Mtre Jean-Yves Bernard, Ad. E.

Mtre Jean-Yves Bernard, Ad.E. : A Man of Great Wisdom
By Mélanie Dugré, lawyer
(Article issued on August 30, 2016)

After working alongside Mtre Jean-Yves Bernard for many years, and then more closely with him between 2008 and 2012, Bâtonnier Simon Tremblay is especially proud to award the Bar of Montreal Medal to an exceptional man who is admired and respected by all, and who has represented the Attorney General of Quebec with strength and thoroughness for almost 40 years.

On March 30, 2016, the Council of the Bar of Montreal, with the support of the Conference of former Bâtonniers, decided to award its highest honour to this renowned jurist in recognition of his contribution to the cause of justice.

It could not be a better time to celebrate Mtre Bernard’s remarkable career because 2016 also marks the 50th anniversary of the founding of the Ministère de la Justice of Quebec, and Mtre Bernard was an active participant in the festivities surrounding this event. He remembers the government’s decision in 1977 to create a group of litigators to represent it in court in order to ensure better case coordination and greater consistency in representations. The Minister of Justice had written to all lawyers to invite them to apply, an invitation Mtre Bernard replied to in the affirmative, without realizing that it was the beginning of an amazing adventure that still continues today.

Mtre Bernard was appointed Director in 1984, then Associate General Director of Litigation at the Ministère de la Justice in 1995, and to this day continues to act on behalf of the Attorney General of Quebec before courts of law in the most complex and important legal matters for Quebec. A tireless worker, he pores over the questions of law submitted to him with great enthusiasm, and he represents the government faithfully and with dignity, displaying both an intellectual prowess and a concern for professional excellence that have never failed over the years.

In the course of his career, Mtre Bernard has represented Quebec’s interests as high as the Supreme Court in more than 40 cases, each one challenging and stimulating him, and making him feel that he was doing something worthwhile. He says it is impossible for him to identify any one case that had more impact than another. However, he acknowledges the social repercussions of the recent case on medical assistance in dying and is pleased with the decisions rendered in matters relating to Senate reform and securities, which recognize the predominant role of the provinces and the constitutional guarantees they enjoy.

Looking back, Mtre Bernard is also pleased with judgments that emphasized Quebec’s role in education, the constitutional amendment concerning denominational schools as well as matters relating to the Charter of the French Language and its protection. Mtre Bernard adds, however, that it would be wrong to think that only cases that reach the Court of Appeal or the Supreme Court are worthy of interest. Law itself is exciting and each file, no matter how small it may seem, offers fascinating legal issues for any lawyer who wants to do something worthwhile.

Few members of the profession inspire as much respect and admiration, even from his fiercest opponents. Both Mtre Bernard’s colleagues and those who have crossed swords with him describe him as Quebec’s leading expert in public law, a man of keen intellect and great culture in legal matters, with the rare ability to listen as well as the sensitivity to adapt to delicate and complex situations. He is also said to possess great wisdom; a man of few words, but the ones he speaks are always well chosen, pertinent and powerful. As a litigator, he makes his arguments clearly, with depth and conviction, while maintaining cordial and harmonious relations with his colleagues, his opponents and members of the judiciary. Bâtonnier Simon Tremblay remembers Mtre Bernard as a colleague and mentor who was generous with his time and counsel, always approachable, even when the Supreme Court was on his agenda for the next day.

Mtre Bernard received the token of recognition that is the Bar of Montreal Medal with characteristic discretion and modesty. His first reaction was to say that he considers that he is receiving the Medal on behalf of all the lawyers in the Ministère de la Justice which he represents. For him the Medal is an award for the competency, energy, dedication and quality of the work done by the Attorney General of Quebec team. He emphasizes that each lawyer plays an essential role in all the cases he has had the privilege to plead before the courts, and that he is only the “tip of the iceberg” of this exceptional legal team.

Mtre Bernard feels that Quebec society has changed considerably over the past 40 years, but that, unfortunately, our justice system has had a hard time keeping up and adjusting to the needs of citizens. Looking to the future, Mtre Bernard expresses the hope that lawyers will be more aware of the importance of the justice system in the lives of citizens, as well as the role they must play in it in order to earn and keep their trust. In this regard, he thinks it is essential for lawyers to become facilitators, able to listen to people and suggest creative solutions to legal problems.

The history of the Attorney General of Quebec is inextricably linked to the outstanding career of Mtre Jean-Yves Bernard in its litigation department. This man of great wisdom serves as the representative of the Attorney General of Quebec with moderation, strength and dignity, a model for multiple generations of lawyers who could do no better than to follow his example.