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Remembering Peter Hogg (1939-2020)

As the fall law school term wound down, I found myself thinking about Peter Hogg. With the Alberta Sovereignty Act, the notwithstanding clause and Quebec and Saskatchewan unilaterally amending the Constitution, I’m sure I was not alone. When you teach Constitutional Law in this country, it is hard not to think about Peter Hogg. Like many, I was fortunate to have known Peter and although I never took a class with him, I very much consider myself a student of Peter Hogg. I benefitted from his mentorship and his teaching for two decades, until his untimely death in February 2020 just prior to the onset of the pandemic.

Peter was an incredibly generous teacher and scholar. He had a monumental impact on my career and on the careers of many others.

My first encounter with Peter was both memorable and embarrassing at the same time.

In 2000, I was a young lawyer working at a large law firm in Toronto, struggling to figure out if I was going to be a lawyer who did some teaching or whether I could become a teacher who did some lawyering. I had just published my first law review article in Canada: Rediscovering Constitutional Law: Succession Upon the Death of the Prime Minister. I was writing about the Governor General and trying to convince people that the position mattered at a time when Rideau Hall had not had any excitement or controversy since King-Byng in 1926. With a few notable exceptions – including Peter – most legal scholars completely ignored the Governor General.

I was understandably excited to receive the offprints (old hard copies) of my article. I made about 30 copies and sent them to constitutional scholars across the country. I received no acknowledgement or response. Save for one.

One day the phone at my office rang and when I picked it up, the voice at the other end of the line greeted me warmly in a New Zealand accent: “Hello Adam. This is Peter Hogg. Thank you so much for sending me your article. It looks very interesting. I would like to cite it in the next edition of Constitutional Law of Canada. There’s one problem. You only sent me the odd numbered pages. Would you mind sending me the even ones as well?”

My reaction was one of shock mixed with jubilation and embarrassment. I had personally photocopied my article – I had no one to blame but myself. The other 29 constitutional scholars I sent it to must have either concurred in this assessment or not bothered to turn to turn the first page. Peter bothered. And he was interested enough to call me. This small act of kindness gave me confidence and sparked a warm relationship between us.

Peter was humble about himself and generous in crediting others. These qualities are often scarce in academia and in the legal profession. In his text, he would acknowledge by name students who led him to change his views on various issues. Some of his most famous articles were co-written with his students: his pathbreaking 1997 article on the Charter dialogue between the courts and legislatures (with Allison Bushell (Thornton)), his 2007 response to critics (with Allison Bushell Thornton and Wade Wright) and his article on the Rule of Law (with Cara Zwibel).

On any program, Peter’s bio was usually the shortest. He didn’t need to toot his own horn or have an entourage follow him around. When I visited him once at his office at Blake Cassells and Graydon in Toronto, Peter was working away on the Index for the latest version of Constitutional Law of Canada. He explained to me how important an index was and that it was not something that should be delegated to others.

Peter wrote me letters of recommendation, helped me get my job at the University of Ottawa and referred legal work to me. I am sure I was not alone in being quite content to be the second, third, fourth or even fifth choice after Peter Hogg!

Death took Peter from us too early and the pandemic robbed us of the opportunity to fully pay tribute to him.

Thank you for everything Peter. You are sorely missed.

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