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The Honourable Malcolm Rowe answers questions posed by law students Talia David (1L) and Logan Nadeau (1L) before taking questions from the floor.

The Honourable Malcolm Rowe answers questions posed by law students Talia David (1L) and Logan Nadeau (1L) before taking questions from the floor.

Supreme Court Justice inspires philosophical discussion

The Honourable Malcolm Rowe engages students in discussion of free speech & The Charter

April 16, 2024 — 

The Faculty of Law was pleased to welcome The Honourable Malcolm Rowe, a justice of the Supreme Court of Canada, to visit with law students on March 28, 2024. Students, professors and legal professionals filled the Moot Courtroom to first hear him give a short lecture on the work of late SCC Justice Ivan Rand regarding Freedom of Expression, and later open the floor to questions facilitated by law students Logan Nadeau (1L), and Talia David (3L).

The short lecture in which Justice Rowe quoted Jean-Paul Sartre, Albert Camus (“every human should be free”), and Voltaire (“I disagree with what you say but I will defend to the death, your right to say it”), served to inspire many questions from the law students attending. Justice Rowe demonstrated that the seemingly-dusty philosophers hold especial relevance in this age of social media, cancel culture and freedom of discussion, which Justice Rowe. said, “extends equally to every corner of Canada.”

Nadeau and David facilitated questions following the lecture to help law students get to know the justice, who had been appointed to the SCC on October 28, 2016. Questions surrounded Reconciliation, what changes in legal practice Justice Rowe has seen throughout his career, which started in 1978 when he was first called to the Bar of Newfoundland and Labrador, and what advice he would offer to aspiring judges.

The latter question made Justice Rowe laugh and say that it is unrealistic to aspire to be a justice of the Supreme Court of Canada since it is very much a lottery to be chosen from a Court of Appeal. “At most, you can aspire to be in the pool the judges are chosen from,” he said.

For his own path, Justice Rowe worked for the Department of External Affairs as a Foreign Service Officer early in his legal career, before joining the Ottawa office of the law firm of Gowling and Henderson as it was called in 1984. In 1996, he became Clerk of the Executive Council and Secretary to Cabinet in the Government of Newfoundland and Labrador. He was appointed to the Newfoundland and Labrador Supreme Court in 1999 and the Court of Appeal in 2001. He has served as a lecturer in public and constitutional law at the University of Ottawa, Faculty of Law and has published articles on public international law.

Students in the audience at Robson Hall were inspired by his talk to ask Justice Rowe about reconciling the ideals of free speech in the time of Sartre and Camus with the way matters are today in a modern world of social media. Questions also included what he thought were the most serious challenges facing the Justice system today. To the latter, Justice Rowe immediately raised the issue of Access to Justice.

Students, faculty members and a number of practicing legal professionals all took the opportunity to ask questions and greet the justice during his visit and at the reception that followed.

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