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Mary E. Dawson

Former Conflict of Interest and Ethics Commissioner


Mary Dawson was appointed Conflict of Interest and Ethics Commissioner under the Parliament of Canada Act on July 9, 2007 and served until January 8, 2018. In this role, Ms. Dawson administered the Conflict of Interest Act, which applies to around 3,000 public office holders, and the Conflict of Interest Code for Members of the House of Commons.

Ms. Dawson had a long career with the Government of Canada and oversaw a wide variety of legal issues from within the Department of Justice. She retired in 2005 as Associate Deputy Minister, a position she held from 1988.

Ms. Dawson played an important role in relation to constitutional matters. She was the final drafter for the patriation package (Constitution Act, 1982) and until her retirement, drafted and was the principal legal advisor for, all Constitutional amendments, including the Meech Lake Accord and the Charlottetown Accord. She led the legal team for the Government of Canada on the Quebec Secession Reference and was responsible for the legal advice on, and drafting of, the Clarity Act. Ms. Dawson also managed the Supreme Court Reference on same-sex marriage for the Government of Canada, as well as the preparation of the related legislation. She advised extensively in the area of Aboriginal rights. She continues to take an active part in her community. Among her other local pursuits, she served as Governor of the Ottawa Hospital from 2006 to 2015 and as Chair of the Quality Committee of the Board of Governors from 2009 to 2013 as well as a number of other committees of that Board.

From 1986 to 1995, Ms. Dawson was the head of the Department of Justice Public Law Sector, including the traditional public law areas of constitutional, administrative and international law as well as human rights law, native law, judicial affairs, access and privacy law and regulatory affairs.

She was Associate Chief Legislative Counsel from 1980 to 1986 and Chair of the Statute Revision Commission through most of the 1980s. She joined the Legislation Section of the Department of Justice in 1970 and drafted such laws as the Access to Information Act, the Privacy Act, the Canada Health Act, the Official Languages Act, the Competition Act, the Customs Act and the Young Offenders Act. Ms. Dawson has also been involved in a number of international activities, as well as various outreach activities in Canada. She has held executive positions in the International Bar Association and was a Canadian member of the Joint Steering Committee of the Joint Canada-Russia project on Public Administration Reform in Russia.

Ms. Dawson was a Skelton-Clark Fellow at Queen’s University in 1999-2000, lecturing in several faculties. She has also published articles on various subjects.

Ms. Dawson holds a BA (Honours Philosophy) and a BCL (Civil Law) from McGill University, an LL.B (Common Law) from Dalhousie University and a Diplôme d’études supérieures en droit (droit public), from the University of Ottawa. She is a member of the Nova Scotia and Ontario Bars and retained her membership in her original Bar, the Québec Bar, until her retirement from the Department of Justice.

Ms. Dawson was made a Queen’s Counsel in 1978 and was named a Member of the Order of Canada in 2007.

Upcoming Workshop

Past Workshops and Events

On February 5th at 5:30pm, Michael Ferguson, the Auditor General of Canada, Mary Dawson, Canada's Conflict of Interest and Ethics Commissioner, and Martin Patriquin, the Quebec bureau chief for Maclean's Magazine, joined us to explore the timely and pressing question of ethics and integrity in the Canadian government.

Watch the video

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