Remarks By
The Honourable Frank Iacobucci
Chief Justice, Federal Court Of Canada
The University Of British Columbia
Spring Convocation
June 2,1989 - Vancouver, B.C.

Graduation: A Time of Yesterday, Today and Tomorrow


Mr. Chancellor, Madam Chancellor, Chief Justice McEachern, President Strangway, Dean Burns,, Dean Lusztig, members of the Platform Party and of the Faculty, graduates and their families and friends.

I am delighted to be back at UBC, and it is a profound pleasure and honour for me to receive the Doctor of Laws from my alma mater. Indeed I find it difficult to envision a more significant or meaningful honour than to be so recognized.

This University is a great one. As I look around the campus today and see the impressive buildings and grounds and, more importantly, think about the much deserved reputation of the quality of UBC programmes and courses of study, I salute the leadership of the University and the Law, Commerce, and Forestry Faculties: President Strangway, Dean Burns, Dean Lusztig and Dean Kennedy for the wisdom and commitment of their stewardship; and I congratulate the Faculty members and students for their dedication to scholarly excellence.

All of you will, however, agree with me that on days like this we should also note the accomplishments of our predecessors at UBC - too many to mention by name but not too many to remember. Their efforts and sacrifices made it possible for UBC to flourish and prosper and to occupy a position of leadership in the academic and scholarly arenas of our country and beyond.

In fact it is looking back which forms a part of my theme for my comments. Graduation is one of those tridimensional times in our lives when we look back at what brought us here, when we enjoy the present and acknowledge the special recognition that is being - accorded to us, and when we look forward to what lies ahead.

My look at yesterday, today and tomorrow will be somewhat personal for which I ask your indulgence. However, I shaft be mercifully brief because a convocation address should be. As former Justice Estey of the Supreme Court of Canada once advised lawyers appearing before that Court:

"Be heard, Be clear, Be brief, Be gone!".
So, I will attempt to be the same.


It is particularly moving when I think of what brought me to UBC and eventually to this moment. Although the details vary among each of us graduating today, I am sure there are many common elements.

Our parents and families come at the head of the line in this respect. I am thrilled beyond words to have my father here today. The help and sacrifice of my mother and him and the added love and loyalty of my brothers and sister and their families are special irreparable debts. The presence of my wife, Nancy, underlines the greatest source of love, support, and encouragement one could ever hope to have. I am sure you can make similar comments about. your parents and families.

Growing up in Vancouver was memorable. I played a lot of sports and shall never forget being billed as the first Japanese-Canadian to play in the Pacific Coast Soccer League. This city and this University were the places where I made life-long friendships and I am especially pleased to see some of those very special people today. These friends played a role in my fife that has been far more important and significant than any of them could read. Again I believe you could say the same about your friends.

It has been said that the best library a practising lawyer can have is friends. That is true but friendship goes beyond collegial or professional support, it goes to the very centre of a happy and productive life.

So today in this time of honour, you and I as graduates must remember and give thanks for our roots, and the love and loyalty of our families and friends for their role in whatever success we have achieved. In short we must give them much credit, perhaps the lion's share, for the recognition given to us today.

Speaking of credit brings me to our teachers and professors in school and University. My grade one teacher had an enormous effect on me - she was the first person to expose me to the joy of learning. My elementary school principal planted the seed of my being a lawyer when I was in grade six. At high school and University, my teachers took a great interest in me and my law professors encouraged me to pursue graduate studies in the law.

However, Dean Lusztig, I fear that your distinguished predecessor, Dean Earle McPhee, was probably not disappointed to see me leave the Commerce Faculty: It would not surprise me if he had said to one of his colleagues: Iacobucci’s leaving Commerce and going to the Law Faculty will simultaneously strengthen the student bodies of both institutions! In a similar vein I shall never forget my English Professor whom I met while crossing campus one day just after I had been awarded a law fellowship to do graduate work. He said "Iacobucci, I see by the newspaper that you have distinguished yourself." I replied in feeble modesty "No, not really." He retorted "Well, then, keep trying!" and walked away.

You also have many fond memories of your teachers and no doubt you treasure them as I do. Our teachers are greatly influential in our lives and we owe them much for their interest, effort and support in the wonderful experience that education is.

So on this occasion we look back in gratitude and appreciation for all the members of our family, our friends and our teachers who shaped our lives through love, sacrifice, encouragement, perseverance and dedication.


Now in speaking about today in particular, I firstly congratulate each of you for your distinguished achievement in successfully completing your examinations and courses of study. Your graduating today qualifies you for membership in a special group - the alumni of UBC.

