Legal trailblazer Mary Dawson, co-author of the Canada Health Act (1942-2023)
Mary Elizabeth Dawson was one of the key architects of the legislative framework which defines Canada and Québec. Dawson, who was bilingual, contributed in a very unique way to the excellent reputation of the Canadian public service.
Dawson was born in Halifax, went to high school in Montréal, moved to Toronto with her family, trained as a lawyer at McGill and Dalhousie universities, and studied the Civil Code of Québec at the University of Ottawa. She joined the federal public service as a researcher in 1967, at the age of 23, and built a stellar career in the Department of Justice.
While with the Department of Justice, she held the pen on the Access to Information Act, the Privacy Act, the Young Offenders Act, the Official Languages Act, and the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms, among many significant legal documents.
Along with then Liberal MP Monique Bégin, she was instrumental in the drafting of the Canada Health Act, Canada’s federal legislation for publicly funded health care insurance, which was passed into law in 1985.
The Act sets out the primary objective of Canadian health care policy, which is “to protect, promote and restore the physical and mental well-being of residents of Canada and to facilitate reasonable access to health services without financial or other barriers.”
She was appointed Deputy Minister of Justice in 1988, retired in 2005, and returned as the first federal Ethics Commissioner in 2007, appointed by then Primer Minister Stephen Harper, a position she held until 2017.
One of her last rulings as ethics commissioner with a finding that Prime Minister Justin Trudeau violated conflict of interest rules by accepting a vacation on the Aga Khan’s private island in the Bahamas in 2016.
Dawson died in Ottawa on December 24, 2023 of thyroid cancer. She was 81.
Remembering Mary Dawson, the dedicated former #Ethics Commissioner, who served from July 2007 to January 2018. Our heartfelt condolences go out to her family and all who were touched by her remarkable contributions. She will be missed. https://t.co/4HlmVWH2bp— Conflict of Interest and Ethics Commissioner (@EthicsCanada) January 5, 2024
Cover photo from McGill University.