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Edward Bayda: A Life of Service

|Written By Harold H. MacKay
Edward Bayda: A Life of Service

Canada lost one of its most distinguished jurists on April 2 when my friend, Ed Bayda, the retired chief justice of Saskatchewan, died suddenly while on vacation in Turkey. He was 78.

Edward Dmytro Bayda was born in rural Saskatchewan, the son of a Ukrainian farmer (turned implement dealer) and his wife. He grew up in Alvena, a small town in central Saskatchewan, and completed his education at the University of Saskatchewan in Saskatoon from which he graduated (cum laude) in law in 1953.

Ed articled with MacPherson Leslie & Tyerman LLP in Regina. After practising for a short time in Yorkton, he returned to Regina where he was a founding partner of what became the Johnson Bayda Halvorson and Scheibel firm, a spawning ground for the Saskatchewan judiciary that produced four Superior Court judges. Two of them (Fred Johnson and Ed) became chief justices, Johnson as chief justice of the Court of Queen’s Bench and Ed as chief justice of the Court of Appeal.

When I came to Regina as a young lawyer in 1963, Ed was already a fixture as a top litigation counsel. We soon became political comrades in arms, both of us supporters of prime minister Pierre Trudeau. Ed took a keen interest in public policy issues and he strongly believed in the ability of a democratic government to positively influence the lives of individuals.

A group of us were at his house the night the prime minister invoked the War Measures Act following the assassination of Pierre Laporte. As usual, Ed understood the broader implications of what was going on, and over dinner he gave us an impromptu tutorial discussing the difficult balance between societal protection and individual freedoms.

This balance fascinated him throughout his life and informed many of his judgments in later years in which he was an eloquent advocate for the rights of the individual.

Ed was appointed to the Court of Queen’s Bench in 1972 and was subsequently elevated to the Court of Appeal in 1974 and became its chief justice in 1981, the youngest chief justice appointed in Canada. He served in that capacity for a remarkable 25 years, retiring in 2006.

As chief justice, Ed led the court with distinction in its traditional civil and criminal justice appellate functions during years of major economic, social, and demographic change. He was always curious and analytical, both good qualities for a judge.

Of particular significance, shortly after his appointment as chief justice, courts were asked to breathe life into the newly minted Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms. Under his leadership and with many perceptive judgments penned by him, the Saskatchewan Court of Appeal played an important role in defining the fundamental rights of Canadian citizens which are enshrined in the Charter.

But Ed was much more than a distinguished jurist. He was a leader in community and cultural organizations, and in his pre-bench years, Ed was also a bit of a figure about town. He was lively and fun-loving, a connoisseur of fine scotch, and had a rambunctious side to him, punctuated by one of the most infectious laughs I have ever heard. He found a joy in life and in his relationships with clients, colleagues at the bar, and fellow citizens in the coffee shop, which was very special.

Ed’s bent for public policy and public service was demonstrated in various ways throughout his life. He believed strongly that participation in public affairs was an important responsibility of citizenship, and he was a good and persistent practitioner of that belief. I’ve already noted his significant work in the courtroom — but during his judicial career he also provided meaningful contributions to Canadian public policy in other venues.

He was chairman of an inquiry that considered the development of Saskatchewan’s rich uranium deposits, and his report is still recognized around the world as a landmark piece of work outlining a framework for resource development in a manner that is sensitive to community concerns.

I appeared as counsel before him in that matter, and I saw firsthand the courteous and fair-minded way in which he received the submissions of both powerful corporate interests and concerned individual citizens.

Later, he led a significant inquiry in respect of problems at the Vancouver ports and he served for three years on the Law Reform Commission of Saskatchewan. He was also a stalwart on the Canadian Judicial Council where he was a champion of continuing judicial education, then in its infancy.

In all his work Ed was a principled reformer, pushing the envelope to make things better. But he was also a pragmatist, understanding that the world could not be remade in a day but that progress required a sound grounding in public acceptance.

Ed will be remembered especially for his human touch, both on the bench and off it. He could rub shoulders with the great and powerful one moment while in the next, clad in blue jeans and driving his beloved 1972 Lincoln, he would chat happily with a new acquaintance at the Canadian Tire store or with family and friends.

Undoubtedly his great passion in life was his family. Predeceased by his first wife Yvonne and his parents, Ed is survived by his wife Lorraine Bethell, seven children, 22 grandchildren, and six great-grandchildren.

Throughout his life Ed Bayda remained true to his Saskatchewan small-town roots — a down-to-earth man, approachable and convivial. He had a soft heart and a gentle spirit, coupled with a steely determination to pursue those things he thought to be right.

For his contributions to the province, Ed received many recognitions, including honorary doctorates from both the University of Saskatchewan and the University of Regina. In 2008 he was inducted into the Saskatchewan Order of Merit.

Perhaps his own words tell more about Ed and his approach to his life as a judge and a citizen than anything which I or any of his other friends could write:

“A judge must always think of himself or herself not as a person with power, but as a person in service. A person who serves all of the people is answerable to all of the people. And the best way for her to be answerable to all of the people is to be totally impartial and totally independent. . . . It is that kind of impartiality and total independence that instils the confidence of the public in the administration of justice.”

He will be much missed, but surely those values he cherished will live on.

Harold H. MacKay, OC, QC, is of counsel to MacPherson Leslie & Tyerman LLP and a longtime friend of former chief justice Edward Bayda.

  • Lawyer

    K.A.
    I wasn't aware that MLT existed in its current form back in the 1950s. Presumably the predecessor firm had a name? Normally one uses the firm name as it existed back then in these sorts of stories. Presumably the learned Mr. MacKay could resist a plug for his own firm. Other than that, a good tribute to a great man like Ed Bayda.

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