Brilliant legacy of former dean Peter Hogg celebrated by top judges and legal scholars

Photo of Supreme Court of Canada Justices Andromache Karakatsanis (left), Sheilah Martin and Mahmud Jamal sitting on a panel at an Osgoode conference Jan. 10, 2024, celebrating the legacy of former dean Peter W. Hogg.
Supreme Court of Canada Justices Andromache Karakatsanis (left), Sheilah Martin and Mahmud Jamal at the Jan. 10 conference celebrating the legacy of former dean Peter W. Hogg.

He changed laws, he changed lives and, at times, he helped change the course of Canadian history.

The brilliant and multi-dimensional legacy of former Osgoode dean and professor Peter W. Hogg was celebrated Jan. 10 during a day-long conference that brought together some of Canada’s brightest legal luminaries, including three sitting Supreme Court of Canada justices, three current judges of the Ontario  Court of Appeal, six former Osgoode deans and other leading legal thinkers from Canada and abroad. The event took place online and in-person at Osgoode’s downtown campus.

In sometimes touching personal reflections, speaker after speaker shared stories of Hogg’s fundamental influence on their careers, the impact of his legendary textbooks, his masterful teaching and prodigious courtroom achievements, and his essential kindness as a person and proud family man. In perhaps his most important roles, he was husband to Fran and father to Anne and David.

Hogg, who joined Osgoode’s faculty in 1970 and served as dean of the law school from 1998 to 2003, died at the age of 80 in February 2020. Fran died two weeks later. After leaving Osgoode in 2003, he served as scholar in residence in the Toronto office of law firm Blake, Cassels & Graydon LLP.

In opening remarks, Dean Trevor Farrow marvelled at how Hogg, a native New Zealander, became his adopted country’s leading authority on Canadian constitutional law. On his arrival at Osgoode in 1970, he said, then-dean Gerald Le Dain thrust two of the most unpopular courses on the neophyte faculty member: constitutional law and tax law. Using his classroom notes, Hogg later wrote his authoritative textbook, Constitutional Law of Canada (Thomson Carswell, 2007), which was first published in 1977. Now in its fifth edition, the book has been cited well over 200 times in Supreme Court of Canada decisions – more than any other source. His other texts, Liability of the Crown (Carswell, 2011), based on his PhD thesis, and Principles of Canadian Income Tax Law (Carswell, 2022), are equally respected.

Hogg also provided invaluable counsel to clients on countless legal questions and cases – some of them of historical importance. In the 1990s, he advised Yukon First Nations in self-government negotiations with the federal and Yukon governments, helping them to win unprecedented sovereignty over their traditional territory. In 2004, in what he looked back on as one of his proudest achievements, he was lead counsel for the Canadian government in the Supreme Court of Canada’s same-sex marriage reference. And in 2008, he advised Gov. Gen. Michaëlle Jean during the prorogation crisis involving the Conservative government of then prime minister Stephen Harper.

In his Supreme Court appearances, Hogg was like a chess master, eagerly facing down nine opponents and defeating them all, said former Osgoode dean and Ontario Court of Appeal Justice Patrick Monahan, borrowing from an observation by former Supreme Court of Canada justice Ian Binnie. Justice Monahan described him as the most influential Canadian lawyer of the past half-century.

But Hogg was first and foremost a consummate teacher who was lauded and loved for his clarity and kindness. His student reviews in course evaluations were consistently “astonishing,” said former dean and Ontario Court of Appeal Justice James MacPherson.

In the classroom, said Osgoode alumnus and Chief Justice of Ontario Michael Tulloch, “It was impossible not to be transfixed by his brilliance, his humility and his ability to simplify complex areas of the law.

“He answered every question carefully and reflectively,” added Justice Tulloch. “Everyone was made to feel important. All the while, he did it with a dry wit and the embodiment of decency.”

Like most students, Osgoode alumna and Supreme Court of Canada Justice Andromache Karakatsanis said she became a diehard fan of Hogg’s after taking his first-year constitutional law course. After that, she signed up for every course he taught.

“Everything he started to teach, I took, and I learned that every area of the law can be fascinating,” she said during the panel session featuring Justice Karakatsanis and her Supreme Court of Canada colleagues Justice Sheilah Martin and Justice Mahmud Jamal.

“He really modelled intellectual curiosity,” she added. “That’s what makes the law to this day so deeply and enduringly important and interesting.”

In a lighter moment, former chief prosecutor of the International Criminal Court and former Supreme Court of Canada justice Louise Arbour remembered being intimidated by Hogg’s reputation when she joined Osgoode’s faculty in 1974 and noticing his New Zealand accent.

“I can remember our first conversation and I thought, ‘Oh my God, I’m not going to make it,’” she recalled. “But then I thought, ‘Well, maybe he’s not going to make it either.’”

In the end, however, Hogg’s influence helped inspire the future course of her career, she said. “I’m absolutely convinced that he was the original cause of the development of my career into the judiciary,” she told the audience.

Several speakers also shared how Hogg played an instrumental role in launching and shaping their own careers in the law.

Osgoode Professor Jinyan Li, who is now a co-author of Hogg’s tax law text, remembered coming to Canada from China in 1985 and joining the Osgoode faculty as a young scholar and mother in 1999, when Hogg was dean. Soon after, he invited her to join him in writing a new edition of Principles of Canadian Income Tax Law.

“When I got the trust of the great Peter, it was such a validation of my potential,” she said. “I used the freedom he gave me liberally and he never complained. The only thing he said to me at one point was, ‘You have to make it simpler.’

“I became a better writer and also a better teacher, but most importantly I became a better citizen,” she added. “Peter has meant so much to me and I’m very happy I’m part of today’s event.”