Remembering Donald G. H. Bowman, Q.C

The former Chief Justice of the Tax Court of Canada, Donald G. H. Bowman, Q.C., died on June 8, 2022.

Don Bowman was a legal and tax polymath whose career engaged every major function in the Canadian tax realm.  He began his life-long engagement, and it would not be an overstatement to say love, of tax law as counsel at the Department of Justice, later shifting to private practice as a named partner of the new Toronto extension, Stikeman, Elliott, Robarts & Bowman, of the venerable Montreal law firm Stikeman, Elliott, Tamaki, Mercier & Robb.  After his appointment to the Tax Court of Canada, the former Chief Justice made that Court his own as he proceeded through the judicial ranks.  He transformed the process of the Court, but equally if not more importantly, he transformed the tax law with wit, wisdom, and plain spoken practical insight into the tax law and its broader legal context.

While we forever now are deprived of Don Bowman’s company, his memory and influence will never be far from our awareness.  There is not much if any of the tax law he did not touch and influence, bringing to bear the composite perspective honed as Crown counsel, taxpayers’ counsel, and judge.  His enduring contributions are certainly substantive, but like the teacher he was – literally, at the outset of his working life and by his manner and influence throughout his professional life in the law – he has left us with indelible attitudes about the law and the interests that it serves which should be present in shaping all our professional experience.

Don Bowman was not an “international practitioner” in the somewhat siloed sense of present specialized tax practice. But, by influencing all the fundamental elements of income taxation, in fact he was a consummate internationalist.  During his private practice, Don was a dedicated member of the International Fiscal Association in the time when all of IFA’s international proceedings were conducted simultaneously in the four official IFA languages, English, French, German and Spanish.  Don could speak three of them and no doubt had a sympathetic understanding of Spanish through his facility with French.  Never overconfident, however, in preparing for a leading role as a panel chair at the 1988 General Congress of IFA in Amsterdam, where his larger than life presence was in fact projected on the big screen much larger than life, he brushed up his German through evening study at the Goethe Institute in Toronto the Winter before the Congress.

It is typical to conclude a memorial for a departed friend and colleague by saying he will be missed.  But through the force of Don’s life in the law, it will be hard to miss him.  He is no longer our interlocutor across the Bench or a desk, but he continues to speak through his decisions, reminding us about what virtue in the law really means and why it matters to keep that firmly in mind.

Scott Wilkie