Prominent Canadian Lawyer, Businessman Purdy Crawford Dies at Age 82

By The Canadian Press
The Canadian Press
The Canadian Press
August 12, 2014 Updated: August 13, 2014

TORONTO—Purdy Crawford, a lawyer and businessman who once headed Montreal-based Imasco Ltd., died Aug. 12 at age 82.

Crawford’s death was confirmed by the Toronto legal firm Osler, Hoskin & Harcourt, where Crawford began as a corporate lawyer in the 1950s before leaving to pursue a career with Imasco Ltd., a company that, at the time, owned Imperial Tobacco, Canada Trust, and Shoppers Drug Mart.

Stephen Smith, who is now the Toronto-based firm’s co-chairman, described Crawford as a brilliant man who was never boastful and always generous with his time as a mentor.

“He had a wonderful understated manner that was so instructive to watch. Just a mentor in all respects. It was a real treat for me as a junior lawyer to work with him and learn from him,” Smith said in an interview.

“You know, I don’t think he ever lost his Nova Scotia roots.”

Crawford was a native of Five Islands, N.S. He graduated from Mount Allison University in Sackville in N.B., Dalhousie Law School in Halifax, and Harvard Law School. As a partner with Osler, Hoskin & Harcourt, he practised primarily corporate and commercial law. He returned to the firm in 2000 after formally retiring from Imasco.

TD Bank chief executive Ed Clark, who headed Canada Trust Financial Services when it was sold to Toronto-Dominion in 2000, said Crawford helped many people with their careers in good times and bad.

“He was a leader in business, a wise counsellor to many and, at the same time, someone who also understood and promoted good public policy. An extraordinary human being,” Clark said in an emailed statement.

Crawford was later called upon to head the Pan-Canadian committee from 2007 until 2009. The committee was set up by the major institutional investors to salvage about $32 billion invested in a type of short-term note, commonly called asset-backed commercial paper, that couldn’t be redeemed. But he also worked to reduce the impact on individuals who had invested in the securities.

In an interview, Crawford said it wasn’t until the committee embarked on a three-day whirlwind tour to talk to retail investors in March 2008 that he understood just how many average Canadians were affected by the frozen assets.

“We started in Toronto, and it wasn’t so obvious there,” Crawford said while the ABCP crisis was still unfolding.

The numbers grew when they moved on to Montreal and Edmonton, but it was a passionate gathering in Vancouver that left a big impression on the lawyer.

“The place was packed. And yes, I think it was good for those investors to have a face to talk to. I saw the anger, the frustration,” Crawford said.