The Honourable Emmett M. Hall
1957 - 1961 Chief Justice of the Saskatchewan Court of Queen's Bench
1961 - 1962 Chief Justice of Saskatchewan
1962 - 1973 Justice of the Supreme Court of Canada
Emmett Matthew Hall was born in St. Columban, Quebec in 1898, the fourth of eleven children. His parents, James and Alice Hall, relocated their family to Saskatoon in 1910. Fluent in French and English, Mr. Hall taught elementary school in northern Saskatchewan before heading to law school.
As Mr. Hall entered law school without any university training, he commenced five years of articling, which was necessary at the time. He worked at a law firm during the day and attended lectures early in the morning and after work. He attempted to enlist in the army in 1917, but was found medically unfit because he was born blind in one eye. He graduated from law school in 1919. Among his classmates were Elsie Hall and John Diefenbaker, with whom he had a close acquaintance. Mr. Hall was called to the Saskatchewan bar in 1922.
Mr. Hall spent the next 35 years in private practice, becoming a partner in the law firm of Hall and Maguire. He was a prominent lawyer, specializing in criminal law and insurance litigation. He handled a number of high profile cases, such as matters arising from the Regina riots. In 1952, he became President of the Law Society of Saskatchewan. He also lectured in the College of Law at the University of Saskatchewan.*
In 1957, Mr. Hall was appointed Chief Justice of the Court of Queen’s Bench. He vacated that position in February 1961, when he was appointed Chief Justice of the Court of Appeal. Less than two years later, Mr. Hall was appointed to the Supreme Court of Canada.
Much of his work on the Supreme Court involved defending civil liberties and protecting minority rights. He believed that Canadian society ought to embrace ethnic diversity, alleviate poverty, and redress the shameful treatment of Aboriginal peoples. One of his best known decisions was his dissent in the Calder case, where he would have acknowledged Nishga title to land based on immemorial possession. Impressed with Mr. Hall’s reasoning, Prime Minister Trudeau made his dissent the government’s policy with respect to Indian bands.
Mr. Hall was known for the large number of Royal Commissions and other public inquiries over which he presided. He was named Chairman of the Royal Commission on Health Services, which recommended the creation of a universal health care system.* He also worked on other diverse issues such as education, court reform, and grain handling.
Justice Hall remained at the Supreme Court of Canada until 1973. He went on to serve as the Chancellor of the University of Guelph, and later he succeeded Mr. Diefenbaker as Chancellor of the University of Saskatchewan. He was Chancellor from 1980-1986. Justice Hall died in 1995.
One of his children, Marian Wedge, became a lawyer and served as a Queen's Bench justice from 1987 to 1997.
*Information in this paragraph is from the book titled The Supreme Court of Canada and Its Justices, 1875-2000: A Commemorative Book (Ottawa: Dundurn Group, 2000).