“Frank Iacobucci: Canada’s Cultural Champion“
University of Guelph, 2023
The Honourable Frank Iacobucci, a former Italian-Canadian Supreme Court Judge, continues to mark his career with passion for equity and mutual cultural understanding. Emerging as the son of an Italian immigrant family in Vancouver’s East End, Iacobucci’s family endured the experience of internment during the Second World War. Iacobucci mediated various cultural issues within Canada’s socio-political environment early in his Supreme Court appointment, namely the Meech Lake Accord and certain Indigenous rights events. In recent times, Iacobucci has continued to stand for Indigenous people in what is now Canada in civic, environmental, and social capacities. Frank Iacobucci’s recent work represents a refinement of principles best understood by looking over his career from appointment to the present–contextualized further with his background–and examining his commitment to marginalized cultural identities in what is now Canada.
The objectives of this individual project include, foremost among them, demonstrating Iacobucci’s continued commitment to cultural equity through analyzing his personal growth and refinement from Supreme Court appointment to the present. I look at Iacobucci’s early involvement in topics of socio-cultural justice through the case of the Meech Lake Accord during his early appointment. Subsequently, I examine how Iacobucci has since criticized the failures of the Accord and incorporated them into his work with Indigenous populations. I then examine his more recent Indigenous rights advocacy and allyship work in the 2010s after his retirement from the Supreme Court. This will form an online research project that will include a resource list for educators to use in teaching about Iacobucci’s work. Resources include interviews, short documentaries, and news articles featuring Iacobucci.
One of Iacobucci’s notable–albeit unsuccessful–historical presences was his involvement in the Meech Lake Accord of 1987. The Supreme Court Justice contributed extensive work to the Accord, as described by Hhnatyshyn. Iacobucci had what Hhnatyshyn calls a “central role” in preparation for the Meech Lake Accord and would meet with various premiers from affected locales “around the clock” (13). Iacobucci’s involvement in Meech Lake was tireless, exemplifying his interest in cultural equity as he worked to bring more autonomy to Quebec. The Accord proved unsuccessfully in policy, something Iacobucci later admitted. According to Choudry and Gaudreault-Desbiens, Iacobucci himself went on to say Meech Lake led to “a string of consequences” including possible secession for Quebec (1). While Iacobucci’s efforts ultimately were not enough to implement the Accord, he nonetheless understood the full geopolitical implications of it upon reflection later. The experience Iacobucci incurred with the Meech Lake Accord became subject for reflection and refinement later in his career.
Years after Meech Lake, Iacobucci would take on another ambitious series of socio-cultural federal projects in his work with Indigenous communities in what is now Canada. Notably, Iacobucci brought needed sensitivity to efforts around colonial violence. During his work investigating residential schools, Iacobucci set an intention that the government would not set out to create a “court proceeding” as he wanted to avoid retraumatizing Indigenous victims of the institution (O’ Handley 14). By taking a trauma-informed approach to residential school reconciliation, Iacobucci demonstrates cultural and personal empathy. Indeed, Iacobucci’s awareness of colonialism’s harm to Indigenous people has been a major part of his work with effected populations. Iacobucci himself cites the assimilationist goals of the federal government as creating distrust and a lack of willingness to participate civically from Indigenous communities (1). Though the Canadian government is itself a colonial institution, Iacobucci demonstrates awareness of this and the pushback it has caused. Iacobucci’s work on Indigenous relations has been characterized by empathy and a goal of mutual understanding.
