THE ADVOCATE 523
VOL. 77 PART 4 JULY 2019
LET’S SEE IT AS A STRENGTH,
NOT A LIABILITY*
By Anna S.P. Wong
In the summer of 1988, Justice Gerald Le Dain had a secret he could
no longer keep: he had depression. His depression hurled him into
a state of edginess. Sleep, the simplest of comforts, eluded him. If
there was ever mistaking the illness for something else, there was
no mistaking it now, for he was just diagnosed.
According to Le Dain’s family, when Le Dain’s employer, the Supreme
Court of Canada stewarded by Chief Justice Brian Dickson, learned of his
secret, rather than being given some time off to recover, he was told to
resign. And he did. The pressures to do so were great and the stigma crushing.
Soon after stepping down, he receded from public life altogether.1
The way things were for Le Dain is worlds apart from the way things are
for Justice Michele Hollins of the Alberta Court of Queen’s Bench three
decades on. Rather than shrouding it, Justice Hollins has spoken loudly and
widely about her past struggle with depression, both after her appointment
to the bench and while she was still a lawyer.2 The result of her talking about
her mental health was her being invited to talk about it again and again, hundreds
of times over. Told so many times, it became the antipode of secret.
WHAT CHANGED BETWEEN 1988 AND NOW?
Much has changed since 1988. It would be a herculean task—one that is
beyond the scope of this article—to catalogue the multitude of legal developments,
but three are worth mentioning.
R. v. Swain
Three years after Le Dain’s reported ousting came an important shift in the
top court’s attitude towards mental illness. With a new Chief Justice at the
helm,3 the court acknowledged the stigmatization and discrimination of
people with mental disorders in R. v. Swain.4
* The original version of this article was published in The Advocates’ Journal (Adv. J.), Summer 2019, Vol. 38, No. 1.