Chief Justice of Canada

The Chief Justice of Canada (French: Juge en Chef du Canada) is the presiding judge of the nine-member Supreme Court of Canada, the highest judicial body in Canada. As such, the chief justice is the highest-ranking judge of the Canadian court system. The Supreme Court Act grants plenary power to the Governor General to appoint—with the advice of the Prime Minister—a chief justice, who serves until they resign, die, are removed from office for cause, or attain the age of 75 years. By tradition, a new chief justice is chosen from among the Court's incumbent puisne justices.

The chief justice has significant influence in the proceedural rules of the Court, presides when oral arguments are held, and leads the discussion of cases among the justices. He or she is also Deputy Governor General, Ex-officio chairman of the Canadian Judicial Council, and heads the committee that selects recipients of the Order of Canada. Additionally, a chief justice also assumes viceregal duties upon the death or incapacitation of the Governor-General.

Since the Supreme Court was established in 1875, 18 people have served as chief justice. The Court's first chief justice was William Buell Richards; currently, it is Richard Wagner. Beverley McLachlin is the longest serving Canadian chief justice (17 years, 341 days), and was the first woman to hold the position.

Chief Justice of Canada
The Chief Justice of Canada
Richard Wagner, PC

since December 18, 2017
Supreme Court of Canada
Office of the Chief Justice
Judiciary of Canada (Queen-on-the-Bench)
StyleThe Right Honourable
Madam/Mister Chief Justice
StatusChief justice, head of a court system
Deputy Governor General
3rd in Canadian order of precedence
Member ofSupreme Court
Canadian Judicial Council (Ex-officio chairman)
Order of Canada advisory council (chairman)
SeatSupreme Court Building, Ottawa, Ontario
NominatorThe Prime Minister (in-Council)
AppointerThe Governor General
Term lengthNo set term, though retirement is mandatory at age 75
Constituting instrumentSupreme Court Act
Inaugural holderSir William Buell Richards
FormationSeptember 30, 1875
Salary$413,500 (as of April 2018)[1]
WebsiteSupreme Court


The Chief Justice is appointed by the Governor General-in-Council under the federal Supreme Court Act on the advice of the Prime Minister.[2] The appointment is subject to the Supreme Court Act, which governs the administration and appointment of judges of the court. By this component of the Constitution of Canada, Judges appointed to the court must be "a judge of a superior court of a province or a barrister or advocate of at least ten years standing at the bar of a province."

Tradition dictates that the chief justice be appointed from among the Court's puisne judges; in the history of the Court, only two were not: William Buell Richards, and Charles Fitzpatrick. It is also customary that a new chief justice be chosen alternately from among: the three justices who by law must be from Quebec (with its civil law system), and the other six justices from the rest of Canada (representing the common law tradition). Since 1933, this tradition has only been broken once, when Brian Dickson of Manitoba was named to succeed Bora Laskin of Ontario in 1984.


The Chief Justice's central duty is to preside at hearings before the Supreme Court.[3] The Chief Justice presides from the centre chair. If the Chief Justice is absent, the senior puisne judge presides.[3]

Judicial Council

The Chief Justice chairs the Canadian Judicial Council, which is composed of all chief justices and associate chief justices of superior courts in Canada. This body, established in 1971 by the Judges Act, organizes seminars for federally appointed judges, coordinates the discussion of issues of concern to the judiciary, and conducts inquiries, either on public complaint or at the request of the federal Minister of Justice or a provincial attorney general, into the conduct of any federally appointed judge.

Other duties

The Chief Justice is sworn as a member of the Queen's Privy Council for Canada prior to taking the judicial oath of office.[4] He or she also sits on the advisory council of Canada's highest civilian order, the Order of Canada. In practice however, the Chief Justice abstains from voting on a candidate's removal from the order, presumably because this process has so far only applied to individuals convicted in a lower court of a criminal offence, and could create a conflict of interest for the Chief Justice if that individual appealed their conviction to the Supreme Court.

