MONTREAL—James Duggan, a well-known Montreal lawyer who spent years fighting for the rights of RCMP officers to unionize, was among the three victims of a plane crash in a remote region of northern Quebec on Friday.
Quebec provincial police confirmed Sunday that the 67-year-old was aboard the float plane that went down near Lac Boulène, southeast of Chibougamau.
Duggan was a prominent lawyer who was instrumental in the battle to unionize RCMP officers.
He started representing members of the RCMP in the 1980s, and was part of a group of lawyers who scored a major victory when the Supreme Court of Canada ruled in January 2015 that members had the right to form a union and collectively bargain with the federal government.
More recently, his firm spearheaded a class-action lawsuit on behalf of officers and civilian employees alleging harassment in the force.
Frederic Serre of the Quebec Mounted Police Members’ Association, who has known Duggan for 25 years, said he will remember his friend most for the kindness and attention he showed to “people going through hell.”
“They weren’t just cases, he knew there were people behind those cases,” he said in a phone interview Sunday.
In a “cruel twist of fate,” Serre said, Duggan died just before the National Police Federation announced it had been certified as the bargaining agent for the RCMP membership — something he said Duggan and the association had been waiting 25 years to hear.
“It’s their battle and they won it, and it’s sad that Jim will never get to see it,” he said.
Former federal New Democrat leader Tom Mulcair, a former colleague and friend of Duggan, described him as “an exceptionally brilliant lawyer” who dedicated his career to fighting for workers wronged by their employers.
“He had a strong sense of what was right and what was wrong, and he was the type of person who always fought for the underdog, always fought to redress unfair situations,” Mulcair said in a phone interview on Sunday.
Mulcair said he will remember Duggan’s strong performances in court, his love for his family and the dozens of fishing trips the two of them took together.
The president of the Quebec Mounted Police Members’ Association described Duggan as one of the “first warriors of RCMP unionization,” and expressed his condolences to Duggan’s loved ones, including his spouse, son and daughter.
“James has been in every fight of the association for the protection of the rights of members of the RCMP,” Serge Bilodeau said in a statement.
The Joint Rescue Coordination Centre Trenton said a Hercules aircraft was dispatched Friday evening to respond to an emergency locator beacon.
Search and rescue technicians parachuted to the site, where they found three people without vital signs who were later pronounced dead.
The other victims were Jacques Bissonnette, 69, and Claude Laplante, 77. A fourth man survived the crash.
The four were travelling together to a fishing trip, police said.
Serre said Duggan owned the plane and was an experienced pilot.
“When things got really crazy, he would just get on his plane and go fishing,” he said.
Working alongside his son at his firm, Duggan Avocats, Duggan specialized in labour, constitutional, administrative, human rights, electoral and aviation law.
The firm’s website notes Duggan was awarded the Queen Elizabeth II Golden Jubilee Medal and the Queen Elizabeth II Diamond Jubilee Medal in recognition for his services to the legal profession. In 2016, he was named a Lawyer Emeritus by the Quebec Bar Association.