Robert George Brian Dickson was born in Weyburn, Saskatchewan, on 25 May 1916. He later joined Scouts, enjoying the mock courts at camp.
After enrolling in Regina, he entered directly into second year Arts at the University of Manitoba. He left its Law School in 1938, first in his class, earning the Gold Medal. He was called to the Manitoba Bar in 1940. Canada was mobilizing for war, when he joined 38 Field Battery in June 1940. That August, he volunteered as a lieutenant for active service. In February 1941, he sailed for Britain, with the 3rd Light Anti-Aircraft Regiment.
His disciplined intellect and hard work were noticed. He was chosen for staff training. He took a course in Canada early in 1943. Staff training was enlightening for him. The lessons in team problem-solving remained with him for life.
He did a tour in British Columbia, as a Brigade Major with the Royal Canadian Artillery. He volunteered to return to Europe in May 1944, as a Captain.
Posted to 2nd Canadian Army Group, Royal Artillery, he distinguished himself in Normandy and was Mentioned-in-Despatches. Near Falaise, they came under an Allied air attack in error. The brigadier asked him to disperse the vehicles to avoid damage. Captain Dickson was directing the work when he was severely wounded in the right leg. He was taken to an aid post and rushed into treatment. They could not save his leg. He returned to England in late August, weeks after arriving in France. By November, he was well enough to return to Canada. He was discharged, by April 1945.
Back in Winnipeg, he joined a leading law firm where his intellect, ability to organize and appetite for work brought him professional success and prominent corporate directorships. On the urging of a law partner, with the assurance that it would only involve a few meetings a year, he became head of Manitoba’s Red Cross in 1950. The same year that the Red and Assiniboine Rivers set flood records. He took charge of relief work for evacuees and support of the flood fighters. With a small staff, he mobilized 4000 volunteers, evacuated thousands of people, providing comfort to those working the dykes. He did not see his office for six weeks, by his admission, he ran the volunteers like an army.
He involved himself in his community, church and law practice. When the Chief Justice asked him to sit on a short‑handed Manitoba Court of Queen’s Bench in 1963, he accepted. This raised eyebrows among partisan members of the Bar, due to his invisible politics. His approach set him apart. He wrote a large number of judgments and showed a progressive streak. He judged the Criminal Code vagrancy section unreasonable. When police charged a couple for exercising their marital prerogatives in their living room, he ruled the case an invasion of privacy. Such cases earned him the nickname, “Red Judge,” and notice in Ottawa.
In 1973, when government policy was the creation of a “just society,” Prime Minister Trudeau appointed him to the Supreme Court of Canada. He was often the non-Quebec judge on panels hearing Quebec cases, thanks to his effort to learn French.
In Ottawa, he renewed his ties to the military. In 1983, he accepted the Honorary Lieutenant-Colonelship of the 30th Field Regiment, RCA, and was its Honorary Colonel from 1988 to 1992.
In 1984, Mr. Trudeau was replacing retiring Chief Justice Laskin, wanting a vital, hard-working justice at the helm of the Court, as it dealt with challenges to the Charter of Rights. Mr. Trudeau disregarded the custom of alternating English and French and gave Dickson the job. He came to national attention by speaking out and giving lower courts an idea of how he saw the Court implementing the Charter. He often led its justices to unanimous decisions.
When he retired in 1990, to March Township near Ottawa, he was made a Companion of the Order of Canada recognize his service. He was behind judgments that changed old laws based on Victorian values to modern ones. His leadership of the Court in interpreting the Charter made both relevant to the citizenry.
He came out of retirement, to recommend changes to the Canadian Military justice system, in 1997. His report was the basis for reforms to the National Defence Act that will ensure the viability of military justice in Canada well into the future.
Canadians for many generations will benefit from his love of justice, diligence and country. He passed away in 1998.