The Sunday Magazine

Justices Gerald Le Dain and Clément Gascon both suffered from depression. But the similarities end there

Every time a public person speaks openly about struggling with depression, it wipes away some of the stigma around mental illness. Supreme Court Justice Clément Gascon took a giant eraser to that stigma this week when he announced he has been dealing with depression and anxiety for two decades.
Supreme Court Justice Clement Gascon, right, and former Supreme Court Justice Gerald Le Dain. (Adrian Wyld/The Canadian Press, Harry Palmer)
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Every time a public person speaks openly about struggling with depression, it wipes away some of the stigma around mental illness. Supreme Court Justice Clément Gascon took a giant eraser to that stigma this week when he announced he has been dealing with depression and anxiety for two decades.

His public statement — and the support he received in response — stand in stark contrast with what happened in 1988 to Justice Gerald Le Dain, who was one of Canada's most conscientious and respected jurists.

Le Dain's wife Cynthia, concerned about his well-being, asked then-Chief Justice Brian Dickson to grant her husband a leave of absence to allow him time to recuperate from depression. The story was told last year in the documentary, One Judge Down, that aired on The Sunday Edition.

Instead of showing compassion, Dickson handed Le Dain his walking papers. He was also expunged from the record of work the Supreme Court justice had completed from his hospital bed.

Gerald Le Dain sat on the Supreme Court from 1984 to 1988. (Submitted by the Le Dain family)

Even though Le Dain had meticulously crafted the court's ruling in the landmark case of Ford v. Quebec, his efforts were negated by an asterisk and a note that he took no part in the historic judgment. The decision dealt with Quebec's contentious language charter known as Bill 101, and it proved to be a momentous decision.

Richard Janda, a professor of law at McGill University, was Gerald Le Dain's law clerk at the time and he appealed to Chief Justice Dickson to correct the record.

"It was the only time I pleaded a case before the Supreme Court of Canada, and I must say I lost my case," he told The Sunday Edition's host Michael Enright.

"The pleading was simple: 'This asterisk doesn't tell the truth.'"

While he continues to regret that the record was not amended, Janda said he understood Dickson was concerned about the reputation of the court: "He felt that at the time, rightly or wrongly, the Canadian public was not ready to have a decision of that significance attributable to a judge who was in hospital for depression."

Gerald Le Dain, third from left, sits as chair of the Commission of Inquiry in 1970 into the non-medical use of drugs. (Submitted by the Le Dain family)

In his statement this week, Gascon said his mental health issues date back to his work as a lawyer in Montreal, his 14 years on the bench in Quebec, and the two years he has been sitting on the highest court of the land. His term on the Supreme Court of Canada ends in mid-September, and for six months he will continue to weigh in on cases he has heard.

"Obviously, those of us who had been through what had happened to Justice Le Dain viewed that as progress, in comparison to what had happened before, and probably a kind of token of where society has come since the time when Justice Le Dain faced depression himself," Janda said.

He notes that mental health is a growing concern among his students.

"I've been told by mental health professionals that law students are disproportionately using the mental health services on campus," he said, noting that students as well as lawyers face challenges in dealing with their workload and often crack under pressure.

Click 'listen' at the top to hear the complete interview

Corrections

  • An earlier version of this story identified Gerald Le Dain's wife as Bonnie. In fact, her name is Cynthia.
    May 20, 2019 10:00 AM ET

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