I am sure that when you were in the last stretches of preparation for your exams, you thought of receiving your degree as the most important goal in your life up to that time. But I suggest that now that you have it, you will realize that the degree, the piece of paper, the initials after your name are now not the real goal but only a means to an end. To say that does not in any way devalue the merit of your achievement, but rather to emphasize that your success to date begs the question of what you do with this degree, and here we look to the future.


In looking at what lies ahead, I cannot resist giving you some words of advice. And in doing so I am reminded of the recent Doonesbury cartoon which featured a combined businessman philanthropist - alumnus addressing a convocation and saying it was hard to know exactly how to advise young people starting out today. But he went on to offer the following:

"I’d go mostly into mutuals, maybe a few T-Bills. And if you can find the collateral go long in pork belly futures. Also, buy Amstar before Tuesday, although you didn't hear that from me okay? Thank you and good luck."

My advice will not be as financially useful and you may be suspicious of getting advice from a judge after H.L. Mencken's description of judges as law students who mark their own examinations. But there are some points to note as you are about to leave UBC. Most of you will become members of a profession.

It was the great Roscoe Pound who said:

"Historically, there are three ideas involved in a profession: organization, learning, and a spirit of public service. These are essential. The remaining idea, that of gaining a likelihood is incidental."

I hope you will continually reflect those elements in your legal or business practice in order to ensure that you do not unconsciously transform the incidental idea, namely, "gaining a livelihood", into the major component of your professional activity.

To me, the noblest attribute of membership in a profession is service both to one's client and the public. lawyers are privileged in that they are a self-regulated profession, but that requires always striving to attain the highest ethical standards among the conduct of its members. As has been said by an outstanding Canadian jurist:

"Without a true understanding of his professional responsibility a lawyer is worse than useless; he can be dangerous. Without it knowledge and practical skills count for nothing."

Morality in a profession is vital. I am sure you Commerce and Forestry graduates will not protest my reminding you that Mahatma Gandhi’s enumeration of the modem world's seven new sins included "Commerce without morality".

So too with lawyers as is illustrated by the following story about Abraham Lincoln.

Lincoln often refused to undertake doubtful causes, discountenanced sharp practices and discouraged litigation. He once said, for example, to one client

"Yes, we can doubtless gain your case for you; we can set a whole neighbourhood at loggerheads; we can distress a widowed mother and her six fatherless children, and thereby get for you six hundred dollars to which you seem to have a legal claim, but which rightfully belongs, it appears to me, as much to the woman and her children as it does to you. You must remember, however, that some things legally right are not morally right. We shall not take your case, but we will give you a little advice for which we will charge you nothing. You seem to be a sprightly, energetic man. We would advise you to try your hand at making six hundred dollars in some other way."

Each of us must be prepared to give the kind of advice that Lincoln gave when faced with similar circumstances. The story also emphasizes an invaluable characteristic of the best lawyers, and that is their individualism and idealism.

And here, Mr. Chancellor, I near the end because if I don't I will be in danger of imitating the correspondent who wrote:

"I have made this a rather long letter because I have not had the time to make it shorter."


Your education has prepared you well for your chosen profession and the dynamically changing world in which we five.

As graduates of this University we owe it and ourselves, and all those who helped us on the way, no more and no less than to try to do our best in all that we do. The ultimate measure of the worth of any educational institution, particularly a University, is not the calibre of its faculty or students or the size of its endowment, but the worthiness of the contribution of its graduates to society.

The degree you receive today is a key to a door that win open to a life of excitement and challenge and allow you to do your part in being exemplary citizens of Canada.

No matter what work you do in life, never forget what Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes said:

"Every calling is great, when greatly pursued."

And at the same time do not take for granted the immense power you have as individuals to make a difference to your profession, as well as to your community, province and country.

Too often we think of ourselves as very small cogs in a very large machine, too young or insignificant to do or change anything.

But let me recall, in closing, part of the message given by Senator Edward Kennedy at the funeral of his brother Robert Kennedy some twenty years ago, about the efforts of young men and women. He said:

"Some believe there is nothing one man or one woman can do against the enormous array of the world's ills. Yet many of the world's great movements of thought and action have flowed from the work of a single man. A young monk began the Protestant Reformation, a young general extended an empire from Macedonia to the borders of the earth and a young woman reclaimed the territory of France. It was a young Italian explorer -who discovered the New World and the thirty-two-year-old Thomas Jefferson who aimed that all men are created equal."

Again, Mr. Chancellor, I thank my alma mater for the education and friendships it has given me and now this great honour which I shall cherish forever.

Members of the graduating class, again congratulations and may you have lives of fulfilment and happiness. Good luck to you all. Thank you.