(38. – 925.) The Mighty Hughes by Craig McInnes – Ted Hughes has led a life that humbles the reader. He has worked into his 90th year on public service striving to make Canada a better country.
He grew up in Saskatoon and after high school attended the University of Saskatchewan. He graduated with his law degree in 1950. In an era where young lawyers were paid very modestly he hitchhiked the 140 km from North Battleford to Saskatoon on Saturdays to visit his girlfriend, Helen, and attend chuch. He would take the bus back on Sunday nights.
Love blossomed and he married Helen in 1954. Her father, an Anglican minister, presided at his church, St. John the Evangelist.
Ted remained in private practice through the 1950’s though he found charging for his services awkward, especially with clients who had limited resources:
“That was the reason, and the principal reason, why I wasn’t happy in private practice. I hated the billing part of it and rendering accounts.”
Interested in politics he became an active member of the Progressive Conservative Party. The 1950’s were a good time to be a Saskatchewan supporter of the federal PC’s. The party leader, John Diefenbaker, was from Saskatchewan and became Prime Minister in 1957.
It was an era where it was rare to see a Canadian lawyer appointed to a superior court position without being a member of the federal governing party. With impeccable party credentials Ted was duly considered for the bench and appointed in 1962 when he was 35.
One of my regrets in reading the book was that he did not want to come to Melfort in 1962 where the position was allocated. Since he chose not to reside in Melfort we have not had a resident superior court judge.
One of the reasons I wanted to read The Mighty Hughes was because I appeared before Ted Hughes when he was Mr. Justice Hughes of the Saskatchewan Court of Queen’s Bench in the late 1970’s. I wish I could say I remembered specific cases. I do remember he was a good judge and well respected by the bar.
He enjoyed being a judge and presided over the family property trial of Colin Thatcher and JoAnn Wilson, one of the most contentious family property trials in Saskatchewan history. He rejected claims by Thatcher that his father only intended gifts of property to be for his son and a further claim that there was a secret trust of property for Thatcher and his mother. Some believe the judgment was the catalyst for Ms. Wilson being shot and some time later murdered. (I have written about Thatcher’s murder trial in posts related to Thatcher’s book, Final Appeal – Anatomy of a Frame.)
Unhappy with both the process of picking a new Chief Justice for the Court of Queen’s Bench in Saskatchewan and the actions of some colleagues on the bench he resigned his position, after prudently arranging a pension, and moved to Victoria, British Columbia to take up a modest position with the B.C. government as a Legal Officer Specialist.
At 53 Ted was starting a new career. His abilities and hard work were recognized and he soon became Deputy Attorney General. While carrying out all the many tasks of that position he started chairing government inquiries into individual cases and broader based issues.
In 1990, now 63, he became the first conflict on interest commissioner for B.C. Early in his time in that position he investigated and found some provincial ministers to have breached the guidelines. He built a reputation of integrity.
Ted became famous when the Premier, Bill Vander Zalm, called on him to investigate and report on the Premier’s dealings, while Premier, with regard to a business venture, Fantasy Gardens, and a Chinese investor. In my next post I discuss Ted’s investigation and explore some of his thoughts on politics as a profession.
During his mid-70’s Ted took on developing an arbitration program to adjudicate thousands of claims from former Indian residential school students that they were physically and/or sexually abused while in school. He established a system that managed to deal with the huge number of claims. I had some cases proceed through the hearings. While I do not agree with how some claims were dealt with it was a system that was considerably quicker than going through individual court actions.
In his 80’s he conducted an inquiry into the death of Phoenix Sinclair in Manitoba. The 5 year old Indigenous girl, residing with her mother and stepfather, in the last months of her life “was sadistically beaten with a handle from a refrigerator and an iron rod. When she died, her mother and Mackay wrapped her lifeless body in plastic and buried it in a shallow grave near the town dump.” In his report he discussed the failings of the provincial child welfare system and the inequities facing Indigenous people in Canada.
Approaching 90 Ted was involved in a task force on homelessness in Victoria.
While devoted to making Canada a better place his character may be best demonstrated by the reaction of staff at the Hotel Saskatchewan in Regina where he stayed extensively over several years while working on the Indian Residential Schools Claims:
When he finished in 2008, the hotel staff who had been serving him in the bar and dining room presented him with a plaque that read, “In Appreciation of your Kindness, Warmth and Generosity that you’ve shown us at the Hotel Saskatchewan. It has been a Great Honour getting to know you. We wish you all very Best in your Future.”
He has earned his description as “Western Canada’s Moral Compass.”
You cannot help thinking as you read the book that you, as a reader, should do more public service for your community, province and nation.