Book Review: Public Inquiries in Canada–Law and Practice

Several times each month, we are pleased to republish a recent book review from the Canadian Law Library Review (CLLR). CLLR is the official journal of the Canadian Association of Law Libraries (CALL/ACBD), and its reviews cover both practice-oriented and academic publications related to the law.

Public Inquiries in Canada: Law and Practice. By Ronda F. Bessner & Susan Lightstone. Toronto: Thomson Reuters, 2017. xxx, 646 p. Includes table of cases, bibliographical references, and index. ISBN 9780779880720 (softcover) $144.00.

Reviewed by Alexia Loumankis
Reference and Research Librarian
Bora Laskin Law Library, University of Toronto
In CLLR 44:2

Since Confederation, public inquiries have played a significant role in Canadian society, as they acknowledge as well as facilitate in-depth investigation into a particular topic of great importance. Given their substantial directives and varied participants, public inquiries are usually complex and often emotionally charged. Generally, public inquiries can be investigative and make findings of fact (for example, the Westray Mine Public Inquiry) or they can research and propose policies (for example, the Royal Commission on the Status of Women in Canada). Some inquiries can be both investigative and institute policy inquiries, such as the Commission on the Blood Service in Canada.

Public Inquiries in Canada: Law and Practice aims to serve as a guide to conducting and participating in a public inquiry from beginning to end, regardless of the inquiry’s mandate. The book’s authors, Ronda Bessner and Susan Lightstone, have extensive experience in supporting and serving the public and public inquiries, as well as educating students, lawyers, and judges.

The chapters organize each stage of a public inquiry chronologically, starting with a chapter on the history of public inquiries and the different types that exist. The final chapter discusses measures that can be taken to assess the effectiveness of public inquiries. The in-between chapters provide details about other issues that anyone involved in a public inquiry should be aware of, from rules of evidence to document management.

Each step in an inquiry is accompanied by a mix of thorough legal analysis, practical checklists, and forms. Forthright personal reflections from professionals who have worked on inquiries, including judges, lawyers, and journalists, are included. National in scope with relevant cases and legislation covering all provinces and territories, this book could be used for inquiries in any Canadian jurisdiction.

While Bessner or Lightstone write the majority of the chapters, the book also features chapters by other professionals with in-depth experience in and knowledge of public inquiries. For example, the Honourable Denise Bellamy wrote Chapter 7, “How to Run a Public Inquiry,” and she uses her experience leading the Toronto Computer Leasing Inquiry and Toronto External Contracts Inquiry to explain how to set up an inquiry, conduct an investigation and hearings, and write a final report. While Justice Bellamy describes substantive legal issues, such as setting the inquiry’s rules of procedure and witness interviews, she also shares practical tips on creating an inquiry website and keyboard shortcuts for note taking, for example.

Throughout the book, the authors feature interviews with past participants of specific inquiries, thereby expanding the analysis to include first-hand experiences from varying points of view. This feature is particularly effective in Chapter 15, “Giving Voice”: “They are public inquiries…” This chapter includes an interview with Lata Pada, whose husband and two daughters died in the Air India bombing. Pada, who received party standing and testified at the Air India Inquiry, describes her experiences with first advocating for a public inquiry into the bombing to her thoughts on the implementation of the inquiry’s recommendations. With the help of Pada’s interview, one better understands the impact that public inquiries have on the morale and daily lives of Canadian citizens and the importance of ensuring that inquiries are conducted properly and carefully.

Public Inquiries in Canada is useful for all those involved in a public inquiry, from judges and lawyers to witnesses and journalists. With its practical writing and substantive legal analysis, it would be a welcome addition to any law library.

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