Young scholar and resistance fighter.

Jean-Gabriel Castel, Decorated Member of the French Resistance and Pioneer in International Law, Dies at 95

Mitch Horowitz
6 min readJan 8, 2024

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Jean-Gabriel Castel, O.C., O.O., Q.C., S.J.D (Harvard), Dr hon. causa, Officier de la Légion d’Honneur a distinguished Canadian jurist in international law and decorated partisan in the French resistance who fought the Nazis as a teen after they occupied his childhood family’s estate in Nice, died in Toronto at age 95 on December 30, 2023.

A migrant to the United States and Canada following the war, Castel received one of the first Fulbright Scholarships established by the Marshall Plan for Europe’s reconstruction.

In 1985, he was named an Officer of the Order of Canada for his work in writing and consulting on international law. Castel also served from 1957 to 1984 as editor-in-chief of the Canadian Bar Review, which received international recognition during his tenure.

Castel taught law at McGill University and York University, where he was a Distinguished Research Professor Emeritus at Osgoode Hall Law School, and at the Universities of Montreal, Ottawa and Moncton, where he furthered the study and practice of international jurisprudence in Canada and other nations.

Born in Nice, France, on September 17, 1928, to Simone and Charles, Castel joined the French Résistance in 1943 at age 15 following the German occupation of Southern France. Fluent in German, the language of his childhood nanny, Castel carried out several intelligence missions and fought for Nice’s liberation in August 1944.

Jean-Gabriel and his mother in Nice, France.

He received several military decorations, including the medal of Combattant volontaire de la Résistance and the Croix du Combattant. During an official visit to Nice in 1945, the nation’s new president Charles de Gaulle congratulated Castel and other young members of the Résistance. Fifteen years later, while in Toronto for a state visit, de Gaulle broke away from his entourage to speak with Castel about the political climate in Quebec, recalling their past encounter.

In 1945, Castel won the Christmas Cup for Skiing and Swimming in Allos and Nice and in 1948 qualified for the finals of the National Swimming Competition in Paris. He adopted as his motto the Latin, mens sana in corpore sano or “a sound mind in a sound body.”

After obtaining his bachelor’s degree in mathematics, philosophy, and experimental sciences at the University of Aix-Marseille, Castel studied law in Paris at the Faculty of Law of the University of Pathéon-Sorbonne. On the advice of his professor of private international law, Castel took and passed the American law-school admission test at the U.S embassy in Paris, with an eye toward pursuing a doctorate in jurisprudence.

Arriving in New York by passenger ship on August 19, 1950, Castel recalled weeping with joy upon spotting the Statue of Liberty. He spent the following three years at the University of Michigan Law School and after received his Doctor of Juridical Science from Harvard Law School on scholarship.

Young jurist.

In 1952, Castel’s interests in international law and antitrust policy brought him to the United Nations and several times to the home of Eleanor Roosevelt in Hyde Park, New York, where he discussed human rights law with the former first lady.

With Eleanor Roosevelt at Hyde Park, NY.

While studying law in 1953, Castel met his first wife, Jane Ellen Faris. They married that year in New York and had three children, John Christopher, Maria Nicole, and Marc Francois. The marriage ended in divorce in 1979. In 1986, Castel wed Ann Lynn Henney; they had a son, Matthew.

Within five years of taking over the English-language Canadian Bar Review in 1956, Castel transformed the quiet journal into a bilingual and bijural resource used throughout Canada and other parts of the world. He became a Canadian citizen in 1959.

At Osgoode Hall Law School, Castel persuaded the administration to create a course on the civil law of France and Quebec, familiarizing English-speaking students with Roman-based jurisprudence, which prevails in many nations. He acted as counsel for international law firms in France, Germany, and Canada.

Castel also taught law in France and at Faculté de droit de l’Université Laval, where two of his students were Brian Mulroney and Louis LeBel, who later became, respectively, prime minister of Canada and justice on the nation’s Supreme Court.

Budding professor.

In Ontario, Castel was active in the defense of the French language and for the Franco-Ontarian community and other minorities. A member of the National Council of the Canadian Human Rights Foundation, Castel in 1979 successfully lobbied for Franco-Ontarians to receive legal services in French and the use of French in the province’s courts, as well as French translation of Ontario’s legal code. The Ontario legislature adopted legal bilingualism in 1984 and 1986, mandating French and English as the courts’ official language.

A supporter of free trade and globalization, Castel participated in drafting the 1988 Canada-U.S. Free Trade Agreement and from 1979 to 1990 arbitrated investment disputes under the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA).

In 1991, Castel published Canadian Law and Practice of International Trade, one of his several legal textbooks, along with more than one hundred scholarly and professional articles, including on topics of law and economy and the legal ramifications of medical advances, published variously in French, English, Spanish, and Japanese.

Upon Castel’s retirement from teaching in 2007, the bilingual College of Glendon at York University, where he taught public international law in French and English, established an Annual Conference Jean-Gabriel Castel on Public International law and International Organizations.

In 2006, Castel was elected to the municipal council of Mono, Ontario, where he lived with his family. During his tenure, he refused any salary as he had campaigned to lower municipal taxes. The council paid him anyway, a sum he gave away to local charities.

During his 20 years in Mono, Castel and his second wife, Ann Lynn Henney, and their son, Matthew, volunteered in nearby Orangeville for organizations that aided abused women and autistic children. Castel visited several international Catholic missions to the poor and corresponded with Mother Theresa. He received several international and Canadian awards, medals, and commendations for his work in both global bridgebuilding and philanthropy.

In retirement, Castel worked with his son Matthew, a lawyer, on articles about legal issues surrounding the emergence of artificial intelligence.

In addition to his children, Castel is survived by his seven grandchildren, Jacqueline, John Paul, Thomas, Alexandra, Stephane, Nicholas, and Sophie, and great-granddaughter Charlotte.

Playing the harmonica later in life.

As a perennial internationalist, Castel spent the summer of 1946 working in London to perfect his English. There he met with Winston Churchill to discuss de Gaulle and the future of France. In 1948, Castel’s father, Charles, organized the first international festival of jazz in Nice, during which his son met Louis Armstrong and Ella Fitzgerald, fostering a lifelong love and study of music.

An athlete, traveler, and advocate for nondiscrimination and cross-cultural understanding, Castel admired French mind theorist Émile Coué, whose famous mantra, “Day by day, in every way, I am getting better and better” (“Tous les jours, à tous points de vue, je vais de mieux en mieux”), he recited daily.

With such an interesting life, rich with adventures and in spite of many crises, Castel could be described as a modern Renaissance person, a true “man for all seasons.” He never lost his faith in the good side of humanity and the hope that the human race will finally reach the famous singing tomorrows that have been promised it for so long.

This article was written with research by Matthew Castel and Ann Lynn Henney Castel.

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Mitch Horowitz

"Treats esoteric ideas & movements with an even-handed intellectual studiousness"-Washington Post | PEN Award-winning historian | Censored in China