Emmett Hall: Establishment Radical

Fitzhenry & Whiteside (2005)

A revised and updated version of Dennis’ 1985 biography of Emmett Hall, a Supreme Court Justice and father of medicare. Introduction by the Honourable Roy Romanow.

Toll-free order: 1-800-387-9776 Toll-free fax: 1-800-260-9777. Email orders: godwit@fitzhenry.ca

Reviewer Comments

Dennis Gruending’s book compellingly documents Emmett Hall’s failings and strengths, and above all his lasting accomplishments for our society.“ – The Honourable Roy J. Romanow.

“… a fascinating story about a father of medicare and a libertarian judge who insisted that the law must be an instrument of justice and not simply a bulwark of the status quo.” – The Canadian Bar Review.



A number of crucial factors have gone into making Canada the nation that it is today: the Rockies, the St. Lawrence River — and Emmett Hall.– Journalist Walter Stewart, 1985

It was a truly remarkable career and as the late journalist Walter Stewart has so aptly described, [Emmett Hall] became the rock on which much of modern Canada has been built. It is almost 50 years since he was appointed to the bench, but his judgments and his royal commissions have a strong contemporary resonance.

It was his royal commission in the 1960s that recommended publicly financed health care for Canada, and he is justly hailed as a father of medicare. Canadians remain firmly attached to their health care system and see embedded in it the values of caring and compassion — as Roy Romanow, another health care commissioner discovered in 2001-02.

Original Edition (1985)

Hall stood alone against eight fellow Supreme Court judges in 1967, when he insisted that young Steven Truscott had not received a fair murder trial and should be awarded a new one. Truscott served his time, and after living quietly and anonymously for many years, he has emerged to demand exoneration. . .

It was Hall’s powerful dissenting Supreme Court judgment in the 1973 Nisga’a case that set the stage for all future negotiations on aboriginal land claims. He insisted that aboriginal people had title to land in Canada by dint of occupying it since time immemorial, and that Canadian governments must negotiate with them for its use. Hall’s minority judgment didn’t carry the court but his view soon came to prevail, and was ultimately responsible for the Nisga’a treaty in the year 2000 and a growing number of land and self-government agreements between the Canadian and First Nations governments.

Emmett Hall accomplished more after the age of retirement than most people do in a lifetime. He was a man of intense ambition who relished public recognition, but one who used his position and power for the public good rather than private gains. This book describes how a poor boy from Saskatchewan made it to law school, graduated with John Diefenbaker, and became a skilled lawyer, then a formidable judge and royal commissioner. The story contained here goes well beyond the public record, searching for motivation and clues to the character of a man whose long service has had a profound impact on Canada.

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