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David John Bright, K.C. – 1942 to 2023


Normally, this Blog focuses on issues of military law.  However, I wish to take a moment to recognize the passing of a seminal figure in Canadian military law.

I learned recently of the passing of David Bright, KC.

To begin – I wish to convey my condolences to his family.  We have lost a colleague; but they have lost a devoted spouse, father, and grandfather.

When I first joined the ranks of the Office of the JAG nearly 20 years ago, David was already recognized as one of the pre-eminent figures in military justice, a leading figure in military law circles, and an unofficial Dean of the civilian bar practicing in this field.  He was an active member of the (regrettably, now defunct) National Military Law Section of the Canadian Bar Association.  He was a mentor to many.

David joined the Royal Canadian Navy back when it was one of three Services, and not simply a command in the unified Canadian Armed Forces.  He served aboard HMCS Bonaventure – the “Bonnie” – as a member of 880 squadron.  He later graduated from Dalhousie Law School and practiced law for nearly as long as I have been alive.

Throughout his half-century of practice, across a spectrum of public law subjects, he featured in several prominent cases of military justice, which is a remarkable achievement considering that most courts martial and appeals – on both sides of the aisle – are typically argued by uniformed legal officers.

Some of his more prominent cases included:

  • R v Nolan, [1987] 1 SCR 1212 – which, for 35 years, has been a determinative judgment regarding the jurisdiction of Military Police as “peace officers”;
  • R v Bittle (1989), 5 CMAR 24 (CMAC) – which affirmed the right of an accused, even following a guilty plea, to be present throughout the conduct of a court martial;
  • Lucas v The Queen (1983), 4 CMAR 247 (CMAC) – an early judgment regarding the vital importance of impartiality of a Judge Advocate (the precursor to our current military judges). In this particular matter, the lack of impartiality resulted in an acquittal imposed by the appellate court;
  • R v Marsaw, [1997] CMAJ No 2, 151 DLR (4th) 667, 5 CMAR 509 – A notorious case involving the CO of a CF Submarine. The CMAC allowed the appeal and ordered a new trial in light of abuses of process and egregious conduct by the military prosecutor.  Justice Brooke, dissenting, agreed with the judgment of Chief Justice Strayer regarding the abuse of process, but would have directed an acquittal, rather than order a new trial.
  • R v Dominie, 2002 CMAC 8, 6 CMAR 286 – David successfully argued on behalf of the appellant for costs in light of misconduct by the military police, who contravened the appellant’s rights under s 10(b) of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms, and the participation of the military prosecutors in pursuing a futile voir dire involving evidence gathered in the contravention of that Charter right;
  • R v MacIntyre, 2019 CMAC 3; leave to appeal to the SCC dismissed – This was David’s last court martial (and appeal). It was a General Court Martial in which the Panel returned a verdict of not guilty in less than an hour.


David was often successful in his representation of clients, whether at trial or appeal.  One notable characteristic of his appellate work was his success in appealing sentences that were excessive or overly harsh.  He also often represented Military Police personnel.

When I retired from the Canadian Forces and commenced my civilian practice representing members of the Canadian Forces, I had the opportunity and good fortune to turn to David, from time to time, for advice and to discuss developments in military law.

I consider myself fortunate to have met David Bright, KC during my career as a legal officer and to have carried on that friendship after I retired.  He demonstrated a level of knowledge, skill, and collegiality to which I can but aspire.

The relatively small circle of Canadian military law practitioners has lost an outstanding advocate, a superlative gentleman, and a colleague who defined what it meant to practice in a collegial profession.

He will be missed.

Requiescat in pace.



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1 Comment

  1. Matt Rowe says:

    Sad to hear that he has passed away. I didn’t really know him personally, but he was our Honorary Colonel for a while at 12AMS. On the day of his investiture (or maybe it was a few days or weeks later) he invited all of the squadrons officers and senior NCOs over to his office for a nice lunch and an afternoon of professional development on leadership and management. If I remember correctly I think one of the topics, perhaps the main focus was on the military justice system and how it should (and shouldn’t) be used. That was around some time in late winter or early spring of 2013 I think.

    The fact that just seeing his name on a blog post, a man I only would have met probably less than a handful of times, close to a decade after the last time I would have met him or even heard his name mentioned, stands as testimony to the legacy he must have left with those who knew him better. Some feet leave pretty big tracks.

    Rest in peace David.

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