[JURIST] Former Canadian Chief Justice Antonio Lamer [official profile], 74, passed away on Saturday of natural causes, the Globe & Mail reported Sunday. Lamer led the Supreme Court of Canada [official website] from 1990-2000, and served on the high court for a total of two decades. On the bench, Lamer vigorously promoted the 1982 Charter of Rights and Freedoms [text], using the document to strike down and reform several controversial pieces of legislation. He later claimed his greatest case was his 1998 opinion [text] for a unanimous court in which he said that the predominantly French-speaking province of Quebec had no legal power to unilaterally separate from Canada. Before being named to the high court by then-Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau in 1980, Lamer was a leading criminal lawyer in Montreal, and served as the chairman of the Law Reform Commission of Canada [backgrounder] in the 1970s. After retirement, Lamer produced a major inquiry report on three wrongful convictions, wrote a report on military justice, and acted as independent commissioner of the Communications Security Establishment [official website].
Earlier this year, Lamer warned Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper [official profile] against influencing the judiciary to carry out his legislative agenda [JURIST report]. Lamer said Harper was compromising the independence of the judiciary by encouraging harsher sentences and interfering with the sentencing process. Although Lamer acknowledged that some judges are too lenient, he characterized Harper's demands on the judiciary as contrary to judges' duty to be impartial and hand out sentences they deem appropriate. Lamer also criticized the Canadian system of appointing judges to the 1,100-member federal bench as flawed and denounced new involvement of police and members of the community in the judicial selection process [JURIST report]. The Globe & Mail has more. AP has additional coverage.