Mary Dawson Obituary and Cause of Death
MARY ELIZABETH DAWSON, LL.B., C.M., Q.C., is a lawyer and a member of the Order of Canada. On December 24, 2023, at the age of 81, in Ottawa, with her children by her side. Peter John Dawson (1935–2012) predeceased Mary Elizabeth (McMillan) Dawson. David and Emily’s (Ralph Sharples) loving mother. Sydney and Heath’s loving grandmother.
Her parents, Thomas Paul McMillan and Florence Margaret (Thurston) McMillan, died before her. Her sister, Paula McMillan of Toronto, and nieces and nephews survive her. Mary’s many friends, coworkers, and fans will miss her.
She enjoyed spending time with her book club friends, neighbors, AOPi sisters, ski women, bridge club, theater organizations, and the Parkdale United Church community. Her different social networks had a good time getting together at the cottage and at her annual Christmas party. Mary grew up in Montreal after being born in Halifax, Nova Scotia.
She graduated from McGill University with degrees in philosophy and civil law, Dalhousie University with a Bachelor of Common Law, and the University of Ottawa with a Diplôme d’études supérieures en droit public. She was a member of the Quebec Bar, Nova Scotia, and the Ontario Bar.
Mary joined the Department of Justice’s Legislation Section in 1970. She wrote the Access to Information Act, the Privacy Act, the Canada Health Act, the Official Languages Act, the Competition Act, the Customs Act, and the Young Offenders Act while at the Department of Justice.
She was appointed Queen’s Counsel in 1978 and was promoted to Associate Chief Legislative Counsel in the early 1980s. For nearly two decades, Mary was the Associate Deputy Minister of Justice. Regardless of political affiliation, everyone appreciated Mary’s exceptional service as a true civil servant. Mary was especially proud of her work on the Constitution.
She was the last person to write the Constitution Act of 1982 and the Charter of Rights and Freedoms. She developed and served as the primary legal advisor for all future constitutional modifications, including the Meech Lake and Charlottetown Accords.
Mary chaired the Government of Canada’s legal staff on the Quebec Secession Reference and was responsible for developing the Clarity Act. She also coordinated the Government of Canada’s Supreme Court Reference on same-sex marriage and produced the related legislation.
Mary shared her extensive knowledge with people all across the world. She was a member of the International Bar Association and consulted on the South African Constitution. Mary was made a Member of the Order of Canada for her contributions to Canadian public policy.
She has served as a role model for a generation of young lawyers and public workers because of her honesty, intelligence, and unselfish dedication. Mary was appointed as Canada’s first Conflict of Interest and Ethics Commissioner in 2007, a position she helped create and held for ten years. She devoted her time after retirement to voluntary and non-profit activities.
She volunteered for the Ottawa Hospital, the Perley Rideau, the NAC Friends of English Theatre, and Help Lesotho. Mary’s lifelong dedication to public service and community will continue to inspire all who have had the honor of knowing her.
Her devotion to her friends and family was unparalleled and will be much missed. Donations can be made instead of flowers to the Ottawa Hospital, the National Arts Centre, or a charity of your choice. Friends may pay their condolences to the family on Sunday, January 14, 2024, from 1-4 p.m. and 6-9 p.m. at the Whelan Funeral Home, 515 Cooper St. (between Bay and Lyon), Ottawa.
The Rev. Anthony Bailey will preside over the funeral service on Tuesday, January 16, 2024, at Parkdale United Church, 429 Parkdale Ave., Ottawa, Ontario.
You may also check out Richard Albert’s tweet below:
🕊️ Peace to all who knew Mary Dawson. Author of the Canadian Charter, Meech Lake & Charlottetown Accords, and so much more, she is one of Canada’s most important lawyers–ever. I enjoyed her company, most recently when she visited my class. 🙏🏽
— Richard Albert (@RichardAlbert) January 6, 2024