Mtre David-Emmanuel Roberge

Mtre David-Emmanuel Roberge : When Albert Camus leads to law school

By Mélanie Dugré, lawyer

(Article published on October 27, 2020)

From his early youth, Mtre David-Emmanuel Roberge, a Montreal native, has had a deep concern for issues of justice and equality. An avid reader of French author Albert Camus, he could not say whether this interest was fed by his emerging feeling of being different, but in any case his enthusiasm for major debates in society left no doubt in his mind.

Yet, young David did not set his sights on studying law, as he did not come from a family of jurists. After writing for his high school and CEGEP newspapers and freelancing, he was planning instead a career in journalism and had already been taken under the wing of Rachel Duclos, a journalist at Le Devoir, Montreal’s highly-regarded French-language daily newspaper.

It was actually his mentor who advised him to broaden his horizons with a more general education in economics, law or political science. Taking this advice to heart, David began studying law at McGill University. As he puts it, it was the start of a great passion. “I was captivated by the depth of legal analysis, the chance to study major legal issues and the rich and varied discussions I had with colleagues from different communities and countries.

After a student exchange in Edinburgh in 1999, David started his legal career at the firm of McCarthy Tétrault, a career that has continued to this day and has allowed him to work in the areas of professional liability, class action lawsuits and environmental law.

It was in fact within the halls of this law firm that the author of this portrait crossed paths with Mtre Roberge during the 2000’s. I had the privilege, as a colleague, of witnessing first-hand his keen legal reflexes, his immense kindness, his openness and his availability.

Over the years, Mtre David-Emmanuel Roberge has been involved in a wide variety of cases, each one with its own story. A highlight, of course, was his appearance at the Supreme Court in Godbout v. Pagé in 2017 on the interpretation of the Automobile Insurance Act, along with a class action lawsuit in which the Court was involved to stop the gross misuse of legal resources by the opposing party.

Well aware of his position among the privileged of the world, where sophisticated clients have the means to allow him to delve into legal questions, David never closes his eyes to the reality of those who are less fortunate. On the contrary, social issues are central to his involvement in the community and to his desire to make a difference.

Making no secret of his belonging to the LGBTQ2 community, Mtre Roberge did pro bono work very early in his career with organizations supporting people living with HIV/AIDS who are also victims of discrimination.

As a loyal partner of Lawyers Without Borders, he also took part in an international training mission in environmental law in 2009 at the State University of Haiti, which earned him a Zenith Pro Bono Award from Lexpert magazine.

Another cause close to David’s heart is medical assistance in dying even though it brings back painful memories. “I was barely sworn in when I saw my 57-year-old father taken away by a devastating cancer in three months, and I was catapulted into an early reflection on death and dignity.”

Long before the Supreme Court’s Carter decision, and Canadian and Quebec legislation on end of life issues, Mtre Roberge had participated in a working group set up by the Barreau du Québec and serves to this day on the Canadian Bar Association’s working group, which monitors developments in this highly topical area. He is also involved within the Alzheimer Society of Montreal regarding support to vulnerable people.

The issue of access to justice is often discussed in the context of equality, and is of concern to David Roberge. As a member of the Bar of Montreal’s Liaison Committee with the Superior Court, Civil Division, he hopes to succeed, with the collaboration of his colleagues, in moving the debate forward and proposing sustainable solutions that will promote better access to justice for all citizens.

Never far away in David’s mind is the following quotation of Madam Justice Abella: “Each of us is limited by what we don’t know and by what the others don’t know. With knowledge comes understanding. With understanding comes wisdom, and with wisdom comes the ability to promote justice. (from “L’identité et la diversité: l’essence de l’égalité”, Cahiers de droit, Vol. 58, Dec. 2017).

For Mtre Roberge, these wise words summarize the essence of what social and professional involvement means for him. “The discourse on inclusion is not a marketing tool. It is an actual invitation to go and meet the other person, to become enriched by his or her background, and to welcome and celebrate differences to make our thinking evolve.” Albert Camus and his concept of “juste mesure”—right measure in the sense of proportionality—are never too far from his mind either, sustaining his quest for balance.

An old soul filled with wisdom and serenity dwells in Mtre David-Emmanuel Roberge. If he considers himself to be happy, he immediately points out that it is largely due to the presence of loved ones in his life. Namely, his Italian husband, whose language and culture he has learned, and rich friendships characterized by ethnic, cultural and religious diversity. Alongside his solid career as a lawyer, he would like to continue on this path of discovery of the other while continuing to contribute to the community. “Through my social involvement, I receive much more than I give, and this contribution is fundamental to my development, he concludes.