Under the Electoral Boundaries Readjustment Act, each province has a three-person commission responsible for modifying that province's federal ridings. The chair of each such commission is appointed by the chief justice of that province; if no appointment is made by the provincial chief justice, the responsibility falls to the Chief Justice of Canada.[5]

Assistant viceroy

The Letters Patent of 1947 respecting the Office of Governor General provide that, should the Governor General die, become incapacitated, or be absent from the country for a period of more than one month, the Chief Justice or, if that office is vacant, the Senior Puisne Justice, of the Supreme Court would become the Administrator of Canada and exercise all the powers and duties of the Governor General. This has happened on three occasions: Chief Justices Lyman Duff and Robert Taschereau each did so, in 1940 and 1967 respectively, following the death of the incumbent Governor General, as did Chief Justice Beverley McLachlin when the Governor General underwent surgery in 2005.

The Chief Justice and the other Justices of the Court serve as deputies of the Governor General for the purpose of giving Royal Assent to bills passed by parliament, signing official documents or receiving credentials of newly appointed high commissioners and ambassadors.

Current chief justice

The current Chief Justice is Richard Wagner, who took office on December 18, 2017, replacing Beverley McLachlin, the first woman to hold this position. Born in Montreal on April 2, 1957, he had been a puisne Supreme Court justice for 5 years, 74 days at the time of his elevation to chief justice. He previously sat on the Quebec Court of Appeal.

List of chief justices

Since the Supreme Court was established in 1875, the following 18 persons have served as Chief Justice:[6]

Order and term[A] Length of term Appointed on
advice of
Date of birth Date of death
William Buell Richards
1st September 30, 1875 –
January 10, 1879
3 years, 102 days Mackenzie May 2, 1815 January 26, 1889
William Johnstone Ritchie
(New Brunswick)
2nd January 11, 1879 –
September 25, 1892
13 years, 258 days Macdonald October 28, 1813 September 25, 1892[B]
Samuel Henry Strong
3rd December 13, 1892 –
November 17, 1902
9 years, 339 days Thompson August 13, 1825 August 31, 1909
Henri Elzéar Taschereau
4th November 21, 1902 –
May 1, 1906
3 years, 161 days Laurier October 7, 1836 April 14, 1911
Charles Fitzpatrick[C]
5th June 4, 1906 –
October 20, 1918
12 years, 138 days Laurier December 19, 1851 June 17, 1942
Louis Henry Davies
(Prince Edward Island)
6th October 23, 1918 –
May 1, 1924
5 years, 191 days Borden May 4, 1845 May 1, 1924[B]
Francis Alexander Anglin
7th September 16, 1924 –
February 27, 1933
8 years, 164 days King April 2, 1865 March 2, 1933
Lyman Duff
(British Columbia)
8th March 17, 1933 –
January 6, 1944[D]
10 years, 295 days Bennett January 7, 1865 April 26, 1955
Thibaudeau Rinfret
9th January 8, 1944 –
June 21, 1954
10 years, 164 days King June 22, 1879 July 25, 1962
Patrick Kerwin
10th July 1, 1954 –
February 2, 1963
8 years, 216 days St. Laurent October 25, 1889 February 2, 1963[B]
Robert Taschereau
11th April 22, 1963 –
August 31, 1967[E]
4 years, 131 days Pearson September 10, 1896 July 26, 1970
John Robert Cartwright
12th September 1, 1967 –
March 22, 1970
2 years, 202 days Pearson March 23, 1895 November 24, 1979
Gérald Fauteux
13th March 23, 1970 –
December 22, 1973
3 years, 274 days P. Trudeau October 22, 1900 September 14, 1980
Bora Laskin
14th December 27, 1973 –
March 26, 1984
10 years, 90 days P. Trudeau October 5, 1912 March 26, 1984[B]
Brian Dickson
15th April 18, 1984 –
June 29, 1990
6 years, 72 days P. Trudeau May 25, 1916 October 17, 1998
Antonio Lamer
16th July 1, 1990 –
January 6, 2000
9 years, 189 days Mulroney July 8, 1933 November 24, 2007
Beverley McLachlin
(British Columbia)
17th January 7, 2000 –
December 14, 2017[F]
17 years, 341 days Chrétien September 7, 1943 (living)
Richard Wagner
18th December 18, 2017 –
1 year, 54 days[G] J. Trudeau April 2, 1957 (living)

This graphical timeline depicts the length of each justice's tenure as chief justice:[6]


