Claude R. Thomson

Claude R. Thomson QC (September 30, 1933 – November 24, 2010) was a Canadian lawyer in Toronto, Ontario. He was a well-known courtroom lawyer, and also a pioneer of alternative dispute resolution in Canada, including mediation and arbitration. He served as the president of the Canadian Bar Association and the International Bar Association.

Claude Renwick Thomson
56th President of the Canadian Bar Association
In office
Preceded byRobert H. McKercher
Succeeded byRobert Wells
11th President of the International Bar Association
In office
Preceded byGiuseppe Bisconti
Succeeded byJ. Ross Harper
Personal details
Born(1933-09-30)September 30, 1933
Toronto, Ontario, Canada
DiedNovember 24, 2010(2010-11-24) (aged 77)
SpouseRosemary Thomson
Alma materOsgoode Hall Law School (LL.B)

Early life, family and educationEdit

Thomson was born in Toronto, Ontario in 1933, the son of William Thomson, a civil engineer with the provincial department of highways, and Cecile Morency. His mother was francophone but would not speak in French to her son in public, fearing it would hold him back.[1]

His family moved to Ottawa when he was young, where he attended St Patrick's College. He won the Canadian University Debating Championship, arguing that communist China should be admitted to the United Nations. The then mayor of Ottawa, Charlotte Whitton, awarded him the prize of a gold ring.[1] Thomson attended Osgoode Hall Law School, earning a Bachelor of Laws degree.

He and his wife, Rosemary, were married in 1958 and had five children Marguerite, Brendan, Christopher, Kelley and Campbell.[1]

Legal careerEdit

Lawyers and integrityEdit

Thomson was once asked what was the most important quality for a lawyer. His immediate answer was integrity: "The single most important quality of a top advocate is a well earned reputation for integrity. The reputation will help to attract clients, allow one to engage in productive and efficient dealings with other members of the profession, and perhaps most importantly, will help to pry open the sense of justice in the most closed minded judge."[2]

General litigation and arbitrationEdit

After articling with a noted litigation lawyer in Toronto, Malcolm Robb,[1][3] Thomson was called to the Bar of Ontario in 1958 and to the bar of Saint Helena in 1963.[4] Thomson spent most of his legal career as a general litigator and partner with the law firm Fasken Martineau in Toronto, developing a reputation as an intense courtroom lawyer with formidable tactical skills, and acted for parties in a large number of high-profile cases.[1] Later in his career, he developed a practice in mediation and arbitration.[1] He eventually left Fasken Martineau to join ADR Chambers International in Toronto, an international arbitration group. He became a Chartered Arbitrator and acted as an international arbitrator and mediator.[5][6]

Murder case on Ascension IslandEdit

In 1963, an American engineer was charged with murder at an American missile base on the British overseas territory of Ascension Island in the south Atlantic. Thomson was asked to defend him. The trial occurred on the island of Saint Helena, eight hundred miles to the south of Ascension Island. The chief justice of Uganda presided over the trial. Thomson's client was acquitted of murder but convicted of manslaughter. He was sentenced to twelve years' imprisonment, which he served in England.[1]

Royal Commission of Inquiry into Certain Activities of the Royal Canadian Mounted PoliceEdit

In the 1970s, information came to light about illegal activities by the RCMP Security Service. The federal government appointed a royal commission of inquiry, chaired by Justice McDonald, to investigate the allegations and to make recommendations. Thomson was retained by the RCMP to represent them at the commission hearings.[1]

Inquiry into deaths at Sick Children HospitalEdit

In 1980–81, a number of children died at The Hospital for Sick Children in Toronto. Concerns were raised that they were being poisoned, leading to a provincial inquiry into the deaths. Thomson acted for one of the nurses who came under suspicion, vigorously defending her and chastising the commissioner, Justice Samuel Grange, for putting her under trial in the court of public opinion. He also engaged in public relations on behalf of his client, appearing on a CBC radio programme, Cross-Country Checkup, to explain his client's position. His client was not charged in the matter.[1]

Prosecution of Thomson and Southam newspaper chainsEdit

In 1980, the Southam newspaper chain closed its paper in Winnipeg, the same day as the Thomson newspaper chain closed its newspaper in Ottawa. The closures gave Thomson newspapers a monopoly in Winnipeg and Southam newspapers a monopoly in Ottawa. Eventually, the two newspapers were prosecuted under the federal Combines Investigation Act offences governing mergers and monopolistic conduct.[7] Claude Thomson was retained to carry on the prosecution on behalf of the Crown. After a lengthy trial, the two newspaper chains were acquitted. Thomson later commented about the case: "I presented every piece of evidence I could. I asked every tough question I could think of. The judge believed the defence. That's what our system of justice is about and I have no complaints."[1]

Supreme Court of Canada appearancesEdit

Throughout his career, Thomson appeared several times on cases in the Supreme Court of Canada. Two notable cases were interventions on behalf of interested parties in Borowski v Canada, dealing with the abortion issue,[8] and in Reference re Bill 30, which considered the constitutional guarantee for separate schools in Ontario.[9]

