Bora Laskin: Bringing Law to Life

by Philip Girard, Professor of Law, History & Canadian Studies at Dalhousie University, 2005. Published with the University of Toronto Press.

In any account of Canadian law in the 20th century, Bora Laskin looms large. This biography explores in vivid detail the life and times of a restless man on a mission. In his first career, as a human rights activist, university professor and labour arbitrator, Bora Laskin used the law to make Canada a better place for workers, racial and ethnic minorities, and the disadvantaged. Then, in what he called his ‘accidental career’ as a judge on the Ontario Court of Appeal and later chief justice of Canada, he embarked on a quest to make the judiciary more responsive to modern Canadian expectations of justice and fundamental rights. In the struggles of a man who fought anti-Semitism, corporate capital, omnipotent university boards, the Law Society of Upper Canada and his judicial colleagues, Philip Girard chronicles the emergence of modern Canada.


Honorable Mention-Canadian Historical Association prize for the best book in Canadian history 2005
Winner - The Champlain Society's Floyd Chalmers Award for writing on Ontario History 2005

Reviews of Bora Laskin: Bringing Law to Life

A thoroughly researched and sparklingly written biography. Lorne Sossin, University of Toronto Law Journal, vol 59, 2009, p. 251.
Bora Laskin: Bringing Law to Life, the first full biography of Laskin is a timely contribution ... it focuses of the life and thought of Canada's first and arguably only, popular judicial icon. His description of Laskin's jurisprudential writing is clear enough for general readers to follow, but nuanced and specific enough also to constitute an important contribution to academic legal scholarship. Mark Freiman, Literary Review of Canada, Vol 13, 2005, p. 9.
In recent years, Canadian judicial biography has taken a sharp turn toward the big, serious and unsentimental. ... Philip Girard's Bora Laskin: Bringing Law to Life ...may be the best judicial biography yet....This is a very good examination of what one judge can do, and it makes clear that Bora Laskin did a very great deal to change and improve Canadian law. Christopher Moore, Law Times, November 5, 2005

Reviews have also appeared in the following publications:

  • Matthew James J. Baglole, H-Net, June 2007.
  • Laurel Sefton MacDowell, Labour/Le Travail, vol 59, 2007, p. 261-264.
  • Jennifer Smith, The Canadian Historical Review, vol 88, no 2, June 2007, p. 322-324.
  • Ontario Historical Society Bulletin, April 2006, p. 7.
  • Justice Gilles Renaud, Canadian Criminal Law Review, vol 10, 2006, pp. 209-213
  • Thomas R. Braidwood, Advocate, Vol 64, Nov 2006, pp. 861-862.
  • Julio Gomes, ‘Book Salutes Bora Laskin’, The Chronicle-Journal, November 11, 2005.