A Passion for Justice

How 'Vinegar Jim' McRuer Became Canada's Greatest Law Reformer

A Passion for Justice

This is the gripping saga of an individual propelled by his passion for justice.

Patrick Boyer’s richly detailed biography illustrates how a determined Canadian, by seeking justice and reforming laws, created an enduring legacy. Prevailing through many vigorous battles, Jim McRuer’s resolve led to laws now touching and protecting the lives of millions of people every day.

McRuer was not always easy to get along with. Nor was he even much liked by many lawyers who dubbed him “Vinegar Jim.” Another epithet was “Hangin’ Jim” because of the many capital cases he judged resulting in men sentenced to death, including the last two men in Canada to die on the gallows, Lucas and Turpin, for murdering a taxi driver in a gravel pit near Huntsville.

Yet countless others saw him as heroic, inspirational, a man above and apart from his times. His resolute focus on justice changed the lives of married women with no property rights, children without legal protection, aboriginals caught in the whipsaw of traditional hunting practices and imposed game laws, and prisoners locked away and forgotten. Environmental degradation and those causing it, murderers, stock fraud artists, and Cold War spies all came within the scope of McRuer’s sharp legal mind and his application of law.

He overcame tuberculosis, fought in the First World War, became a friend of artist Tom Thompson, and transmuted his devotion to religion and church into belief in justice and courts instead.

Upon turning 75, when others retired, McRuer then embarked upon his most important work of all – triumphing as Canada’s greatest law reformer by designing the overhaul civil rights protection in the modern state, then by pioneering the law reform commission of Ontario. Born on an Ontario farm in 1890, unstoppable Jim McRuer remained active well into his 90s, dying at Toronto in 1985.


A powerful, superb biography on one of the more influential individuals in the history of Canadian law. Boyer vividly presents a highly readable, fascinating record of an extremely complex Canadian personality. I recommend this book to everyone interested in Canadian history, law, or letters.”Edward L. Greenspan, Q.C., leading Canadian barrister, Toronto

A major, highly readable contribution to Canadian legal history.”Michael Bliss, distinguished Canadian historian and author, Toronto

This book ruined my sleep. I stayed up virtually all night and spent countless hours on planes doing nothing by reading A Passion for Justice.”W. Laird Hunter, Q.C., Edmonton

Patrick Boyer helps Americans see that despite differences in the judicial and political systems of our two countries, we share a deeper connection across issues of law reform, women’s rights, and protection of the environment. I cannot imagine how he amassed so many fascinating details.”Judge Joan Zeldon, Washington, D.C.


Publisher: Blue Butterfly Books, 2008
$28.95, Canada and U.S.A.
Paperback, 440 pages, 6 x 9 inches
Introduction by Hon. R. Roy McMurtry, 27 photographs, subject index


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