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Baird was influential in legal, sports communities

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Lawyer Vaughan Baird’s argument over a speeding ticket in the 1980s persuaded the Supreme Court to rule all of the province’s laws were invalid — but to avoid chaos the high court said all the English-only legislation passed since 1890 was temporarily valid.

Baird, who died on Aug. 17 at his home in Ste. Agathe, also made a splash in the country’s aquatic community. He was 86.

Baird agreed to work on what became a landmark case after the lawyer son of a friend of his got a speeding ticket with only English on it.

Baird’s legal argument was simple: Section 23 of the Manitoba Act required all of the province’s laws to be in both languages (French and English), but the provincial government for decades had passed them only in English.

The ruling didn’t result in more services for the French community in Manitoba, but it did cause the government to finally translate all its laws.

"When I got a ticket he was somebody I consulted right away," Roger Bilodeau, then Baird’s client and now registrar of the Supreme Court, said on Tuesday.

"He offered to work on the case pro bono and he took it from there. He had many causes during his life and he contributed to the community. He was full of passion and many interests.

"This is a sad passing."

Bilodeau said Baird’s last legal battle — suing the city for $2 million over its eviction of the Aquatic Hall of Fame and Museum, which he founded, from the Pan Am Pool in 2006 — will continue.

"He made arrangements it would continue past his own lifetime," Bilodeau said.

Baird was a swimming and diving champion at the University of Manitoba in the 1940s. He graduated with a law degree from Dalhousie University in 1952.

Baird went on to become a nationally and internationally known diving judge, working at Olympic and Pan American Games, four Commonwealth Games and world championships.

Prior to Baird becoming involved, diving, swimming, synchronized swimming and water polo all came under the supervision of the Canadian Amateur Swimming Association. After Baird became founding chairman of the Canadian Amateur Diving Association, he successfully pushed for all four sports to be given autonomy under the Aquatic Federation of Canada.

"We need and rely on people like Vaughan Baird," said David de Vlieger, president of Swimming Canada, in a statement. "He was a tireless supporter of aquatics in Canada. Canadian sport cannot survive without the work and dedication of people like him."

Marcel Aubut, president of the Canadian Olympic Committee, said in a statement that Baird’s "contribution, from the grassroots level all the way up to Canada’s Olympic movement, has left a lasting legacy from which Canadian athletes in and out of the pool will benefit for generations to come."

In Winnipeg, Baird pushed successfully for the Pan Am Pool to be built, founded the Aquatic Hall of Fame and Museum of Canada, helped found Sport Manitoba, and created a sports lottery organization that later became the Western Canada Lottery Corporation.

Baird was inducted into the Order of Canada in 1992, for helping found the Aquatic Hall of Fame and his support of amateur sport, and was inductedt into the Manitoba Sports Hall of Fame in 1984.

Baird is survived by his sister and several nieces and nephews.

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