Chief Justice of Canada

Ontario Quebec Court system of Canada
Chief Justice of Canada
The Chief Justice of Canada
Richard Wagner, PC

since December 18, 2017
Supreme Court of Canada
Office of the Chief Justice
Judiciary of Canada (Queen-on-the-Bench)
StyleThe Right Honourable
Madam/Mister Chief Justice
StatusChief justice, head of a court system
Deputy Governor General
4th in Canadian order of precedence
Member ofSupreme Court
Canadian Judicial Council (Ex-officio chairman)
Order of Canada advisory council (chairman)
SeatSupreme Court Building, Ottawa, Ontario
AppointerGovernor General of Canada
Term lengthNo set term, though retirement is mandatory at age 75
Constituting instrumentSupreme Court Act
Inaugural holderSir William Buell Richards
FormationSeptember 30, 1875
(144 years ago)
Salary$413,500 (as of April 2018)[1]
WebsiteSupreme Court
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The Chief Justice of Canada (French: Juge en Chef du Canada) is the presiding judge of the nine-member Supreme Court of Canada, the highest judicial body in Canada. As such, the chief justice is the highest-ranking judge of the Canadian court system. The Supreme Court Act gives the Governor General of Canada the power to appoint the Chief Justice, on the advice of the federal Cabinet. The Chief Justice serves until they resign, turn 75 years old, die, or are removed from office for cause. By tradition, a new chief justice is chosen from among the Court's incumbent puisne justices.

The chief justice has significant influence in the procedural rules of the Court, presides when oral arguments are held, and leads the discussion of cases among the justices. He or she is also Deputy Governor General, Ex-officio chairman of the Canadian Judicial Council, and heads the committee that selects recipients of the Order of Canada. Additionally, a chief justice also assumes viceregal duties upon the death or incapacitation of the Governor-General.

Since the Supreme Court was established in 1875, 18 people have served as chief justice. The Court's first chief justice was William Buell Richards; currently, it is Richard Wagner. Beverley McLachlin is the longest serving Canadian chief justice (17 years, 341 days), and was the first woman to hold the position.


The Chief Justice is appointed by the Governor General-in-Council under the federal Supreme Court Act on the advice of the Prime Minister.[2] The appointment is subject to the Supreme Court Act, which governs the administration and appointment of judges of the court. By this component of the Constitution of Canada, Judges appointed to the court must be "a judge of a superior court of a province or a barrister or advocate of at least ten years standing at the bar of a province."

Tradition dictates that the chief justice be appointed from among the Court's puisne judges; in the history of the Court, only two were not: William Buell Richards, and Charles Fitzpatrick. It is also customary that a new chief justice be chosen alternately from among: the three justices who by law must be from Quebec (with its civil law system), and the other six justices from the rest of Canada (representing the common law tradition). Since 1933, this tradition has only been broken once, when Brian Dickson of Manitoba was named to succeed Bora Laskin of Ontario in 1984.


The Chief Justice's central duty is to preside at hearings before the Supreme Court.[3] The Chief Justice presides from the centre chair. If the Chief Justice is absent, the senior puisne judge presides.[3]

Judicial Council

The Chief Justice chairs the Canadian Judicial Council, which is composed of all chief justices and associate chief justices of superior courts in Canada. This body, established in 1971 by the Judges Act, organizes seminars for federally appointed judges, coordinates the discussion of issues of concern to the judiciary, and conducts inquiries, either on public complaint or at the request of the federal Minister of Justice or a provincial attorney general, into the conduct of any federally appointed judge.

Other duties

The Chief Justice is sworn as a member of the Queen's Privy Council for Canada prior to taking the judicial oath of office.[4] He or she also sits on the advisory council of Canada's highest civilian order, the Order of Canada. In practice however, the Chief Justice abstains from voting on a candidate's removal from the order, presumably because this process has so far only applied to individuals convicted in a lower court of a criminal offence, and could create a conflict of interest for the Chief Justice if that individual appealed their conviction to the Supreme Court.

Under the Electoral Boundaries Readjustment Act, each province has a three-person commission responsible for modifying that province's federal ridings. The chair of each such commission is appointed by the chief justice of that province; if no appointment is made by the provincial chief justice, the responsibility falls to the Chief Justice of Canada.[5]

Assistant viceroy

The Letters Patent of 1947 respecting the Office of Governor General provide that, should the Governor General die, become incapacitated, or be absent from the country for a period of more than one month, the Chief Justice or, if that office is vacant, the Senior Puisne Justice, of the Supreme Court would become the Administrator of Canada and exercise all the powers and duties of the Governor General. This has happened on three occasions: Chief Justices Lyman Duff and Robert Taschereau each did so, in 1940 and 1967 respectively, following the death of the incumbent Governor General, as did Chief Justice Beverley McLachlin when the Governor General underwent surgery in 2005.

The Chief Justice and the other Justices of the Court serve as deputies of the Governor General for the purpose of giving Royal Assent to bills passed by parliament, signing official documents or receiving credentials of newly appointed high commissioners and ambassadors.

Current chief justice

The current Chief Justice is Richard Wagner, who took office on December 18, 2017, replacing Beverley McLachlin, the first woman to hold this position. Born in Montreal on April 2, 1957, he had been a puisne Supreme Court justice for 5 years, 74 days at the time of his elevation to chief justice. He previously sat on the Quebec Court of Appeal.

List of chief justices

Since the Supreme Court was established in 1875, the following 18 persons have served as Chief Justice:[6]

Order and term[A] Length of term Appointed on
advice of
Date of birth Date of death
William Buell Richards
1st September 30, 1875 –
January 10, 1879
3 years, 102 days Mackenzie May 2, 1815 January 26, 1889
William Johnstone Ritchie
(New Brunswick)
2nd January 11, 1879 –
September 25, 1892
13 years, 258 days Macdonald October 28, 1813 September 25, 1892[B]
Samuel Henry Strong
3rd December 13, 1892 –
November 17, 1902
9 years, 339 days Thompson August 13, 1825 August 31, 1909
Henri Elzéar Taschereau
4th November 21, 1902 –
May 1, 1906
3 years, 161 days Laurier October 7, 1836 April 14, 1911
Charles Fitzpatrick[C]
5th June 4, 1906 –
October 20, 1918
12 years, 138 days Laurier December 19, 1851 June 17, 1942
Louis Henry Davies
(Prince Edward Island)
6th October 23, 1918 –
May 1, 1924
5 years, 191 days Borden May 4, 1845 May 1, 1924[B]
Francis Alexander Anglin
7th September 16, 1924 –
February 27, 1933
8 years, 164 days King April 2, 1865 March 2, 1933
Lyman Duff
(British Columbia)
8th March 17, 1933 –
January 6, 1944[D]
10 years, 295 days Bennett January 7, 1865 April 26, 1955
Thibaudeau Rinfret
9th January 8, 1944 –
June 21, 1954
10 years, 164 days King June 22, 1879 July 25, 1962
Patrick Kerwin
10th July 1, 1954 –
February 2, 1963
8 years, 216 days St. Laurent October 25, 1889 February 2, 1963[B]
Robert Taschereau
11th April 22, 1963 –
August 31, 1967[E]
4 years, 131 days Pearson September 10, 1896 July 26, 1970
John Robert Cartwright
12th September 1, 1967 –
March 22, 1970
2 years, 202 days Pearson March 23, 1895 November 24, 1979
Gérald Fauteux
13th March 23, 1970 –
December 22, 1973
3 years, 274 days P. Trudeau October 22, 1900 September 14, 1980
Bora Laskin
14th December 27, 1973 –
March 26, 1984
10 years, 90 days P. Trudeau October 5, 1912 March 26, 1984[B]
Brian Dickson
15th April 18, 1984 –
June 29, 1990
6 years, 72 days P. Trudeau May 25, 1916 October 17, 1998
Antonio Lamer
16th July 1, 1990 –
January 6, 2000
9 years, 189 days Mulroney July 8, 1933 November 24, 2007
Beverley McLachlin
(British Columbia)
17th January 7, 2000 –
December 14, 2017[F]
17 years, 341 days Chrétien September 7, 1943 2020-09-18(living)
Richard Wagner
18th December 18, 2017 –
2 years, 275 days[G] J. Trudeau April 2, 1957 2020-09-18(living)

This graphical timeline depicts the length of each justice's tenure as chief justice:[6]


  1. ^ The start date listed for each chief justice is the day he or she took the judicial oath of office, and the end date is the date of the justice's death, resignation, or retirement.
  2. ^ a b c d Died in office
  3. ^ Appointed directly from the Cabinet, and never served as puisne justice; only time the chief justiceship has been filled from outside the judiciary.[7]
  4. ^ Assumed vice regal duties as Administrator of Canada February 11 – June 21, 1940, following the death in office of Governor General Lord Tweedsmuir.
  5. ^ Assumed vice regal duties as Administrator of Canada March 5 – April 17, 1967, following the death in office of Governor General Georges Vanier.
  6. ^ Assumed vice regal duties as Administrator of Canada in July 2005 when Governor General Adrienne Clarkson underwent surgery.[8]
  7. ^ As of September 18, 2020


  1. ^ "Guide for Candidates". Ottawa, Ontario: Office of the Commissioner for Federal Judicial Affairs. Retrieved November 23, 2018.
  2. ^ "Supreme Court of Canada". Retrieved 2016-01-06.
  3. ^ a b "Supreme Court of Canada – Role of the Court". www.scc-csc.ca. Supreme Court of Canada. Retrieved 2016-01-06.
  4. ^ "About the Judges". Supreme Court of Canada. Archived from the original on 4 March 2016. Retrieved 6 January 2016.
  5. ^ "Electoral Boundaries Readjustment Act". Retrieved 2009-09-25.
  6. ^ a b "Current and Former Chief Justices". Ottawa, Ontario: Supreme Court of Canada. Retrieved November 12, 2018.
  7. ^ Snell, James G.; Vaughan, Frederick (1985). The Supreme Court of Canada: History of the Institution. Osgoode Hall, Toronto, Ontario: Osgoode Society for Canadian Legal History. p. 90. ISBN 0-8020-3417-9. Retrieved November 12, 2018.
  8. ^ Everett, Jason K. (Summer 2016). "Beverly McLachlin, Canada: Chief Justice, Supreme Court of Canada". International Judicial Monitor. Washington, D.C.: International Judicial Academy of the International Law Institute. Retrieved November 12, 2018.