  1. ^ The start date listed for each chief justice is the day he or she took the judicial oath of office, and the end date is the date of the justice's death, resignation, or retirement.
  2. ^ a b c d Died in office
  3. ^ Appointed directly from the Cabinet, and never served as puisne justice; only time the chief justiceship has been filled from outside the judiciary.[7]
  4. ^ Assumed vice regal duties as Administrator of Canada February 11 – June 21, 1940, following the death in office of Governor General Lord Tweedsmuir.
  5. ^ Assumed vice regal duties as Administrator of Canada March 5 – April 17, 1967, following the death in office of Governor General Georges Vanier.
  6. ^ Assumed vice regal duties as Administrator of Canada in July 2005 when Governor General Adrienne Clarkson underwent surgery.[8]
  7. ^ As of February 10, 2019


  1. ^ "Guide for Candidates". Ottawa, Ontario: Office of the Commissioner for Federal Judicial Affairs. Retrieved November 23, 2018.
  2. ^ "Supreme Court of Canada". Retrieved 2016-01-06.
  3. ^ a b "Supreme Court of Canada - Role of the Court". Supreme Court of Canada. Retrieved 2016-01-06.
  4. ^ "About the Judges". Supreme Court of Canada. Retrieved 6 January 2016.
  5. ^ "Electoral Boundaries Readjustment Act". Retrieved 2009-09-25.
  6. ^ a b "Current and Former Chief Justices". Ottawa, Ontario: Supreme Court of Canada. Retrieved November 12, 2018.
  7. ^ Snell, James G.; Vaughan, Frederick (1985). The Supreme Court of Canada: History of the Institution (PDF). Osgoode Hall, Toronto, Ontario: Osgoode Society for Canadian Legal History. p. 90. ISBN 0-8020-3417-9. Retrieved November 12, 2018.
  8. ^ Everett, Jason K. (Summer 2016). "Beverly McLachlin, Canada: Chief Justice, Supreme Court of Canada". International Judicial Monitor. Washington, D.C.: International Judicial Academy of the International Law Institute. Retrieved November 12, 2018.
Order of precedence
Preceded by
Justin Trudeau
as Prime Minister of Canada
Chief Justice of Canada
Canadian order of precedence (ceremonial)
Succeeded by
Former Governors General of Canada
in order of their departure from office
Beverley McLachlin

Beverley Marian McLachlin, CStJ (Chinese: 麥嘉琳, born September 7, 1943) is a Canadian jurist and author who served as the 17th Chief Justice of Canada from 2000 to 2017, the first woman to hold that position and the longest serving Chief Justice in Canadian history. In her role as Chief Justice, she also simultaneously served as a Deputy of the Governor General of Canada.

McLachlin retired December 15, 2017, nine months before reaching the mandatory retirement age of 75. Her successor as Chief Justice of Canada is Richard Wagner, who was nominated by Prime Minister Justin Trudeau in 2017. Her successor as a Justice of the Court is Sheilah Martin, who was nominated by the Prime Minister through a new process for judicial appointments to the Supreme Court of Canada that permitted "any Canadian lawyer or judge who fits a specified criteria" to apply.In March 2018, McLachlin was nominated to become a non-permanent judge on the Hong Kong Court of Final Appeal, the first Canadian jurist nominated to the post. The appointment was gazetted and came into effect July 30, 2018, for a three-year term.

Brian Dickson

Robert George Brian Dickson, (May 25, 1916 – October 17, 1998), commonly known as Brian Dickson, was a Canadian lawyer, military officer and judge. He was appointed a puisne justice of the Supreme Court of Canada on March 26, 1973, and subsequently appointed the 15th Chief Justice of Canada on April 18, 1984. He retired on June 30, 1990.

Dickson's tenure as chief justice coincided with the first wave of cases under the new Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms which reached the Supreme Court from 1984 onwards. Dickson wrote several very influential judgments dealing with the Charter and laid the groundwork for the approach that the courts would take to the Charter.

Francis Alexander Anglin

Francis Alexander Anglin PC (April 2, 1865 – March 2, 1933) was the seventh Chief Justice of Canada from 1924 until 1933.

Born in Saint John, New Brunswick, one of nine children of Timothy Anglin, federal politician and Speaker of the House of Commons of Canada, and elder brother to the renowned stage actress, Margaret Anglin, he received a Bachelor of Arts degree from the University of Ottawa in 1887. Anglin studied law at the Law Society of Upper Canada (which in those days taught law) and was called to the bar in 1888 establishing a practice in Toronto. In 1896 he became Clerk of the Surrogate Court of Ontario.

