John Gomery, former sponsorship scandal inquiry head, dies at 88

Click to play video: 'Mourning a Canadian legal legend'
Mourning a Canadian legal legend
WATCH: A legal legend whose report shed light on a federal political scandal that was instrumental in the defeat of the Liberal party in 2006 has died. John Gomery, the former Quebec Superior Court judge, oversaw the well-known Gomery Commission passed away Tuesday night. As Global’s Tim Sargeant reports Gomery is being remembered as a legal and political trailblazer. – May 19, 2021

John Gomery, the judge who led a public inquiry that helped sink a federal government, has died at age 88.

His daughter confirmed his death to The Canadian Press on Wednesday.

“He was a giant, an extraordinary man and a superb father, and my heart and whole body aches now that he’s gone,” Liz Gomery wrote on Twitter Tuesday night.

Gomery was a Quebec Superior Court justice when he was named to head an inquiry into the federal sponsorship scandal in 2004. The sponsorship program was created to raise the profile of the federal government in Quebec after the near loss of the 1995 referendum on the province’s independence.

But the program became a vehicle for Quebec advertising companies to receive funds for little or no work, some of which was kicked back to Liberal party operatives in the province. The revelations of kickbacks and illegal fundraising ultimately helped lead to the defeat of the once-dominant Liberal government.

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During the hearings, Gomery created lasting images with his barbed exchanges with prominent witnesses such as former prime minister Jean Chrétien.

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”It was an amazing spectacle,“ Gomery told The Canadian Press during an interview in 2007. ”It was a drama with surprise discoveries almost every day, with eminently competent lawyers. It was an ideal situation for the person running the show.”

READ MORE: Jacques Corriveau found guilty on 3 fraud-related charges over sponsorship scandal

While many Canadians appreciated Gomery’s fire and candour, a Federal Court judge in 2008 threw out a key conclusion from the report, which found that Chrétien bore some responsibility for the scandal.

Gomery studied law at McGill University and worked in private practice in Montreal before being made a judge in 1982. Early in his career, he became known for expertise in family and commercial law.

After being appointed to the bench he made decisions on workers rights and led a team of judges that reformed family law, which he later described as one of his proudest accomplishments.

He retired to his farm southwest of Montreal in 2007, but he remained active in public life.

He told The Canadian Press at the time that he hoped to be remembered for some of his accomplishments beyond leading the inquiry, which he described as “the cherry on top of the cake” of his years in the courtroom.

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”It was a test for me, frankly. But I haven’t regretted it,“ he said of the inquiry.

“And if the people remember me for that, that’s fine. It’s sort of inevitable. I can’t expect people in Calgary, Alberta, to know me for any other reason than that. But I would hope that some people in my home province or Montreal would remember me for other things.”

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