Gerry Ferguson retires after 45 distinguished years with UVic Law


By Ivan Watson

Distinguished Professor Gerry Ferguson combines the youthful passion and curiosity more commonly associated with a lawyer just beginning his career, with the wisdom, humility and ‘can do’ attitude of a confident senior leader in his field who has seen and done it all. Well loved and respected for his many career accomplishments in teaching, scholarship and administrative leadership as well as his dedicated, long-term mentorship of students and younger colleagues, Ferguson is retiring this summer after an incredible 45 years with UVic’s Faculty of Law.

“Professor Ferguson is a hugely productive and greatly impactful scholar, whose research has, over his long and distinguished career, advanced substantially our understanding of the Criminal Law in Canada and abroad,” note Interim Dean of Law Val Napoleon and colleague Professor Jeremy Webber. “In addition to everything else, his research production is a model of knowledge mobilization. Not only has he greatly advanced our scholarly knowledge of the Criminal Law, but his research continues to shape, each and every day, to an extent beyond that of any other scholar we can think of, the administration of the Criminal Law in Canada. He has been a treasured mentor to a large number of his junior colleagues.”

Ferguson earned his LLB at the University of Ottawa in 1971 and his LLM at New York University the following year. He began his career as a Research Officer at the Law Reform Commission of Canada, and as an Assistant Professor in the Faculty of Law at the University of Ottawa.

In 1976, he joined the UVic Faculty of Law during its very first year in existence as an Associate Professor, recruited by founding Dean Murray Fraser, whom he had worked with previously at the Law Reform Commission. “I’d never been to Victoria before but I had heard that it was a nice place,” he recalls. “I told Murray I’d love to come visit, but there was no chance I was coming there to work. I often say that life is a series of accidents, and 45 years have come and gone now!”

Ferguson was promoted to full Professor in 1981 and served as Associate Dean for two terms in the 1980s. His scholarly interests have been broad, encompassing criminal law, criminal procedure, sentencing, global corruption, and mental health law. He has published an Annual Review of Criminal Law now in its 10th edition, and his most recent book on Global Corruption, widely cited internationally, is currently in its fourth edition. With the Continuing Legal Education of B.C., he has, since 1987, overseen and co-authored the publication Canadian Criminal Jury Instructions (CRIMJI), and developed it from a purely print publication in its early days to an accessible, online and fully searchable publication consisting of 156 individual instructions and over 2,400 pages. This July, he retired from the CLEBC Board, where he had served with distinction for more than three decades.

“CRIMJI is widely used by judges in many areas to help them prepare when they have to tell the jury what the law is before they go into to the jury room and it is something I’m proud of,” says Ferguson. “ I hope to continue to work on it for a while. I consider it my largest and most impactful scholarship in the field.”

With a reputation for fairness and integrity, successive Deans have relied on him as the “go-to-person” when important tasks had to be accomplished or sensitive issues need to be managed with tact, discretion, and good judgment.

He led the creation of UVic Law’s Co-operative Education program – the first coop program at any law school in Canada. “I’m proud of having been able to take a new idea, such as co-op, and guide it through all the steps necessary for approval at the university,” he says. “It was heresy at the time, but the impact has been substantial and it has also meant that we offer summer programs.”

He is also pleased with his role in the renaming of UVic’s Law building from the “Begbie” building to the “Murray and Anne Fraser building,” in 2001, on the occasion of the Faculty’s 25th anniversary.

“I had proposed that we explore the idea of changing the name of the building and I knew that could be very political,” he recalls. “I started by building up small support in the faculty, the bench and the bar. It wasn’t about denigrating Begbie, and it occurred to me that if we called it the Fraser building, no one was going to object because he was the founder of the law school and deeply respected by everybody. Some may have not have liked moving away from the old name, but the new name was unassailable and more suitable to the school.”

Ferguson deeply admires the values that the Frasers helped to instill into the law school when he started in the 1970s and that carry on to this day, including a commitment to social justice. Collectively, he terms these values the “UVic Difference.”

“After all these years, I’d say that the culture of UVic law has largely remained the same and from the beginning we wanted a new and innovative way of teaching law, and in particular understanding and teaching law as a process,” he says. “What process means it that we wanted to study law not only in books but to understand how the law has actually been applied and how it is experienced by those it affects. That also led to us saying that lawyers had to have certain skills beyond analysis, including technical skills like interviewing clients, counseling clients, advocacy, etc. and so we developed skills courses which were almost non-existent at the time and we developed experiential or clinical programs such as the Law Centre. That’s formed the basis of a law school built on the values of social justice, collegiality rather than competition and encouraging an obligation to give back to the community, all of those things are what makes up the ‘UVic Difference’ and I’m proud to say that it carries on to this day.”

In the early 1990s, he wrote a report and helped to establish what became the Law Society of B.C.’s Equity and Diversity committee, which was the first such committee for any law society in the country. He also served the profession in national and international leadership roles, including as member, National Advisory Council, Law Commission of Canada, International Society for Reform of the Criminal Law, International Centre for Criminal Law Reform and Criminal Justice Policy, as well as Senior Associate, International Centre for Criminal Law Reform and Criminal Justice Policy.

Looking ahead Ferguson is both proud of all that he has achieved during this time at UVic Law and looking forward to retirement. “I’ve tried to contribute to the law faculty in every way I could through my scholarship, teaching and impact on the faculty and community,” he says. “I’d like to be remembered as someone who was respected for his integrity and selflessness. My goal has always been to contribute as fully as possible, to the best of my ability, to do things in the faculty interest rather than in my individual interest.”


Ivan Watson
UVic Law Communications