He was appointed to the Exchequer Division of the High Court of Justice of Ontario in 1904 and, thanks to a nomination from the Laurier government, to the Supreme Court of Canada on February 23, 1909, becoming Chief Justice in 1924 thanks to a nomination by the first Mackenzie King government, and serving until his retirement, two days before his death, in 1933.

Gérald Fauteux

Joseph Honoré Gérald Fauteux, (October 22, 1900 – September 14, 1980) was the 13th Chief Justice of Canada from 1970 to 1973.

Born in Saint-Hyacinthe, Quebec, the son of Homère Fauteux and Héva Mercier, he studied at the Université de Montréal and graduated with an LL.L in 1925. Called to the bar that year, he settled in Montreal, where he practised with his grandfather, Honoré Mercier Jr., forming the law firm of Mercier & Fauteux. From 1930 to 1936, he was Crown Prosecutor for Montreal, and in 1939 he became Chief Crown Prosecutor of the province of Quebec.

In 1946 he was a legal adviser with the Royal Commission on Spying Activities in Canada. He taught criminal law as a sessional lecturer at McGill University for 14 years and was the dean of the Faculty of Law from 1949 to 1950. In 1947 he was appointed to the Quebec Superior Court and to the Supreme Court of Canada on December 22, 1949. He was also one of the founders of the University of Ottawa's law faculty, serving as dean from 1953 to 1962. He was appointed the Chancellor of the University of Ottawa in 1973. On March 23, 1970, he was named Chief Justice of Canada, retiring on December 23, 1973, having served for 24 years on the court, four as Chief Justice. In 1974 he was made a Companion of the Order of Canada. Fauteux Hall which houses the Faculty of Law at the University of Ottawa is named after him.

Chief Justice Fauteux died on September 14, 1980, at the age of 79 and was interred in the Notre Dame des Neiges Cemetery in Montreal.

Henri Elzéar Taschereau

Sir Henri-Elzéar Taschereau, (October 7, 1836 – April 14, 1911) was a Canadian jurist and the fourth Chief Justice of Canada.

John Idington

John Idington (October 14, 1840 – February 7, 1928) was a Canadian justice of the Supreme Court of Canada.

Born in Puslinch, Upper Canada (now Ontario), the son of Peter Idington and Catherine Stewart, he received his LL.B degree from the University of Toronto and was called to the Ontario Bar, both in 1864. He practised law in Stratford, Canada West (now Ontario) for forty years.

He was created a provincial QC in 1876 and a dominion QC in 1885.

In 1904, he was appointed to the High Court of Justice of Ontario and he was appointed by Wilfrid Laurier to the Supreme Court on February 10, 1905. In 1924, following the death of Sir Louis Henry Davies, Idington was passed over for the position of Chief Justice of Canada, even though he was the senior Pusine Justice on the Court.

His notable decisions include his dissent in Quong Wing v. R., in which he disagreed with the effects of racist legislation, on the basis that the use of the term "Chinaman" could not have been meant to refer to naturalized Canadians of Chinese origin.

He retired on March 31, 1927, at age 86, after legislation was passed requiring a mandatory retirement age of 75.

John Robert Cartwright

John Robert Cartwright, (March 23, 1895 – November 24, 1979) was the 12th Chief Justice of Canada.

Born in Toronto, Cartwright was the son of James Strachan Cartwright and Jane Elizabeth Young. After graduating from Upper Canada College in 1912, he enrolled at Osgoode Hall Law School and began his articles with Smith, Rae & Greer.

He interrupted his studies in 1914 to serve overseas with the armed forces during the First World War. In 1915 he was wounded twice and for the following two years was an aide-de-camp to three successive generals. He was awarded the Military Cross in 1917.

Upon his return to Canada, he resumed his study of law. He was called to the bar in 1920, then joined the firm of Smith, Rae & Greer in Toronto.

In 1947 he was counsel for the Government of Canada in the prosecutions that resulted from the findings of the Royal Commission on Spying Activities in Canada, which had been chaired by justices Robert Taschereau and Roy Kellock.

