Passings: Chancellor Emeritus Peter deCarteret Cory

Chancellor Cory at Convocation
Chancellor Cory at Convocation

Former Supreme Court of Canada Justice Peter deCarteret Cory, C.C., who served as the 11th chancellor of York University, died on April 7 in Mississauga, Ont. He was 94 years old.

Chancellor Peter deCarteret Cory at Convocation
Chancellor Peter deCarteret Cory at Convocation

Justice Cory was officially installed as York University’s 11th chancellor during a special convocation ceremony held in 2004. He served as chancellor of York University from 2004 to 2008 and was subsequently appointed an honorary member of the University’s Board of Governors.

“Peter loved his time as Chancellor of the University, and took particular pleasure in interacting with students during Convocation,” said York University President and Vice-Chancellor Rhonda L. Lenton. “He was a great friend and supporter of York, and will be missed by those who had the good fortune of meeting and working with him.”

Born in Windsor, Ontario, Cory joined the RCAF as a teenager in the Second World War. He trained as a pilot and flew 22 bomber missions. He returned to Canada following the war and studied at Osgoode Hall Law School, which later affiliated with York University. He was called to the bar in 1950. He practiced litigation in Toronto, was appointed as Queen’s Counsel and elected as a Bencher of the Law Society of Upper Canada. Cory then rose through the ranks of the judiciary in Ontario. Recognizing the importance of an accessible legal system, he mastered French in order to hear cases in both official languages. Appointed to the Supreme Court of Canada in 1989, he wrote reasons in numerous landmark judgments helping to define the evolution of Canadian law and jurisprudence. For his contribution to the legal field and his service to the public, Cory was made a Companion of the Order of Canada in 2002.

Many of the most significant cases he participated in while serving on the Supreme Court involved interpretation of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedom, and have encompassed criminal, family, constitutional, commercial, labour, administrative and common law. In 1999, the year of his retirement from the Supreme Court, Cory received an honorary Doctor of Laws degree from York University.

His contributions to the law were analyzed and celebrated with a published symposium in his honour at his alma mater, Osgoode Hall Law School.

Cory was highly sought-after by governments and international leaders for his legal and public policy expertise. In 2002, he was appointed Commissioner by the governments of the United Kingdom and the Republic of Ireland to investigate six controversial murder cases involving alleged collusion by security forces in Northern Ireland and the Irish Republican Army.  Cory conducted a thorough investigation of the allegations of collusion in six murder cases. Following intense interest from parties involved in the peace process, in October of 2003, Cory reported his findings to the Irish and U.K. governments, urging judicial inquiries into several of the cases.

He spoke about this experience on March 7, 2006, when he delivered the annual John Holmes Lecture at York University’s Glendon Campus. Cory provided a poignant review of each of the murders. As part of his remarks delivered at the Holmes Lecture, Cory revealed his frustration over the governments’ stonewalling that followed the submission of his report on the six murders in October 2003. Cory expected his findings would be published in December 2003, as outlined in his initial agreement based on the second accord. However, the British government requested that its publication be delayed.

In January 2004, annoyed with the continued delays, Cory went directly to the families of the victims and informed them of his findings. In April 2004, the UK authorities finally published his reports but refused at that time to announce a public inquiry into the cases.

“These were brutal killings and I still have nightmares about them. There are no good guys or bad guys, there is just a degree of viciousness and cruelty,” Cory said in his remarks given at the Holmes Lecture. “There were supposed to be public inquiries following my report. The work was being accepted, there should have been a public inquiry so that people would know what happened.

“What has it all come to? Well, thank goodness we are Canadian and live in a country where there is tolerance and understanding,” said Cory. “From tolerance comes understanding of differences and an acceptance of these differences which leads us to then accomplish more, and as a society, Canada functions well. We can never let suspicion and hatred get to the point where it is so troubling and evident as it was in Northern Ireland.”