QUICK REFERENCE ENTRY:

The most influential B.C. author in Canadian history could be Thomas Berger who, as commissioner of the Mackenzie Valley Pipeline Inquiry, wrote an extensive report, Northern Frontier, Northern Homeland (1977), which has sold more copies than any other federal government publication. Berger's stalwart role in curbing development of the north for environmental and sociol reasons continues to have a profound impact on the people and ecology of Canada. In addition, Berger, as a lawyer, has fundamentally enhanced the concept and viability of self-government for aboriginal Canadians since the 1960s.

Thomas Berger's memoir One Man's Justice: A Life in the Law (2002) spans 40 years of precedent-making cases since 1957 and includes the landmark case of (Frank) Calder v. British Columbia in 1971, during which Berger asserted that indigenous / aboriginal rights must have a distinct place in Canadian law. Initially he didn't win the case; it was 4 to 4 split in the Supreme Court with one judge reneging. But in 1973, the Supreme Court of Canada concurred. Berger's approach in the Calder case laid the foundation upon which most modern treaty-making cases have been argued.

In his book Fragile Freedoms: Human Rights and Dissent in Canada (1981), Berger recounts his abiding concerns for civil rights, and in A Long and Terrible Shadow (1991) he surveys European and aboriginal relations in the Americas since 1492. In 1991, Berger was appointed Deputy Chairman of the first independent review commissioned by the World Bank to examine the implementation of resettlement and environmental measures in the Sardar Sarovar dam and irrigation projects in India. He co-authored a 360-page report critical of the World Bank's support for a project that would displace nearly 100,000 people. In 1997, he was part of an international human rights team that went to Chile to assess the social and environmental impact of a major dam project on the Biobio River.

Born in Victoria in 1933 of Swedish descent, Thomas R. Berger was called to the bar in 1957. He was later elected to serve the constituency of Vancouver-Burrard, both federally and provincially. In 1969, he defeated Dave Barrett to become leader of the provincial New Democratic Party but was badly defeated by the Social Credit's W.A.C. Bennett in the next provincial election. This paved the way for Dave Barrett to become the NDP leader and go on to win the 1972 provincial election.

Berger served as a B.C. Supreme Court judge from 1971 to 1983, during which time he conducted the aforementioned pipeline inquiry. Accorded more than a dozen honorary degrees, Berger has served as chair of SFU's J.S. Woodsworth campaign, which set out in 1984 to raise one million dollars for the J.S. Woodsworth Endowment Fund in the Humanities.

Berger received the Order of Canada in 1990 and the Freedom of the City of Vancouver in 1992.

After twelve years as a judge in the Supreme Court of British Columbia, Berger returned to the practice of law and represented the province in a lawsuit against tobacco companies. Berger is the subject of a biography by Carolyn Swayze called Hard Choices: A Life of Tom Berger (1987), and he remains active in the B.C. Civil Liberties Association. Other Berger titles are Village Journey (1985) and Northern Frontier, Northern Homeland (1988, rev. ed.). Other authors who have worked extensively in northern B.C. include linguist Sharon Hargus and anthropologists Diamond Jenness, Robin Ridington and Hugh Brody.

Tom Berger died on April 28, 2021.

FULL ENTRY:

Tom Berger, one of the greatest and most influential British Columbians, was best known as the commissioner of the Mackenzie Valley Pipeline Inquiry. Tom Berger's dual professional life in law and politics fundamentally enhanced the concept and viability of self-government for Indigenous Canadians since the 1960s.

In the shadow of his achievements as a social activist and a lawyer, Tom Berger was a very productive author.

Berger's memoir One Man's Justice: A Life in the Law (2003) spans 40 years of precedent-making cases since 1957 and includes the landmark case of (Frank) Calder v. British Columbia in 1971, during which Berger asserted that Aboriginal rights must have a distinct place in Canadian law. By 1973, the Supreme Court of Canada concurred. Berger's approach in the Calder case laid the foundation upon which most modern treaty-making cases have been argued.

As the commissioner of the Mackenzie Valley Pipeline Enquiry, Tom Berger wrote an extensive report, Northern Frontier Northern Homeland (1977), which sold more copies than any other federal government publication.

In his book Fragile Freedoms: Human Rights and Dissent in Canada (1981), Berger recounts his abiding concerns for civil rights and in A Long and Terrible Shadow (1991) he surveys European versus aboriginal relations in the Americas since 1492.

Berger's abiding interest in the moral and legal rights of indigenous peoples spread his influence beyond Canada. In 1991 he was appointed Deputy Chairman of the first independent review commissioned by the World Bank to examine the implementation of resettlement and environmental measures in the Sardar Sarovar dam and irrigation projects in India. He co-authored a 360-page report critical of the World Bank's support for a project that would displace nearly 100,000 people, Sardar Sarovar: Report of the Independent Review (1992).