He was appointed to the Supreme Court of Canada on December 22, 1949 and became its chief justice on September 1, 1967. He served on the Supreme Court for 20 years and retired on March 23, 1970. The following year, he accepted a position with the law firm Gowling and Henderson as counsel.

List of Governors General of Canada

The following is a list of the governors and Governors General of Canada. Though the present-day office of the Governor General of Canada is legislatively covered under the Constitution Act, 1867, and legally constituted by the Letters Patent, 1947, the institution is, along with the institution of the Crown it represents, the oldest continuous and uniquely Canadian institution in Canada, having existed in an unbroken line since the appointment of Samuel de Champlain in 1627.

List of Supreme Court of Canada cases (Lamer Court)

This is a chronological list of notable cases decided by the Supreme Court of Canada from appointment of Antonio Lamer as Chief Justice of Canada to his retirement.

List of Supreme Court of Canada cases (McLachlin Court)

This is a chronological list of notable cases decided by the Supreme Court of Canada from the appointment of Beverley McLachlin as Chief Justice of Canada to her retirement in 2017.

List of Supreme Court of Canada cases (Wagner Court)

This is a chronological list of notable cases decided by the Supreme Court of Canada from the appointment of Richard Wagner as Chief Justice of Canada in 2017 to the present.

Louis Henry Davies

Sir Louis Henry Davies (May 4, 1845 – May 1, 1924) was a Canadian lawyer, businessman and politician, and judge from the province of Prince Edward Island. In a public career spanning six decades, he served as the third Premier of Prince Edward Island, a federal Member of Parliament and Cabinet minister, and as both a Puisne Justice and the sixth Chief Justice of Canada.

Patrick Kerwin

Patrick Kerwin, (October 25, 1889 – February 2, 1963) was the tenth Chief Justice of Canada.

Quebec Court of Appeal

The Court of Appeal of Quebec (sometimes referred to as Quebec Court of Appeal or QCA) (in French: la Cour d'appel du Québec) is the highest judicial court in Quebec, Canada. It hears cases in Quebec City and Montreal.

Richard Wagner (judge)

Richard R. Wagner, (born April 2, 1957) is a Canadian judge who serves as the 18th and current Chief Justice of Canada. He was sworn into office on December 18, 2017, having previously served as a Puisne Justice of the Supreme Court of Canada. He previously sat on the Quebec Court of Appeal. He is the son of former Progressive Conservative MP and Senator Claude Wagner.

Samuel Henry Strong

Sir Samuel Henry Strong, (August 13, 1825 – August 31, 1909) was a lawyer and the third Chief Justice of Canada.

The Right Honourable

The Right Honourable (The Rt Hon. or Rt Hon.) is an honorific style traditionally applied to certain persons and collective bodies in the United Kingdom, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, Fiji, some other Commonwealth realms, the Anglophone Caribbean, Mauritius, Zimbabwe and occasionally elsewhere.

"Right" in this context is an adverb meaning "to a great extent or degree".

Thibaudeau Rinfret

Thibaudeau Rinfret, (June 22, 1879 – July 25, 1962) was a Canadian jurist and the ninth Chief Justice of Canada and Administrator of Canada in 1952.

William Buell Richards

Sir William Buell Richards, (May 2, 1815 – January 26, 1889) was the first Chief Justice of Canada.

Richards was born in Brockville, Upper Canada to Stephen Richards and Phoebe Buell. He earned law degree at the St. Lawrence Academy in Potsdam, New York and then articled with his uncle Andrew Norton Buell in Brockville. He was called to the bar in 1837 and continued to practice in Brockville with George Malloch until 1853 and then with his uncle again.

In 1848 Richards was elected to the Legislative Assembly of the Province of Canada and by 1848 he became the Attorney General for the province. Leaving politics in June 1853, he was appointed to the Court of Common Pleas of Canada West and by 1863 he became Chief Justice.

In November 1868 Richards was appointed to Chief Justice of the province which was the highest court in Ontario at that time, the Supreme Court not yet having been created.. It was during this time that he heard the appeal of Patrick James Whelan for the murder of Thomas D'Arcy McGee.

With the creation of the Supreme Court of Canada in 1875 Richards was appointed directly to the position of Chief Justice which he stayed at until his retirement on January 10, 1879.

His brother Albert Norton Richards served in the Canadian House of Commons and was Lieutenant-Governor of British Columbia.

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