New book labels Hall Truscott's champion
Biographer looks at `folk hero' judge

Emmett Hall also father of medicare

Oct. 27, 2004


GUELPH—When nine judges of the Supreme Court of Canada reconsidered Steven Truscott's murder conviction nearly four decades ago, Justice Emmett Hall was the only one who believed he must get a new trial.

"He thought that Truscott was getting a raw deal and that even his own lawyers had let him down," said retired University of Guelph political science professor Fred Vaughan, who just released a biography of the late judge.

The Supreme Court was asked in 1966 to determine whether Truscott had grounds to appeal his 1959 conviction for murdering schoolmate Lynne Harper. After five days of evidence in October, 1966, and submissions the following January, the Court ruled 8-to-1 on May 4, 1967, against allowing an appeal.

Hall's was the lone dissenting voice.

Vaughan, now living in Nova Scotia, noted at the time headlines across the country "screamed of injustice." "Emmett Hall was the only one with the legal and intestinal fortitude to come through. The wonder is how the other eight members of the court could have gone the other way," Vaughan said yesterday in an interview.

He called Hall's ruling in the case "absolutely stinging." While it was largely panned by his eight colleagues — one of whom later told Vaughan he thought Hall had been "grandstanding" — it was applauded by a Canadian public already concerned that a 14-year-old boy might have been wrongly convicted and sentenced to death.

This was fuelled by the release in early 1966 of Isabel LeBourdais' book, The Trial of Steven Truscott, which strongly questioned the its outcome. "It made (the judge) a folk hero almost immediately," Vaughan said. Hall died in Saskatoon in 1995.

In his decision, Hall wrote Truscott's trial "was not conducted according to law" and that a new trial should be ordered. He wrote there were "grave errors" in the trial "brought about principally by the crown counsel's method in trying to establish guilt," and by the trial judge's failure to realize the tack taken by the crown "would necessarily involve the jury being led away from an objective appraisal of the evidence for and against the prisoner."

Federal Justice Minister Irwin Cotler is expected this week to announce the result of a federal review of Truscott's conviction, which could result in his name being cleared after 45 years.

It was around the time the Supreme Court reviewed the case that Vaughan took a serious interest in Hall's career and embarked on a series of recorded interviews with the judge.

Hall's biography, Aggressive in Pursuit: The Life of Justice Emmett Hall, "has been in the works basically since 1970," Vaughan said.

"There were a number of things he didn't want me to include in the book, but I wanted to put them in ... So I essentially had to wait him out," he laughed. "He lived to be nearly 98. For a while the smart money was on him."

Vaughan, considered an expert on the Supreme Court, said most of the material he wished to include over Hall's objection were observances of other judges and comparisons between their style and Hall's.

"I hope the book gives people a view of the inner workings of the court," he said.

While Hall was renowned for his views of the Truscott case, he is best remembered as "the father of medicare."

In 1961, Hall was appointed by former law school classmate John Diefenbaker to chair the Royal Commission on Health Services in Canada. Its 1964 report led to the creation of the national medicare system.

In 1971, Hall was installed as the University of Guelph's second chancellor, a position he held until 1977.

"He thought to the end that I had something to do with it," Vaughan said. "I was away when (Hall's appointment was announced) and it was quite a shock when I came back."

In his book, Vaughan reveals Hall was not the original choice and got the position by accident more than anything.

The university's senate had been prepared to recommend Canadian Commonwealth Federation co-founder M.J. Coldwell. But the morning they were to make the recommendation one of the senators announced Coldwell had died.

Another senator recalled reading something about Hall in that morning's paper and all agreed he was a worthy nominee.

"It was only after the appointment they realized Mr. Coldwell was very much alive," Vaughan laughed. "I don't think I ever told Emmett that."