By Michael Welsh
As we go to press, we learn with shock and sadness of the sudden death on March 12, 2011 of The Honourable Donald I. Brenner, QC, former Chief Justice of the Supreme Court of British Columbia, at age 64. After seventeen years on the bench, nine of them as Chief Justice, Mr. Brenner retired in September 2011 and joined Farris, Vaughan, Wills & Murphy LLP as Senior Counsel where he conducted a practice in mediation and arbitration.
The Honourable Chief Justice Bauman of the Supreme Court of British Columbia said on learning of his death, "As a leader, Don was quiet, effective, strong and compassionate. He was a superb mediator with astute business and financial judgment, talents which allowed him to resolve many of the most difficult business law cases brought before our court. The court has lost a great colleague and friend. The province has lost an outstanding citizen."
CBABC president Stephen McPhee, stated, “We feel a collective loss as one of our most senior and respected justice leaders has been taken from us too soon.” He said Mr. Brenner and his achievements will never be forgotten.
Born and raised in British Columbia, and the son of a World War II hero, Mr. Brenner attended St. George’s School from which he graduated in 1962. At age 16, he learned to fly a helicopter, and was the youngest pilot in the country at the time. He earned a commercial helicopter pilot’s licence at 18 and his flight career paid for his education. He joined Canadian Pacific Airlines in 1966 and finished as the captain of a 737 jet.
He did his undergraduate degree at the University of British Columbia and enrolled in its law school in 1967. He graduated in 1970 and was called to the Bar in 1971. He was named Queen’s Counsel in 1987. He was the long-standing Chair of the CBABC Air Law Section, as well as a director of the Air Transport Association of Canada, the B.C. Aviation Council and the Law Courts Inn. Throughout his career at the Bar, both before and in the brief months following his judicial career, he focussed on mediation and consensual resolution of complex problems. His empathy with others and his ability to cut through complicated issues to open a pathway to a resolution that was acceptable to both parties made him a mediator without peer.
During his term as Chief Justice, he was instrumental in production of the new Supreme Court Civil and Family Rules, co-founded the court’s Information Technology Committee and instituted many technological changes from electronic document filing to video-conferencing, all with a view to making the court more accessible and efficient to manage its ever-growing caseload.
Mr. Brenner is survived by his widow, Robin, and two daughters to whom the CBABC extends its condolences.
This article was published in the April 2011 issue of BarTalk. © 2011 The Canadian Bar Association. All rights reserved.