In 1997, he was part of an international human rights team that went to Chile to assess the social and environmental impact of a major dam project on the Biobio River.

Born in Victoria on March 23, 1933, of Swedish descent, Tom Berger was called to the bar in 1957. He was later elected to serve the constituency of Vancouver-Burrard, both federally and provincially. In 1969, he defeated Dave Barrett to become leader of the provincial New Democratic Party but was badly defeated by the Social Credit's W.A.C. Bennett in the following provincial election. This paved the way for Dave Barrett to become the NDP leader and go on to win the 1972 provincial election.

Berger served as a B.C. Supreme Court judge from 1971 to 1983, during which time he conducted the aforementioned pipeline inquiry. Accorded more than a dozen honorary degrees, Berger served as chair of SFU's J.S. Woodsworth campaign, which set out in 1984 to raise $1 million for the J.S. Woodsworth Endowment Fund in the Humanities, and he received the Order of Canada in 1990.

Tom Berger was accorded Freeman of the City status in Vancouver in 1992. After 12 years as a judge in the Supreme Court of British Columbia, Tom Berger returned to the practice of law and represented the province in a lawsuit against tobacco companies. "I always made my way back into law practice," he once wrote.

Berger is the subject of a biography by Carol Swayze called Hard Choices: A Life of Tom Berger (1987) and he remained active in the B.C. Civil Liberties Association. Other Berger titles are Village Journey (1985) and Northern Frontier Northern Homeland Revisited (1988).

Tom Berger died on April 28, 2021.

BOOKS:

Berger, Tom. Northern Frontier Northern Homeland (Queen's Printer, 1977).
Berger, Tom. Fragile Freedoms (Clarke, Irwin & Co., 1981).
Berger, Tom. Village Journey (Hill and Wang, Farrar Strauss, 1985).
Berger, Tom. Northern Frontier Northern Homeland Revisited (Douglas & McIntyre, 1988).
Berger, Tom. A Long and Terrible Shadow: White Values, Native Rights in the Americas, 1492-1992 (Douglas & McIntyre, 1991).
Berger, Tom. Sardar Sarovar: Report of the Independent Review (Ottawa: Resource Futures International, 1992).
Berger, Tom. One Man's Justice: A Life in the Law (Douglas & McIntyre, 2003).

ABOUT BERGER

Swayze, Carolyn. Hard Choices: A Life of Tom Berger (Douglas & McIntyre, 1987).

[BCBW 2010]

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OBIT: [BCBW 2021]

Thomas Berger, one of the most influential British Columbians, was best known as the commissioner of the Mackenzie Valley Pipeline Inquiry, sometimes called the Berger Inquiry. His dual professional life in law and politics fundamentally enhanced the concept and viability of self-government for Indigenous people since the 1960s.
Born in Victoria on March 23, 1933, of Swedish descent, Thomas Rodney Berger gained respect for the law from his father who was in the RCMP. After his early schooling in B.C. and Saskatchewan, Berger attended high school in North Vancouver, earned a law degree from UBC and was called to the bar in 1957.

The following year the Ironworkers Union retained his services for a judicial inquiry into the tragic collapse of the Second Narrows Bridge that resulted in the deaths of 18 construction workers. Soon, Berger was battling the Workmen?s Compensation Board, trying to get a pension for a miner named Luis Battaglia who suffered from silicosis. This case led to the creation of a Royal Commission to investigate the WCB.

It was an auspicious beginning.

In the shadow of his achievements as a social activist and a lawyer, Thomas Berger was a productive author.

His memoir One Man?s Justice: A Life in the Law (D&M, 2003) spans 40 years of precedent-making cases since 1957 and includes the landmark case of [Frank] Calder v. British Columbia in 1971, during which Berger asserted that Aboriginal rights must have a distinct place in Canadian law. By 1973, the Supreme Court of Canada concurred. Berger?s approach in the Calder case laid the foundation upon which most modern treaty-making cases have been argued.
As the commissioner of the Mackenzie Valley Pipeline Inquiry, Berger wrote an extensive report, Northern Frontier Northern Homeland (Queen?s Printer, 1977), which sold more copies than any other federal government publication.

The report?s work involved Berger compiling 40,000 pages of documentation, visiting all 35 communities along the Mackenzie River and holding hearings that were augmented by CBC coverage in six languages. It led Berger to strongly urge there be no pipeline built across the Northern Yukon for at least ten years, essentially stalling industrial development.

?If it were built now,? he told the Liberal government, ?it would bring limited economic benefits, its social impact would be devastating, and it would frustrate the goals of native claims.?