Pioneer in alternative dispute resolutionEdit

Thomson was an early proponent in Canada of alternative dispute resolution, namely ways to resolve disputes other than by expensive civil litigation in the courts. He developed a practice in combined mediation and arbitration and spoke frequently on methods and processes for alternative dispute resolution.[10]

After leaving Fasken Martineau late in his career, Thomson joined ADR Chambers in Toronto, which provides mediation, arbitration and other dispute resolution services. In 2014, it was announced that ADR Chambers was now the largest arbitration company in the world.[11]

Professional organizationsEdit

Canadian Bar AssociationEdit

Thomson served as the president of the Canadian Bar Association from 1984 to 1985.[12] The Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms had been enacted two years previously, and he announced that one of his goals as president was to work for the repeal of section 33 of the Charter, which authorizes the federal and provincial governments to override certain Charter rights for a limited period.[1] He was unsuccessful in this lobbying effort.

As president, Thomson was deeply concerned with the image of the legal profession and also with modernizing the profession. He advocated for computers in the courtrooms, elimination of restrictions on the number of new lawyers, and encouraging young lawyers to specialise. He was also concerned with the image of the profession. While acknowledging that some lawyers appear to be in the profession simply for their own self-advancement, he highlighted the thousands of lawyers who work to provide their clients with the best possible legal representation, and who work for law reform and social justice.[1]

International Bar AssociationEdit

From 1993 to 1994, Thomson was the president of the International Bar Association.[13] He was the second Canadian to serve in that post, the first being Neil McKelvey, who was also a former president of the CBA.

As president of the IBA, Thomson travelled the world in the interests of the legal profession. One notable trip was to Tunisia, where he attended a conference of the Union of Arab Lawyers. After some uncertainty, he decided to attend a function put on by Yasser Arafat, unaware that peace negotiations were underway between Arafat and Israel. One outcome of the trip was that the Tunisian government released a jailed Tunisian human rights lawyer, in response to pressures brought by the IBA and the chair of the Tunis Bar.[1]

World Peace through Law CentreEdit

In 1985, Thomson was given the World Lawyer Award from the World Peace Through Law Centre (now the World Jurist Association). He was the first Canadian to receive the award. On accepting the award, he called on lawyers to oppose nuclear arms, saying: "Such weapons are illegal because they have the potential to destroy us all."[1]

Other organizationsEdit

Thomson was also on the board of the Advocates' Society and the Canadian Institute of Chartered Accountants.[4]

Personal lifeEdit

Thomson was a fisherman all his life, particularly fly fishing. On one fishing trip off the Queen Charlotte Islands with Bryan Williams, another former CBA president, Thomson had a strike from a salmon. Although Williams encouraged him to let it go, Thomson persevered and after an epic struggle that lasted an hour, he landed the salmon, which weighed thirty-nine pounds.[1]

Later life and deathEdit

Thomson never really retired. He was working from his hospital bed just a few days before his death.[1] He left his wife Rosemary, to whom he had been married for fifty-two years, five children and numerous grandchildren.[6]



  1. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m n o p Ron Csillag, "Litigator worked to improve the image of the legal profession", Globe and Mail, December 9, 2010.
  2. ^ Ramon Mullet OBE: "In memoriam – Claude Thomson, vir bonus," International Bar Association, February 16, 2011.
  3. ^ Canada Veterans Hall of Honour: John Malcolm Robb.
  4. ^ a b c d e "Claude Renwick Thomson fonds", Law Society of Upper Canada, p. 4.
  5. ^ Claude R. Thomson and Annie M.K. Finn, "Managing An International International Arbitration Arbitration: A Practical Perspective," Dispute Resolution Journal, vol. 60, no. 2 (May–July 2005) Archived November 13, 2016, at the Wayback Machine; reproduced as Chapter 13 of the American Arbitration Association Handbook on International Arbitration Practice, JurisNet: Huntington (N.Y.), 2010.
  6. ^ a b c "Claude Thomson", Toronto Star Obituaries: November 27, 2010.
  7. ^ Marc Edge, "The Never-ending Story: Postmedia, the Competition Bureau, and Press Ownership Concentration in Canada," CJMS Spring-Summer 2016, p. 57.
  8. ^ Borowski v. Canada (Attorney General), [1989] 1 SCR 342.
  9. ^ Reference re Bill 30, An Act to Amend the Education Act (Ont.), [1987] 1 SCR 1148.
  10. ^ "Murray H. Miskin, "Canadian ADR Pioneer Claude Thomson"". Archived from the original on November 12, 2016. Retrieved November 12, 2016.
  11. ^ "Canada's ADR Chambers Now the World's Largest ADR Company", MarketWired, April 7, 2014.
  12. ^ Canadian Bar Association: Past CBA Presidents.
  13. ^ International Bar Association: Past Presidents, and Divisions' Chairs of the International Bar Association.