From researching Iacobucci, I learned some connections between how the hardships of his youth did not make him a harder person but opened him to greater compassion. A straightforward example of this I did not expect was from an interpretation of his early work. According to Hhnatyshyn, Iacobucci’s work on the Supreme Court included extra legislation about war crimes in order to condemn genocide and oust war criminals at a more national level. I found this prioritization interesting, albeit in character for Iacobucci’s strong moral composition. My reaction to this information was to contemplate the connection between this and Iacobucci’s family’s experience with internment, a topic we discussed in class. In Duliani’s reading, he explains most Italians did not want to secede from the traditional Franco-British Alliance into the Axis (10). I wondered if Iacobucci might have been motivated to oppose war criminals due more strongly to the Italian association with fascism that led to internment. Internment is a complex topic that Iacobucci had lived experience with, hence why I included interviews in my resource section wherein Iacobucci discusses it.
Additionally, I respect Iacobucci’s Indigenous advocacy work and anti-colonialism immensely. Knowing there are individuals in government who are knowledgeable and devoted to solidarity gives me strength in my convictions. During the O’Handley interview, Iacobucci stressed that there was value in Indigenous people providing their own stories and perspectives on his advocacy work, saying “you can’t have reconciliation without truth” (13). Iacobucci’s work itself and his willingness to listen to the individuals he advocates for affirmed my own values of social and environmental justice shaping my academic career. Iacobucci’s work on Indigeneity also functions in contrast to Harney’s discussion of Indigeneity in nineteenth-to-twentieth century popular culture. According to Harney, Italian popular culture representations of the North American frontier were informed by Jesuit texts, leading to Indigenous antagonists against settler Catholic protagonists (19). I saw Iacobucci’s work as an Italian-Canadian settler ally as a good counterbalance to this. I admire Iacobucci’s commitment to Indigenous rights and have found it personally motivating.
Studying Iacobucci has also encouraged me to investigate the intersections of class identity and immigrant identity more greatly within this class and further studies. Iacobucci has spoken candidly about his working-class upbringing. In a preface for Italian Canadiana, Iacobucci himself describes his background in Vancouver’s east end, with his parents immigrating from Abruzzi and Calabria during the Great Depression, as challenging, saying that calling it “harsh was perhaps a bit of an understatement (9). Iacobucci came from class-based marginalization, though rather than use this against others he opted to champion the marginalized. This angle connects with Harney’s description of class identity and how it effected Italian-Canadian immigration. Harney states that the “simple street entertainers and peasants” were largely the demographic who carried confidence in their Italian identities into the larger world rather than the bourgeois class, with the latter being credited as the source of identity insecurity or “atimia” (12). I would be interested in how class has affected Italian immigrant perspectives, and I look forward to exploring that more in my work on Iacobucci. This project presents me with new opportunities to interrogate class and immigrant identities, specifically with regards to Iacobucci’s experience.
Resources for Educators
Bindman, Stephen. “Prime Minister Brian Mulroney made a Surprise….” CanWest News, Dec 21 1990. https://www.proquest.com/docview/460855338?parentSessionId=yRwH8NlTkcg5On8DDrj8F4l3dsb%2BUiKqdh7E4XR%2BaMc%3D&pq-origsite=primo&accountid=11233. (Details Iacobucci’s nomination by the Mulroney government and his Italian background)
“Biography for the Honourable Frank Iacobucci.” Government of Canada, May 21, 2020. https://www.canada.ca/en/campaign/trans-mountain/what-is-tmx/how-decisions-get-made/roles-responsibilities/appointed-advisor/frank-iacobucci.html. (Short biography of Iacobucci within the context of the Trans Mountain Expansion pipeline)
CBC News. “5 Years On, Ontario’s Plan To Get More Indigenous People On Juries A Work In Progress.” The Canadian Broadcasting Corporation, February 17, 2018. https://link.gale.com/apps/doc/A527937539/CPI?u=guel77241&sid=bookmark-CPI&xid=68bd9cc5. (Iacobucci investigating lack of Indigenous representation on Ontario juries, calls for further action)
Heidenreich, Phil. “Conflict of Interest Forces Ethics Commissioner to Have BC Counterpart Weigh In On Redford Matter.” Global News, April 5, 2016. https://globalnews.ca/news/2620680/conflict-of-interest-forces-ethics-commissioner-to-have-bc-counterpart-weigh-in-on-redford-matter/. (Iacobucci was partially involved in this case concerning corruption in the tobacco industry)
Iacobucci, Frank. “The United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples and Canadian Law.” Essays in International Litigation for Lord Collins, October 2022. https://doi.org/10.1093/oso/9780192867988.003.0015. (Essay by Iacobucci on the mistreatment of Indigenous people in Canada and the functions of the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, as well some issues with the Declaration’s implementation)
Italian Canadians as Enemy Aliens: Memories of World War II – Interview with Hon. Frank Iacobucci, November 29, 2011. http://www.italiancanadianww2.ca/collection/details/icea2011_0081_0001 (Iacobucci discussing his family’s experiences with internment in the Second World War)
Episode 1: Supreme Cort Judge Frank Iacobucci | Persona. Directed by Eva Wower, released by TLN TV, 2020. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4iEZXLP1I5c.
