Allan McEachern

It’s elections season. The posts will be coming fast and furious. Please scroll for Brendon’s thoughtful first Issue of the Day.

UBC’s Chancellor Allan McEachern died last week. And over the weekend had a bit of a chance to reminisce and reflect.

He led a fascinating life. His death is reverberating through the legal community; everybody, it seems, has an Allan McEachern story.

For me, it was that time I cornered him at a reception after discovering that he’d been the Commissioner of the CFL. 1967-68 was at a critical time for football in Canada, as our neighbours to the South had just created the “Super Bowl” and the creation of the modern NFL was not far off. He was part of the team that negotiated the first agreements with the NFL, and pulled the trigger on the famous Joe Kapp transfer to the Vikings. He regaled me for half an hour with stories from the Golden Age of Canadian football, and I loved every second.

Alan McEachern’s legacy, behind the jump.
Of course, that’s not his legacy. First and foremost, he understood the important role of the legal system, its role in society, and the myriad issues surrounding access to justice. Under his leadership, BC took on a leadership role in this area. In 1996, BC was the first jurisdiction to have a court web page on which decisions were posted and publicly available. He even started a personal web page that answered public questions in a public forum, adding a welcome sliver of transparency to the legal system. During his tenure, BC also adopted several rules designed to expedite the trial process, and reduce the cost and time burden on litigants, and strengthened mechanisms for lay litigants to get justice. These are by no means legal minutiae; they have fundamentally changed how litigation is done in BC, and have served as a model for other jurisdictions. And he took significant steps to open the bench up to women, again serving as a model for the rest of the country.

There are also his decisions. He took a lot of heat for one of them, the trial decision in Delgamuukw. Some have called it racist, more measured critics call it ethno-centric. And while it was over-turned on appeal, it’s important to note that it was overturned on evidentiary grounds – his failure to admit oral histories as evidence. But it’s unfair to assess a judge’s career without reference to the rest of his body of work. Even critics acknowledge that his tenure on the bench was exemplary. He wrote an absurd amount of important and critical decisions, in almost every field of the law. It’s the rare research assignment I complete that doesn’t involve a case written by him, and it will continue to be that way for the foreseeable future.

Finally, UBC was well-served by his tenure as Chancellor. He taught at UBC’s Faculty of Law. At Board, he was a better listener than most of the appointees and, in honest discussion, was frank and fair. Though publicly he may have appeared to be just a figurehead, in reality he was anything but. He had a sharp, brilliant mind, and he used it. And he certainly spoke it. He also wasn’t afraid to go against the President, or the Board Chair, or the students, and, usually, when he disagreed, his words carried a force and wisdom that made it hard to disagree. He also chaired the search committee, and was very much responsible for the hiring of Professor Toope as President.

He has had a major impact on your life, in several ways, whether you know it or not. He achieved so much in his life, and those he encountered along the way are fortunate to have been enriched by his presence.


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