|Chief Justice of Canada|
|Juge en Chef du Canada|
|Supreme Court of Canada|
Canadian judicial system
|Style||The Right Honourable|
Madam/Mister Chief Justice
|Status||Chief justice, head of a court system|
Deputy Governor General
4th in Canadian order of precedence
|Member of||Supreme Court|
Canadian Judicial Council (Ex-officio chairman)
Order of Canada advisory council (chairman)
|Seat||Supreme Court Building, Ottawa, Ontario|
on the advice of the prime minister
mandatory retirement at age 75
|Constituting instrument||Supreme Court Act|
|Inaugural holder||Sir William Buell Richards|
|Formation||September 30, 1875|
|Succession||May assume viceregal role as Administrator of Canada|
|Salary||$413,500 (as of April 2018)|
The chief justice of Canada (French: juge en chef du Canada) is the presiding judge of the nine-member Supreme Court of Canada, the highest judicial body in Canada. As such, the chief justice is the highest-ranking judge of the Canadian court system. The Supreme Court Act makes the chief justice, a Crown in Council appointment, meaning the Crown acting on the advice of the prime minister and minister of justice. The chief justice serves until they resign, turn 75 years old, die, or are removed from office for cause. By tradition, a new chief justice is chosen from among the court's incumbent puisne justices.
The chief justice has significant influence in the procedural rules of the Court, presides when oral arguments are held, and leads the discussion of cases among the justices. The chief justice is also deputy governor general, ex-officio chairman of the Canadian Judicial Council, and heads the committee that selects recipients of the Order of Canada. Additionally, a chief justice also assumes the role of Administrator of Canada and exercises the viceregal duties of the governor general upon the death, resignation or incapacitation of the governor general.
Richard Wagner has served as the current chief justice of Canada since 2017. Since the Supreme Court was established in 1875, 18 people have served as chief justice. The court's first chief justice was William Buell Richards; Beverley McLachlin is the longest serving Canadian chief justice (17 years, 341 days), and was the first woman to hold the position.
The chief justice is appointed by the Governor in Council under the Supreme Court Act on the advice of the prime minister. The appointment is subject to the Supreme Court Act, which governs the administration and appointment of judges of the court. By this component of the Constitution of Canada, Judges appointed to the court must be "a judge of a superior court of a province or a barrister or advocate of at least ten years standing at the bar of a province."
Tradition dictates that the chief justice be appointed from among the court's puisne judges; in the history of the Court, only two were not: William Buell Richards, and Charles Fitzpatrick. It is also customary that a new chief justice be chosen alternately from among: the three justices who by law must be from Quebec (with its civil law system), and the other six justices from the rest of Canada (representing the common law tradition). Since 1933, this tradition has only been broken once, when Brian Dickson of Manitoba was named to succeed Bora Laskin of Ontario in 1984.
The chief justice's central duty is to preside at hearings before the Supreme Court. The chief justice presides from the centre chair. If the chief justice is absent, the senior puisne judge presides.
The chief justice chairs the Canadian Judicial Council, which is composed of all chief justices and associate chief justices of superior courts in Canada. This body, established in 1971 by the Judges Act, organizes seminars for federally appointed judges, coordinates the discussion of issues of concern to the judiciary, and conducts inquiries, either on public complaint or at the request of a federal or provincial minister of justice or attorney general, into the conduct of any federally appointed judge.
The chief justice is sworn as a member of the Privy Council prior to taking the judicial oath of office. The chief justice also sits on the advisory council of Canada's highest civilian order, the Order of Canada. In practice however, the chief justice abstains from voting on a candidate's removal from the order, presumably because this process has so far only applied to individuals convicted in a lower court of a criminal offence, and could create a conflict of interest for the chief justice if that individual appealed their conviction to the Supreme Court.
Under the Electoral Boundaries Readjustment Act, each province has a three-person commission responsible for modifying that province's federal ridings. The chair of each such commission is appointed by the chief justice of that province; if no appointment is made by the provincial chief justice, the responsibility falls to the chief justice of Canada.
