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One Man’s Justice: A Life in the Law

by Thomas Berger

In a culture saturated with Law & Order reruns and cops-as-idols reality shows, lawyer Thomas Berger’s memoir is a refreshing, compelling read about using the legal process to make the world a better place. Like any good barrister, Berger structures his story around the facts of key cases he has handled. He masterfully describes despicable episodes in recent Canadian legal history and provides highly accessible explanations of the ways in which he used the law to seek remedies.

Berger’s has been a remarkable career in the public eye, all the more so because it has not been tainted by the usual trappings of fame. A hero to many in First Nations communities, he is perhaps best known as the chair of the Mackenzie Valley Pipeline Inquiry, which recommended against an environmentally disastrous Arctic gas pipeline.

He began his career by defending the disadvantaged – prostitutes, drug addicts, and “career” crooks. Berger ably explains how, even for the shadiest of characters, a fair trial remains a paramount concern. His reputation grew as he upheld this principle in court, and he soon found himself defending trade unions, miners seeking health and safety guarantees, victims of CIA brainwashing experiments, and First Nations seeking land rights.

Berger’s refusal to dwell on his personal life is understandable, but it would have been interesting to hear more about his term as an MP and leader of the B.C. NDP. The book also ends unexpectedly, leaving us without the kind of summation to tie things together. But perhaps that is in keeping with the unorthodox way in which Berger has lived his life as lawyer, judge, and advocate. This ongoing legacy includes many progressive legal precedents and changes to public policy, as well as a rare example of integrity in a profession whose members earn little of the public’s respect.