Daigle, Joseph Z.

Degree conferred: Doctor of Laws (LL.D.)

Orator: Patterson, Stephen E.

to be Doctor of Laws

It is traditional to speak about distinguished members of the judiciary in hushed and deferential tones. But I have to tell you that behind the robes and the proprieties of Chief Justice Daigle's office is a real person who was once a youth much like the graduates here today. In his youth, Joseph Daigle had a black leather jacket and a motorcycle. In fact, as a student in Paris in the 1950s, he roared around the city on his motorbike, carrying anyone who was brave enough to get on behind, and challenging the mad drivers of that city as if there were no tomorrow. Here he was, an Acadian in the capital of French culture, making his own statement about the world as he saw it. Clearly, he saw no barriers to doing what he wanted in life.

Joseph Daigle was born in the Acadian community of St. Charles in Kent County. He received his BA from Université St-Joseph, the forerunner of the Université de Moncton, and then entered the UNB Law School, then in Saint John, from which he received his Bachelor of Civil Law degree. For the next year, he went to Paris and studied public international law at Université de Paris before returning to New Brunswick where he was called to the bar. He was torn at this stage between practising law or pursuing a career in politics, and for two years he chose the latter, working as an administrative assistant in the premier's office. But in 1962, he opened a practice in Richibucto and established himself as a hard-working criminal defence lawyer and general civil litigator. In 1968, he was appointed a provincial court judge, at the time the youngest person ever appointed to the bench in the province. In 1970, he became director of revision and translation of all provincial statutes, a task he completed in 1974 when, for the first time, all provincial laws became available in both official languages. For two of these years, he also lectured at the UNB Law School.

By this point his political interests took over. He resigned from the bench, ran in the provincial election of 1974, and drubbed his opponent who lost his deposit. For four years he served as opposition financial critic and then in 1978 became leader of the opposition. In his eight years in politics, Joseph Daigle established a reputation for decency and gentlemanly conduct that left some politicos of the old school baffled. And when he left politics in 1982, it was with his reputation for honesty and integrity solidly intact. In 1982, he was appointed to the Court of Queen's Bench and was elevated to the chief justiceship of that court in 1994. In 1998, he was appointed Chief Justice of New Brunswick.

They say that a judge can be best known through his decisions. If this is so, one can find a marvelous consistency in Judge Daigle's judgments. He is noted for his profound sense of fairness, and his willingness patiently to weigh the merits of the arguments presented him from both sides of a dispute. Called upon to determine whether a commission charged with the responsibility for conducting a public inquiry had carried out its mandate in a fair and flexible way, he could say in one instance that it had, and in another that it had not. Such matters were not black and white, and as he explained, fairness depends on the facts and the context. Other cases tested his wisdom to settle disputes among neighbours who, he knew, would continue to be neighbours whatever he decided. In one case, the issue was who was entitled to a piece of disputed land, a man who had a deed and had farmed it for years, or an adjoining property owner who claimed that the former's deed was faulty. In a similar matter, the question was whether a man cutting timber had strayed across his property line into his neighbour's woodlot, and was thus liable for damages. In both cases, he upheld the party legally in possession of a valid deed, but the cash settlements were very small, entirely in proportion to the means of ordinary New Brunswickers, and such that both parties, with a little common sense, could resume their neighbourliness.

It is the hallmark of Chief Justice Daigle's law that fairness and common sense must prevail. It is very much a "made in New Brunswick" law, sensitive to the traditions of community and sharing that have defined our way of life, and powerfully rooted in a fundamental trust in people and human decency. It is a perspective that has coloured every aspect of Chief Justice Daigle's career, whether in politics or the law. He has chosen in life to see the best in others, even in those whose social behaviour has made them suspect, allowing the facts and the basic principles of fairness to determine his judgments. One has the feeling that the tiny Acadian village of St. Charles taught him some enduring lessons about human nature and human compassion, about treating others like family members, and about building a better world. The brash young man on a motorcycle might be surprised at how his story turned out, but no one who has known him can be surprised at how far his keen mind, and more especially his decency and integrity, have carried him.

From: Honoris Causa - UA Case 70, Box 3

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