When the report was released, several negotiations were underway over Indigenous land claims and Berger?s view was that pipeline construction should be delayed until those claims were settled. He also argued that the previous pipeline process had not taken Indigenous culture seriously and that any development needed to conform to the wishes of those who lived in the North.

Berger?s integrity influenced the nature of future negotiations with Indigenous people, ushering in a new standard for respect. ?The Elders really liked to talk to him because he wanted to listen and he encouraged people to speak in their own language,? said former Dene national chief Bill Erasmus. ?People had never heard from our Elders before in such a setting. I learned from him. Letting people speak is very, very powerful.?

Filmmaker Peter Raymont, now president of White Pine Pictures, was in the North researching a film for the National Film Board at the time. As quoted in the Globe & Mail, Raymont said, ?Justice Berger was unfailingly polite, patient and respectful. He had a gift for listening. His inquiry was transformative.?

Around 2004, a new Mackenzie Valley pipeline was being considered. Filmmaker Geoff Bowie made a documentary with Thomas Berger for CBC?s The Nature of Things titled Ghosts of Futures Past: Tom Berger in the North.

?We took Tom back to several Indigenous communities where he had held his famous Berger Inquiry in the ?70s,? says Bowie. ?Thirty years had passed, three of the four Indigenous groups in the valley had signed comprehensive land claims agreements and Tom was asking them how they felt now about a pipeline. It was a wonderful film project that took us from the Alaska National Wildlife Refuge, to Tuktoyaktuk, to Fisherman Lake near Fort Liard in Dehcho Territory.
?[Berger] helped Indigenous people in their struggle to have their rights recognized. A noble service indeed.?

In Berger?s book Fragile Freedoms: Human Rights and Dissent in Canada (Clarke, Irwin & Co., 1981), he recounts his abiding concerns for civil rights and in A Long and Terrible Shadow (D&M, 1991) he surveys European-Aboriginal relations in the Americas since 1492.

Berger?s interest in the moral and legal rights of Indigenous peoples spread his influence beyond Canada. In 1991, he was appointed deputy chairman of the first independent review commissioned by the World Bank to examine the implementation of resettlement and environmental measures in the Sardar Sarovar dam and irrigation projects in India. He co-authored a 360-page report critical of the World Bank?s support for a project that would displace nearly 100,000 people, Sardar Sarovar: Report of the Independent Review (Resource Futures International, 1992).

In 1997, he was part of an international human rights team that went to Chile to assess the social and environmental impact of a major dam project on the Biobio River.

Berger took his first run at politics in 1962 although he failed to win a seat federally for the NDP. He persevered and was later elected to serve the constituency of Vancouver-Burrard, both federally (1962-1963) and provincially (1966-1969). Then, in 1969, Berger narrowly defeated Dave Barrett for leadership of the B.C. NDP only to resign later that year after losing in the provincial election to the Social Credit?s W.A.C. Bennett.

?I first met Tom Berger when he was campaigning against Dave Barrett for leader of the BC NDP,? says Howard White, President of Harbour Publishing and Douglas & McIntyre. ?I was impressed by his high mindedness but worried about his diffident, wooden manner. Charismatic he was not. He beat Barrett but was creamed by W.A.C. Bennett in the general election. It was the best thing for him because it opened the way for him to serve in ways that better suited his talents, first as a judge, then as commissioner of the landmark Mackenzie Valley Pipeline Inquiry, then as a tireless advocate and author for the rights of Indigenous peoples. In this last role he did as much as any Canadian to advance the cause of First Nations. It is hard to think of a public figure in Canada who earned more universal respect.?

Berger served as a B.C. Supreme Court judge from 1971 to 1983, during which time he conducted the aforementioned pipeline inquiry.
Accorded more than a dozen honorary degrees, Berger alsoserved as chair of SFU?s J.S. Woodsworth campaign, which set out in 1984 to raise $1 million for the J.S. Woodsworth Endowment Fund in the Humanities, and he received the Order of Canada in 1990. He was accorded Freeman of the City status in Vancouver in 1992.

After 12 years as a judge in the Supreme Court of British Columbia, Berger returned to the practice of law andrepresented the province in a lawsuit against tobacco companies. ?I always made my way back into law practice,? he once wrote.

Berger is the subject of a biography by Carolyn Swayze, Hard Choices: A Life of Tom Berger (D&M, 1987). He remained active in the B.C. Civil Liberties Association throughout his life.

Berger also wrote Village Journey (Hill and Wang, Farrar Strauss, 1985) and Northern Frontier Northern Homeland Revisited (D&M, 1988).

?Tom was a great champion of Indigenous peoples and rights,? says Jody Wilson-Raybould, Vancouver Granville MP, ?a true trail-blazer.?
Berger died on April 28, 2021.