The recent high-profile criminal charges facing former Ontario Attorney General Michael Bryant have a lot of Canadians thinking about the concept of justice – not just in terms of the letter of the law, but in terms of whether those laws really do apply to everyone equally. So the timing of Searching for Justice, the autobiography of former Quebec Court of Appeals justice Fred Kaufman, could not be better.
For one thing, Kaufman had an impressive career on the bench, helping to get future Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau released from prison in 1960 and, after his retirement, participating in the wrongful conviction cases of Guy Paul Morin and Steven Truscott. His commentary is filled with detail about the cases themselves, but also asks larger legal, moral, and social questions.
Born in 1924, Kaufman has had a very eventful personal life. He departed his birthplace of Vienna before the Second World War, was interned as an enemy alien in Canada in 1940, and decided to stay in Canada after his release in 1942 to pursue university studies and law school.
Before becoming a lawyer, Kaufman was a journalist at the Sherbrooke Record, then at the Montreal Star. That early training in straightforward reporting has resulted in an autobiography that reads beautifully. Completely free of convoluted legalese and judicial jargon, Kaufman simply and effectively relates the story of his life in a way that keeps the reader turning the pages.
As well, Kaufman’s ability to place his life story in the context of broader historical trends – the persecution of Jews in the 1940s, French-English tensions in 1960s and ’70s Quebec, and the social underpinnings of some of the most famous cases in Canadian legal history – is a welcome change from the all-about-me tone that characterizes many memoirs.
This is a great story told by a great storyteller, a sure pleasure for anyone interested in Canadian law or Canadian history.