In Remembrance: The Legacy of Mr. Justice Henry Nolan

Today, we remember the wars fought, the men and women lost, and the personal sacrifices, which formed Canada. Today we send our appreciation to those presently in service for our country and we are thankful to live in a country that values democracy and liberty. Last Remembrance Day, my posting was entitled “Lest We Forget,” which offered some profound words from poet/soldiers of WWI and WWII, including a moving passage from F.R. Scott, a Canadian lawyer who was an important civil liberties advocate and past Dean of McGill Law School.

This Remembrance Day, I recall Justice Henry Grattan Nolan, a Justice of the Supreme Court of Canada from March 1956 to July 1957, was born in Calgary, Alberta in 1895. His father, Patrick or Paddy Nolan, was one of the greatest criminal trial lawyers of his time. Paddy Nolan was a flamboyant character. A man of the new west, he was involved in all aspects of Calgary society, even appearing in the Gilbert and Sullivan comic opera “Trial By Jury.”

His son, Henry Nolan, was more serious by nature. A Rhodes Scholar, Henry served in the 49th Canadian Battalion (from Edmonton, Alberta) in France. There he was wounded fighting in the Battle of Cambrai in November 1917. He received the Military Cross in 1918. After completing his studies at Oxford, England, Henry joined R.B. Bennett’s law firm. Bennett had often been opposing counsel to his father, Paddy. It has been said when Bennett was opposing Nolan in the Supreme Court of Canada in 1908, Bennett entered into the courtroom with his junior, issuing orders: “Boy, give me Phipson on Evidence,” “Boy, give me Kenny on Crimes.” To this, Paddy replied “Boy, get me Bennett on Bologney.”  

Henry Nolan re-enlisted at the outbreak of World War II and served with the Canadian Army. Rising through the ranks, Nolan became a Brigadier as the Vice-Judge Advocate General. From the end of the war to 1948, Nolan served in Tokyo as a Prosecutor for Canada before the International Military Tribunal for the Far East (IMTFE). Since then, Canada has taken a strong role in the prosecution of war criminals, most notably with Louise Arbour, who acted as Chief Prosecutor before the Rwanda and Yugoslavia War Crime Tribunals.

Although, Justice Nolan died prematurely, at the age of 64 and only spent one year on the Supreme Court of Canada, he authored a number of the cases. Most notably however was his commitment to his country as a soldier in World War I and II and as a protector of civil liberties and human rights as a military lawyer and war crimes prosecutor. We remember Justice Nolan as we remember all who contributed to our country in this way.