which, up to that point, we had not been able to grasp as lawyers.” 81

Seven years after the arrival of Louis-Philippe Landry as the Department of Justice’s resident counsel, the Montréal Office became, in a way, a smaller version of Headquarters, even though it reported (and still reports) to the Associate Deputy Minister (Civil Law) in Ottawa, and was unique in making daily use of French as the language of work. There were still no strict divisions within the office, but the presence of specialists in criminal, civil or tax litigation clearly showed that the office was already meeting the needs of a varied clientele. At the time, the Office had sixteen lawyers, who moved into the National Bank of Canada building in Place d’Armes.82

Civil law had thus found a place for itself without any real planning (according to Landry, it has thus, in a sense, followed the common law pattern). Just as a private sector law firm would have done, the Montréal Office developed a clientele consisting of government departments which sent new cases directly to this business centre, rather than sending them to Ottawa.83 The Civil Law Section perhaps felt that the Montréal Office was taking the wind out of its sails, growing at a sustained rate that the Section could not equal.84 Louis-Philippe Landry indeed acquired the reputation of being an empire builder.

The Director of the Montréal Office was said to have had Napoleonic ambitions, to want to control all legal activities in Quebec. “King Philippe” also insisted on personally hiring the lawyers who were to work for him, instead of having candidates chosen by Ottawa.85 He was familiar with the local scene, and believed that he knew what the office needed. He also had the habit of going to the records room every evening to review the cases that had been dealt with and to see how they had been handled. The next day, he would ask why the cases had been resolved in one way, rather than some other, and did not hesitate to express his disagreement on occasion, adding that the case law would surely be in jeopardy if things continued along the same lines.86 Within a short time, people no longer spoke of an office of the Department of Justice, but rather of Landry’s Office. As early as 1968, John Turner explained to the members of the House of Commons that his department had “established in Montréal an almost independent Office.” 87 It is obvious, then, that Landry was deeply involved in his project. A strong advocate of the Montréal Office, he was able to establish a solid base for further development.

A number of individuals could also testify to Landry’s perseverance in making more practical demands. Faced with bureaucratic constraints, he successfully defended his point of view. When the office requested that an intercom system be added to the existing telephone network, Bell installed touch tone telephones. The Department loudly protested, saying that these modern sets cost more money. After investigating the matter, Landry discovered that it was rather the addition of the intercom system to the conventional telephone network that was more expensive. He therefore sent a long memorandum to the Department to explain that his office was ready to give up the intercom in order to keep the button phones. Landry was then nicknamed “Phil, the touch-tone guy.” During his term as Director, he also requested that the Department of Justice pay for the shirts with bands that lawyers wore under their robes. Up to that time, Landry himself had paid for the shirts out of the money in his petty cash, since the Department claimed that these items fell into the category of “personal wearing apparel,” and were therefore personal expenses. Landry, who was dissatisfied with this answer, explained that when the shirts had been used, they were sent to the cleaners and then returned to the same pile, and that the lawyers did not necessarily take the same shirt every time. The Department accepted Landry’s argument, and undertook to pay for the shirts used in the Montréal Office.88

Because of his efforts, Landry was given the “Bonaparte Award for bravery and ingenuity in the face of bureaucracy,” in the form of a picture of Napoleon with Landry’s head. This award was given to him in the presence of the Deputy Minister, D. S. Thorson, and of the Minister, Ron Basford. When he left in 1975 to return to Ottawa as Assistant Deputy Attorney General (Criminal Law), Landry had unquestionably left his mark on the Montréal Office. A judge of the Superior Court of Quebec from 1979 on, he was an inspiration for his successors, including his cousin Réjean Paul.89

With Landry’s encouragement, Réjean Paul had joined the Montréal Office in 1967. When he arrived, the office had a mere five persons on staff, including Quebec’s current Ministre de la Sécurité publique, Serge Ménard. Paul initially wanted to do civil law, but the office needed a criminal lawyer. Landry reassured him, saying that this new career direction would only be temporary. However, this brief exposure to criminal law proved to be a determining factor, since Paul continued in this direction. He left the Office from January to December 1975, to head up the Quebec Organized Crime Commission, and returned at the end of the year to succeed Landry.90 Under Paul’s direction, the Office continued to expand, so that by 1978, it had some thirty lawyers and its first notary (hired in 1976). The services it offered greatly resembled those provided in Ottawa, including advice on immigration matters, “due to the presence in Montréal of the relevant government clientele.”91

In 1980, Réjean Paul left his position as Director of the Montréal Office to take up a judicial appointment in the Superior Court of Quebec. Jean-Claude Demers was chosen to replace him. Demers had originally been recruited by Jean- Paul Fortin in Montréal, in 1972. At the time, the Department of Justice was looking for a legal counsel with a civil law background for the Department of Supply and Services in Ottawa. The meeting with the Director of Legal Services at Supply and Services was a real culture shock for Demers. A unilingual Francophone, he suddenly found himself in a completely Anglophone environment, “without the least shadow of incipient bilingualism.” During the interview, not a single question was put to him in French. He was assigned to a case in which all the documents were written in English. Demers found his situation intolerable, and accepted a new position as special assistant to the Minister, Jean-Pierre Goyer.92

At the Department of Justice, this kind of relationship was not well regarded, and the Associate Deputy Minister (Civil Law), Paul Ollivier, who succeeded Rodrigue Bédard in December 1970, asked Demers whether he wanted to do law or politics. Demers laid down conditions for his return to the Department, namely that he be assigned to a position that would enable him to work in the area of labour law, which he had studied at the University of Ottawa. In 1974, Demers did return to the Department of Justice as legal counsel for the Treasury Board. In 1976, he left Ottawa for the Montréal Office, and became a litigator in the Civil Affairs Section. When he heard about the appointment of Réjean Paul to the Superior Court, Demers applied for the position of Director. He spoke about it to Ollivier, who at first thought that he was too young, but finally “gave him his blessing.” Having made a good impression on Ollivier and Alban Garon, who were members of the selection committee, Demers became Director of the Montréal Office in 1981. He was the first director not to be a specialist in criminal law.93

In 1984, the Montréal Office moved again, to the Guy Favreau Complex. At that time, it had about fifty lawyers on staff. After nearly fifteen years of continual growth, the Civil Affairs Section had surpassed the other sections in numbers, with twenty-one lawyers and one notary (compared to thirteen lawyers in the criminal section and fourteen in the tax section). Gaspard Côté had been the first head of the Civil Affairs Section. Initially, there had been few human and financial resources to manage, and Gaspard Côté’s managerial responsibilities were not yet heavy enough to prevent him from practising law himself. However, the number of employees gradually increased. In 1976, Jacques Ouellet took over from Côté as Director of the Civil Affairs Section. In 1983, Annie Côté succeeded him, becoming the first woman to hold a managerial position in the Montréal Office.94

This rapid survey of the first twenty years of the Montréal Office clearly shows that it benefited from incorporating the legal services and experience of lawyers who had already worked in Ottawa. We also see that the Office achieved its growth somewhat by the back door, and followed an unanticipated path of development, so that it became a microcosm of the Department of Justice itself.95 Such an expansion of staff and services did create some tensions between Ottawa and Montréal. Among steps taken to reduce these tensions, the two parties established in 1983 a division of work designed to reduce overlapping. Federal departments and agencies had got into the habit of sending cases originating in Quebec to the Montréal Office, although the Civil Law Section in Ottawa had been created to deal with these cases.96 The Civil Law Section was unable to maintain the same growth rate as the Montréal Office, and the issue of sharing cases between the two groups of civil law specialists regularly arose thereafter.


l. Landry tells the story that he found, in a drawer, a pay cheque Côté had forgotten to cash. This habit stayed with Côté when he later moved to Montréal. As the Honourable Mr. Justice Réjean F. Paul, J.C.S., recounts: “… Gaspard had little concern for material things. One day, in 1977, he came to see me and told me that his bank manager has just called to say that his current account was overdrawn by eleven dollars. He did not understand how this account could be overdrawn. I knew Gaspard’s proverbial distraction over earthly matters, that he simply deposited his pay cheques in his desk drawer. I went with him to his office, and told him to open the left drawer of his desk. With great surprise, he found that three pay cheques had been deposited, not in the bank but in the drawer!” Correspondence with Réjean Paul, letter of February 17, 2000, p. 1.

m. These conversations were often interspersed with “uh-huhs,” and Côté’s colleagues in Montréal took malicious delight in imitating them. According to Mr. Justice Paul: “The conversation could last an hour or two. It was broken by long silences, while they both thought about the legal problem in hand. As a result, one would often say to the other: ‘Paul, are you still there?’ or ‘Gaspard, are you still there?’” Correspondence with Réjean Paul, letter of February 17, 2000, p. 2; interview with Louis-Philippe Landry (January 28, 2000) Cassette No. 18, Side 2.

n. Today, with more than 300 employees, the Director of the Montréal Office has had to abandon his role of court lawyer to devote himself almost exclusively to management. Francine Courtemanche, “Jacques Letellier, lawyer and director,” Inter Pares No. 149 (July/August 1991), p. 3; interview with Jacques Letellier (February 1, 2000), Cassette No. 20, Side 1.

o. In 1992, the members of the Civil Affairs Section of the Montréal Office set up the GASPARD system (Génie Automatisé et Stratégie Permettant une Amélioration de la Recherche en Droit, an automated system to improve legal research), so called to pay homage to Gaspard Côté. Côté had retired in 1990, but remained very active in the legal community until his death on January 15, 1999, at the age of 67. Interview with Claude Joyal (January 10, 2000), Cassette No. 6, Side 1; Quebec Regional Office (QRO), “Direction des affaires civiles : revue historique.”

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