The Constitution Act, 1867 provides that there can be an "Administrator for the Time being carrying on the Government of Canada." The Letters Patent, 1947 respecting the Office of Governor General provide that, should the governor general should die, become incapacitated, or be absent from the country for a period of more than one month, the chief justice or, if that office is vacant, the senior puisne justice, of the Supreme Court would become Administrator of Canada and exercise all the powers and duties of the governor general. This has happened on four occasions: chief justices Lyman Duff and Robert Taschereau each did so, in 1940 and 1967 respectively, following the death of the incumbent governor general, as did Chief Justice Beverley McLachlin when the Governor General underwent surgery in 2005. With the resignation of Julie Payette in January 2021, Richard Wagner served as Administrator until the appointment of Mary Simon as Governor General in July of the same year.
The chief justice and the other justices of the court serve as deputies of the governor general for the purpose of giving Royal Assent to bills passed by Parliament, signing official documents or receiving credentials of newly appointed high commissioners and ambassadors.
The current chief justice is Richard Wagner, who took office on December 18, 2017, succeeding Beverley McLachlin. Born in Montreal on April 2, 1957, Wagner had been a puisne Supreme Court justice for 5 years, 74 days at the time of his elevation to chief justice. He previously sat on the Quebec Court of Appeal.
Since the Supreme Court was established in 1875, the following 18 persons have served as Chief Justice:
|Order and term[A]||Length of term||Appointed on
|Date of birth||Date of death|
|William Buell Richards
|1st||September 30, 1875 –
January 10, 1879
|3 years, 102 days||Mackenzie||May 2, 1815||January 26, 1889|
|William Johnstone Ritchie
|2nd||January 11, 1879 –
September 25, 1892
|13 years, 258 days||Macdonald||October 28, 1813||September 25, 1892[B]|
|Samuel Henry Strong
|3rd||December 13, 1892 –
November 17, 1902
|9 years, 339 days||Thompson||August 13, 1825||August 31, 1909|
|Henri Elzéar Taschereau
|4th||November 21, 1902 –
May 1, 1906
|3 years, 161 days||Laurier||October 7, 1836||April 14, 1911|
|5th||June 4, 1906 –
October 20, 1918
|12 years, 138 days||Laurier||December 19, 1851||June 17, 1942|
|Louis Henry Davies
(Prince Edward Island)
|6th||October 23, 1918 –
May 1, 1924
|5 years, 191 days||Borden||May 4, 1845||May 1, 1924[B]|
|Francis Alexander Anglin
|7th||September 16, 1924 –
February 27, 1933
|8 years, 164 days||King||April 2, 1865||March 2, 1933|
|8th||March 17, 1933 –
January 6, 1944[D]
|10 years, 295 days||Bennett||January 7, 1865||April 26, 1955|
|9th||January 8, 1944 –
June 21, 1954
|10 years, 164 days||King||June 22, 1879||July 25, 1962|
|10th||July 1, 1954 –
February 2, 1963
|8 years, 216 days||St. Laurent||October 25, 1889||February 2, 1963[B]|
|11th||April 22, 1963 –
August 31, 1967[E]
|4 years, 131 days||Pearson||September 10, 1896||July 26, 1970|
|John Robert Cartwright
|12th||September 1, 1967 –
March 22, 1970
|2 years, 202 days||Pearson||March 23, 1895||November 24, 1979|
|13th||March 23, 1970 –
December 22, 1973
|3 years, 274 days||P. Trudeau||October 22, 1900||September 14, 1980|
|14th||December 27, 1973 –
March 26, 1984
|10 years, 90 days||P. Trudeau||October 5, 1912||March 26, 1984[B]|
|15th||April 18, 1984 –
June 29, 1990
|6 years, 72 days||P. Trudeau||May 25, 1916||October 17, 1998|
|16th||July 1, 1990 –
January 6, 2000
|9 years, 189 days||Mulroney||July 8, 1933||November 24, 2007|
|17th||January 7, 2000 –
December 14, 2017[F]
|17 years, 341 days||Chrétien||September 7, 1943||(living)|
|18th||December 18, 2017 –
|4 years, 312 days[G]||J. Trudeau||April 2, 1957||(living)|
This graphical timeline depicts the length of each justice's tenure as chief justice: