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Roger Tassé, Charter pioneer, dies at 85

Tuesday, May 30, 2017 @ 1:59 PM | By Paula Kulig

Roger Tassé, who wore many hats working in government and private practice, and was instrumental in drafting the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms, died on May 20 in Gatineau, Que. He was 85.

Appointed deputy Justice minister in the Liberal government of Pierre Trudeau in 1977, Tassé was involved in federal-provincial discussions that led to the patriation of Canada’s Constitution from Britain in April 1982, playing a substantial role in the development of the Charter.

As deputy Justice minister, he was also involved in first ministers’ constitutional conferences on native rights.

After graduating with a law degree from Université de Montréal in 1955 and getting his call to the Quebec bar a year later, Tassé joined the federal Justice Department’s Combines Branch. In 1965, he became Superintendent of Bankruptcy, directing an overhaul of the country’s insolvency laws, before moving on to deputy solicitor general in 1972.

He was named an officer of the Order of Canada in 1981, before the patriation of the Constitution, in part for his work on bankruptcy law, the criminal justice system and judicial administration. The Montreal native was also appointed a Queen’s Counsel in 1971.

Tassé, who was called to the Ontario bar in 1986, left his extensive civil service career behind in 1985 and moved to private law practice, working in association with Lang Michener Lash Johnston and Noel Décary Aubry & Associés until 1988. He then moved to Bell Canada as its executive vice-president for three years. He was also counsel at Fraser & Beatty and a partner at Gowling Lafleur Henderson LLP.

During a ceremony in 1992, at which he received an honorary doctorate from the Université du Québec à Hull, Tassé said the biggest challenge he faced in drafting the Charter was “to find the right balance between, on the one hand, greater protection of our fundamental freedoms and, on the other, the demands of the common good."

His wife, Renée Marcil, told The Canadian Press that he had been receiving dialysis treatment for several years.

Tassé, who enjoyed skiing and tennis, leaves his wife, their four children and seven grandchildren.