Paul-André Crépeau (1926-2011)

Montreal, 6 July 2011 - The Faculty of Law learned with great regret of the passing of Professor Emeritus Paul-André Crépeau on Wednesday, July 6, 2011, at the age of 85.

Professor Crépeau was one of Canada's greatest humanists. His penetrating intellect, the depth of his intellectual cultivation, his extraordinary knowledge of Civil Law, his boundless energy, his sound judgement, and his great tact and discretion, all explain why he became a model for several generations of legal scholars and practitioners. Thousands of students cherish life-long memories of their time with Professor Crépeau, as he invited them to immerse themselves in the millennial tradition of the Civil Law as well as its modern and particular expression in Quebec. He remained vibrant with his passion for the law, which he transmitted with so much enthusiasm to his students and colleagues, right to the end of a life devoted to teaching, research, and public service.

Prof. Crépeau dedicated his life to the advancement of learning in private law. A professor at the Faculty of Law of McGill University for more than fifty years, he is the author of over 130 academic books, articles and presentations. A few weeks before his death, he could still be found in his office at the Faculty of Law, hard at work on a project addressing the fundamental principles of the law of contract.

Paul-André Crépeau was at the very heart of the reforms that have left their mark on Quebec society since the 1960s. From 1965 to 1977, he presided over the titanic task of Quebec's Civil Code Revision Office, skilfully guiding and energizing the work of more than two hundred researchers, students, lawyers, notaries and judges, in a process of careful study and consultation, blazing the trail for the new Civil Code of Québec, which came into effect in 1994. With his colleague Frank R. Scott, Prof. Crépeau prepared the Report on a Draft Bill concerning Human Rights and Freedoms, which inspired the National Assembly in formulating the Charter of Human Rights and Freedoms of 1975.

Prof. Crépeau founded, and led for more than twenty years, the Quebec Research Centre of Private and Comparative Law, at McGill University, which is to this day a gathering place for dialogue between and among the greatest experts in civil law, both from Quebec and overseas. The Centre has remained faithful to the research priorities established by its founder: it devotes its activities in large measure to the publication of leading works in comparative law, as well as to the development of a legal vocabulary which fully reflects the richness of the languages of the law in Quebec, through the publication of remarkable dictionaries and bilingual lexicons. In this regard, Prof. Crépeau was one of the pioneers of jurilinguistics in Canada. As part of the ceremony bestowing the Prix du Québec awards in 2008, it was fittingly highlighted that "he made it possible for our legal system to reclaim its identity, due to the aptness, the rigour and the beauty of his use of language". From 1976, Prof. Crépeau held the Arnold Wainwright Chair in Civil Law. He was also Director of the Institute of Comparative Law for a decade.

Paul-André Crépeau was born in Gravelbourg, Saskatchewan. He completed both Bachelor of Arts and licentiate degrees in philosophy at the University of Ottawa, and a licentiate in law at the University of Montreal. After he was called to the Barreau du Québec, Prof. Crépeau (as he was to become) was awarded a Rhodes scholarship and undertook graduate studies in law at Oxford University, which he completed in 1952. He then earned a doctorate in law at the University of Paris (with the grade "Très Bien" and the Prix Robert-Dennery), and also a diplôme supérieur in comparative law from the Faculté internationale de droit comparé de Strasbourg. Thereafter, Paul-André Crépeau came back to teach law in Montreal, first at the Université de Montréal, then at McGill University. As a member of the handful of career law professors that were just settling into Quebec's law faculties at that time, Prof. Crépeau quickly became the leading light in private and comparative law, ensuring that the influence of Quebec and of McGill's legal thought would spread throughout the world. He was a visiting professor at the law faculties of Strasbourg, Edinburgh, Louisiana State University, Vienna, Poitiers, and Tulane. One of the world's leading experts in comparative law, Paul-André Crépeau served as president of the International Academy of Comparative Law, as a member of the Canadian delegation to the Hague Conference, as a member of the Permanent Court of Arbitration at The Hague, and as a member of the prestigious working group of Unidroit (International Institute for the Unification of Private Law) in Rome, with respect to the codification of the principles of international commercial contracts. As the years went by, Prof. Crépeau became the very embodiment of Quebec Civil Law on the international stage.

This extraordinary career earned him all honours. Prof. Crépeau received in turn the Croix du mérite and the title of Chevalier du mérite in the Order of St. John of Jerusalem (Malta), the Queen Elizabeth II Jubilee Medal, the Édouard-Montpetit Medal, the Barreau du Québec Medal, the 125th Anniversary of the Confederation of Canada Medal, the Medal of the Québec Society of Comparative Law, the Ramon John Hnatyshyn Award for Law of the Canadian Bar Association, the Prix Droits et Libertés of the Commission des droits et libertés de la personne du Québec, the Prix Léon-Gérin, the Barreau de Montréal Medal, and the Prix Georges-Émile-Lapalme. Paul-André Crépeau was also invested as an Officer, then as a Companion of the Order of Canada, as a Fellow of the Royal Society of Canada, as an Officer of the Ordre national du Québec, as a Chevalier of France's Ordre national du mérite, as a Killam Research Fellow, as an Advocatus Emeritus, and as a Commandeur of France's Ordre des Arts et Lettres. Eight universities in Canada and in Europe have conferred honorary doctorates upon him.

A colossus has passed away today. McGill University's Faculty of Law is deeply sorrowed by the death of a man who for so long knew how to express and embody all the poetry, the richness and the deep roots of the Civil Law tradition in Quebec.

The Faculty offers its most sincere condolences to the spouse of Paul-André Crépeau, Madame Nicole Thomas, to his children Philippe, Marie-Geneviève and François, and also to his grandchildren.

Daniel Jutras

Dean and Arnold Wainwright Chair in Civil Law

Faculty of Law, McGill University

Here are a few photos, souvenirs from Prof. Crépeau's career.

Bronze plaque: À la mémoire du professeur Paul-André Crépeau (1926-2011). A beloved teacher and scholar of the civil law.
Image by Lysanne Larose.

November 2017: A commemorative plaque in honour of the late Professor Emeritus Paul-André Crépeau can now be found outside of Old Chancellor Day Hall. La plaque se trouve au pied de l’arbre qui a été dédié à la mémoire du Professeur Crépeau le printemps dernier, lors d’une cérémonie intime tenue par le doyen Leckey avec la famille du défunt et des membres du Centre Crépeau.

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