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A LONG TRADITION ROOTED IN QUEBEC HISTORY
To delve into the origins of the Montreal Bar and the role of the country’s first lawyers – architects of the profession – is to evoke some of the most important moments in the social political history of Quebec.
The beginnings of the Montreal Bar go as far back as 1693, when lawyers first fought for recognition under the French regime. Almost a century later, in 1779, a forerunner of the present-day Bar, the Communauté des avocats, was created and adopted the first rules of ethics and conduct, which would be handed down from generation to generation.
DEFINITIVE RECOGNITION OF LAWYERS
The Bars of Lower Canada and of Montreal were established in 1765, when the government issued the first commissions to lawyers, which authorized their holders to practice law in the triple capacity of lawyer, notary and surveyor.
Since law books were very rare and law reports totally unavailable, in 1828 a group of judges and lawyers pooled their resources and founded the Advocates’ Library. Among the past presidents of the Library, also known as the Société de la bibliothèque, was Mtre. Louis-Hippolyte LaFontaine, a prominent figure in the political and legal community in the 19th century.
BEYOND VERBAL DUELLING
There was a time, fortunately well in the past, when oral arguments could have a fatal ending. In the early 19th century, a duel was considered the only real way of settling a dispute or atoning for an offense. A pair of pistols constituted an adjunct to the gown of every lawyer worthy of the title! Sir Georges-Étienne Cartier, a very active member of the Bar and politician of great renown, fought in a duel in 1848 against his colleague Joseph Doutre – later Bâtonnier – over a comedy Doutre had written titled La tuque bleue, in which Cartier was ridiculed. Fortunately for history and the Bar, the adversaries cam away unscathed, despite the shots that were exchanged.
LAWYERS’ INDEPENDENT CORPORATION
The year 1849 marked the official founding of the Montreal Bar: at that time, the Act to incorporate the Bar of Lower Canada was promulgated and considered by many as the lawyers’ declaration of independence. For the first time, the Bar Corporation was given complete control over admission to the study and practice of law.
Having thus achieved the status of an independent corporation, the Bar became autonomous from the Governors of the English regime and from judges. The year 1849 also saw an important reform in the judiciary of Lower Canada, with the creation of the Superior Court and the Court of Queen’s Bench, the precursor to our Court of Appeal.
The year 1873 witnessed the most important judicial crisis in our history. The Court of Appeal, which enjoyed considerable prestige in 1860, was almost completely replaced in the decade which followed. Some of the new judges conducted themselves in a totally unprecedented manner, treating each other discourteously on the bench, preventing attorneys from pleading, handing down decisions without hearing the parties, and so on.
The Montreal Bar rallied to the cause, issuing resolutions and petitions. To underscore their grievances, some of the members refused to plead before the Court of Appeal for an entire session. These efforts were orchestrated in 1873 under Bâtonnier and member of Parliament Antoine-Aimé Dorion, who became Minister of Justice that year. In the end, their efforts were not in vain, since they prompted the departure of those judges from the bench. In a rather unusual twist of fate, in June 1874, A.-A. Dorion was appointed Chief Justice of Quebec, and quickly earned the respect of lawyers and the esteem of the public at large.
THE YOUNG BAR ASSOCIATION
Just before the turn of the century, in 1898 to be exact, the Young Bar Association of Montreal was created by budding lawyers who considered themselves agents for change. The primary objective of this new association was to strengthen ties between young Montreal lawyers and promote their interests.
THE FIRST WOMEN LAWYERS
In 1915, Annie Macdonald Langstaff’s petition to sit for examinations permitting her to be enrolled in the Bar was dismissed both at trial and on appeal. It was not until 1942, when the legislature intervened upon pressure from numerous women’s groups, that women were admitted to the practice of law. The first women to be admitted were Mtre. Suzanne Raymond Fillion and Mtre. Elizabeth Monk, a municipal councillor for the City of Montreal.
TRANSFER OF THE LIBRARY
In December 2001, the Bar of Montreal transferred its library to CAIJ (Centre d’accès à l’information juridique), an organization associated with the Barreau du Québec and dedicated to developing and modernizing access to all the legal information available, both in print and electronic.
The mission of CAIJ is to “Make accessible all available legal information, with priority for members of the Barreau du Québec and the Bench, and ensure that access is the same from any geographical location and work environment.”
To fulfill its mission, CAIJ depends on the diversity and exhaustiveness of its collections, on both paper and digital media, as well as sophisticated search tools. CAIJ-Montreal has been redesigned and organized for the ease of its members and the increased efficacy of searches. It is a contemporary library, with high performance hardware and a functional and user-friendly environment.
DOCUMENT OF INTEREST
The book Histoire du Barreau de Montréal by the Honourable G.-Édouard Rinfret, is available for the cost of $59.95.
To order :
Phone: 514 866‑9392, poste 221