Peter A. Allard School of Law. “The Honourable Frank Iacobucci, CC, QC, LLD, LSM.” Peter A. Allard School of Law – The University of British Columbia, No Publication Date Given, https://historyproject.allard.ubc.ca/law-history-project/profile/honourable-frank-iacobucci-cc-qc-lld-lsm. (Interview with Iacobucci detailing his time at the University of British Columbia)
Staff – The Canadian Press. “BC Conflict Commissioner to Review Investigation Into Alison Redford Tobacco File.” Global News, August 4, 2016. https://globalnews.ca/news/2865923/b-c-conflict-commissioner-to-review-investigation-into-alison-redford-tobacco-file/ (Continuation of Iacobucci’s involvement in Redford tobacco investigation)
Staff – The Canadian Press. “Redford’s Actions Should Be Reviewed Again: Former Supreme Court Judge.” Global News, April 4, 2016. https://globalnews.ca/news/2617856/redfords-actions-should-be-reviewed-again-former-supreme-court-judge/. (Further elaboration on Iacobucci and Redford tobacco)
Supreme Court of Canada. “Resources for Teachers.” Supreme Court of Canada, May 7, 2020, www.scc-csc.ca/vis/education/index-eng.aspx. (Contains press kit, mock trial and other useful items)
Tasker, John Paul. “Frank Iacobucci Hailed As Right Pick To Rescue ‘Failed’ Trans Mountain Process.” CBC News, October 3, 2018, https://www.cbc.ca/news/politics/tasker-trans-mountain-frank-iacobucci-indigenous-consultation-1.4849012. (Details Iacobucci’s work on Phase 3 of consulting with Indigenous peoples on the Trans Mountain pipeline expansion after Phase 2’s ethical failures)
How to Cite This Research
MLA STYLE: Author. “Title.” Title of container, Other contributors, Number (vol. and/or no.), Publisher, Publication Date, Location (pages, paragraphs and/or URL, DOI or permalink). 2nd container’s title, Other contributors.
Blaise-Kirwin, Robin. “Cultural Equity Work of the Honourable Frank Iacobucci.” in Italian Communities in Canada: Heritage, Cultural and Ethnographic Studies: Legends, suprv. Teresa Russo. University of Guelph: October 2023, Guelph (academic poster, https://www.italianheritage.ca/2023/11/02/frank-iacobucci-canadas-cultural-champion). Italian-Canadian Narratives Showcase (ICNS), Sandra Parmegiani and Gurpreet Kaur.
Blaise-Kirwin, Robin. “Frank Iacobucci: Canada’s Cultural Champion.” in Italian Communities in Canada: Heritage, Cultural and Ethnographic Studies: Legends, suprv. Teresa Russo. University of Guelph: October 2023, Guelph (essay, https://www.italianheritage.ca/2023/11/02/frank-iacobucci-canadas-cultural-champion). Italian-Canadian Narratives Showcase (ICNS), Sandra Parmegiani and Gurpreet Kaur.