Remembering Peter Hutchins (1945-2023)
Peter W. Hutchins was a legal visionary, who helped entrench Aboriginal rights as a foundational pillar in Canadian law. In the 1970s, Mr. Hutchins became one of Canada’s earliest legal advocates for Indigenous peoples in Canada, helping negotiate the first modern treaty on behalf of the Crees of Eeyou Istchee. He developed one of Canada’s first environmental assessment regimes, which was included in the James Bay and Northern Quebec Agreement of 1975.
Mr. Hutchins went on to represent many Indigenous groups, arguing more than 10 cases before the Supreme Court of Canada, as well as appearing in the Federal Court and provincial courts across Canada, the United Nations Human Rights Committee, and the InterAmerican Commission on Human Rights. Both in his time in court and around the negotiation table, Mr. Hutchins insisted that the Indigenous people’s culture, values, and heritage must be intrinsic parts of any legal process and inform the legal solutions. This commitment was key to achieving meaningful justice for the Indigenous peoples and establishing a sense of legitimacy in otherwise fully foreign processes. He believed that Indigenous legal systems and laws must be woven into the fabric of Canadian law. He was also committed to Public International Law and its ability to advance Indigenous rights around the world.
An undergraduate alumnus of McGill University, he went on to create the first course in Aboriginal law in McGill’s Faculty of Law in 1980, which he taught for the next 15 years. In addition to being an advocate, Mr. Hutchins was an intellectual and an academic who wrote extensively about Indigenous law. He co-founded and served as the first chair of the Canadian Bar Association’s (CBA) National Aboriginal Law Section, while also supporting and promoting the creation of the Indigenous Bar Association (IBA) for Indigenous lawyers. Mr. Hutchins was appointed to the Federal Court’s Rules Committee in 2006. In his many years of service as part of the Rules Committee, he participated in various sub-committees, including the Sub-Committee on Expert Evidence in the Courts, the Sub-Committee on Global Review of the Federal Court Rules, and the Sub-Committee on Legislative Amendments. He also served on the Federal Court CBA-IBA Liaison Committee.
Mr. Hutchins was also a fervent believer in the rights of animals and over the years used his legal skills to intervene when he saw mistreatment to secure their rescue.
He remained one of the most active and respected voices for justice throughout his 50-year career. In addition to his commitment to justice, Mr. Hutchins will be remembered for his extraordinary generosity and kindness.
Mr. Hutchins leaves behind his cherished wife, Alexandra (“Zandy”) Hutchins, of 53 years, his son William Hutchins, daughter-in-law Shanin Lott, and his three grandchildren, Myles, Stella, and Annabel.
Mr. Hutchins was a mentor to many in the field of Indigenous law today. He was lauded for guiding law students and young lawyers and helping them find their voices. He inspired many with his unyielding determination, passion for justice, and skill in crafting novel legal arguments. Mr. Hutchins believed in the power of the legal system and courts to make positive change. He never waivered in his belief that it was vital to help develop and support the next generation of young lawyers to continue the pursuit of that change.
To recognize Mr. Hutchins’ contributions to McGill and to the legal community, and to carry on his legacy of support for the development of the next generation of lawyers who will continue to push the frontiers of justice, family and friends have come together to establish a fund in support of the Peter Hutchins Forefront of Justice Scholarship. This scholarship will support upper year students working at the forefront of justice, domestically or internationally, to develop innovative approaches to advancing Indigenous, environmental, or animal rights.
Should you wish to remember Peter Hutchins with a contribution to this scholarship fund, you may do so at the donation page below – tax receipts will be issued. You may also contact Eric Greenberg, Development Officer, at eric.greenberg [at] mcgill.ca or 514.398.6694