Chancellor Robert Falby at the 155th Regular Session of the Synod on Friday, November 29, 2013. Photo/Michael Hudson

Canon Robert Falby: Jurist, prolocutor, chancellor

By Diana Swift

General Synod Communications and the Anglican Journal, the church’s editorially independent newspaper, have entered into a partnership to distribute stories of national significance. This story is shared through this arrangement. This story was originally published on the Anglican Journal website on June 9, 2015.

Canon (lay) Robert L. Falby, QC, chair of the Anglican Church of Canada’s Commission on the Marriage Canon and former prolocutor of General Synod, died June 8 in Toronto after a long illness.

A private family funeral will be held this week, and a public memorial service will take place at the Cathedral Church of St. James, Toronto, on July 8 at 11 a.m.

Falby, for many years a lawyer with the Toronto office of Miller Thomson, served as prolocutor (speaker of General Synod, the church’s governing body)  from 2009 to 2013. He also acted as chancellor (chief legal officer) of the Anglican diocese of Toronto from 1992 to 2014, providing legal counsel to two diocesan archbishops. In addition, Falby fulfilled many other offices and chaired unique initiatives at the Cathedral Church of St. James.

“He was a great man. I will miss him very much,” says Archbishop Colin Johnson of the diocese of Toronto. “He was number one on my speed dial for more than 20 years. Individual clergy and lay leaders, parishes, diocesan structures, the national and international church have all benefited from his wisdom, dedication and, yes, his compassion.”

Born in 1941 in the northern Ontario town of Cochrane, Falby did his undergraduate studies at Victoria College, University of Toronto, and graduated from Toronto’s Osgoode Hall law school in 1967. He was called to the bar in 1969, and became a Queen’s Counsel in 1982.

As a member of the church’s residential schools negotiating committee, Falby played a pivotal part in discussions with the federal government that led to the Indian Residential Schools Settlement Agreement of 2006.

When asked if the 1993 apology to Canada’s Indigenous peoples—made by then Anglican primate, Archbishop Michael Peers—had created a dangerous legal liability, Falby replied, famously: “Whether it did or not, it was the right thing to do.”

In 2002, he was installed as a lay canon of the Cathedral Church of St. James and he received the Anglican Award of Merit in 2004.

“He was an immensely able person who God had  given great gifts and who had wide experience of some of the best, and some of  the worst, of this imperfect world,” said  Archdeacon Harry Huskins, prolocutor of General Synod. “Bob was deeply committed to our church but most of what he did was never seen because of the quiet way in which he did  things.” In all his work for General Synod and the diocese of Toronto, “it was about what was best for our church and never about Bob,”  added Huskins.

Canon (lay) David Jones, chancellor of General Synod, described Falby as “a man of great faith and a great servant of the church at all levels.  He was a gentleman, a mentor and a model. We have lost a wonderful friend.”

Falby was also among eight people worldwide invited to codify the general principles of the canons and canonical structures of the provinces and dioceses of the Anglican Communion. In 2013, he received an honorary doctor of divinity from Trinity College’s faculty of divinity.

“Bob served the church in so many ways during his lifetime—in his parish, diocese, and the General Synod,” says Archdeacon Bruce Myers, the church’s co-ordinator for ecumenical and interfaith relations, who is also clerk to the marriage canon commission. “His most recent contribution to the life and work of our church was as chair of the Commission on the Marriage Canon, an enormous task that he took on with a delightful combination of gravity and good humour, bringing the mind of a jurist and the heart of a disciple of Jesus.”

Falby is survived by his wife, Barbara, and their children, Alison, Caroline and Patrick.

Those who wish to remember Canon Falby with a financial thanksgiving offering can donate to the Robert Falby Endowment for Aboriginal Ministry.

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