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“Order of Canada, 1987”. Courtesy of the Legault Family.

Léonard Legault


“I won’t go into details about his work in pushing the two-hundred-mile limits for Canada and the world, and in winning our Atlantic boundary settlements with the United States and France. I will just say that in my opinion we are a bigger country today, in terms of territory and in terms of justice, because of Léonard Legault.”

Governor General Roméo Leblanc


“With the Gulf of Maine Legal Team, 1984” (Front row, fifth from left). Courtesy of the Canadian Council on International Law.

A giant in Canadian international law, Léonard Legault was one of Canada’s foremost experts on the law of the sea. Born in Gravelbourg, Saskatchewan, in 1935 and educated at the University of Saskatchewan, Légault was called to the Alberta Bar before joining the Department of External Affairs in 1962, serving abroad in Warsaw, New Delhi, and Geneva. While seconded to the Department of Fisheries, he was a senior Canadian delegate to the third United Nations Conference on the Law of the Sea in the 1970s. He also led the complex fisheries negotiations arising from Canada’s extension of its exclusive fisheries jurisdiction to two hundred miles off its coast. After serving as High Commissioner to Nigeria and Sierra Leone from 1977 to 1979, Legault became the department’s legal advisor. During his seven-year tenure in the position, he represented Canada before the International Court of Justice, the country’s first solo appearance there, in its high-stakes maritime boundary dispute with the United States over the Gulf of Maine, securing access to the valuable scallop and lobster fisheries in the area. Later, in 1991, he was counsel for Canada in its arbitration with France over the maritime boundary off Newfoundland and the French islands of St. Pierre and Miquelon. Awarded the Outstanding Achievement Award of the Public Service of Canada in 1986, Legault also worked assiduously throughout his career to strengthen Canadian claims to sovereignty in the Arctic. As deputy head of mission in Washington from 1986 to 1990, he helped to negotiate the historic Canada-US Free Trade Agreement, whose implementation he oversaw upon his return to Ottawa as senior assistant deputy minister (US). After serving as Canada’s ambassador to the Holy See from 1993 to 1997, Legault became chair of the Canadian section of the International Joint Commission, retiring in 2001. An officer of the Order of Canada and a recipient of Queen Elizabeth II’s diamond and golden jubilee medals, as well as of the John E. Read Medal for his remarkable contribution to international law, Legault died in 2017.

  • Further reading:

    L.H. Legault and D.M. McRae, “The Gulf of Maine Case,” Canadian Yearbook of International Law 22 (1984): 267-290.

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