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Christopher Riggs a man of ‘quiet piety, deep wisdom’

Canon Christopher Riggs. Photo by Diana Renelli
Canon Christopher Riggs. Photo by Diana Renelli

By Stuart Mann

Canon Dr. Christopher Riggs, QC, a former vice-chancellor of the Diocese of Toronto whose contributions to canon law benefitted the church across the country and in the other parts of the Anglican Communion, died in Toronto on Jan. 13 after a long struggle with cancer. He was 73.

“Chris was a man of great intellect, quiet piety and deep wisdom,” said Archbishop Colin Johnson, who as Bishop of Toronto and Metropolitan of the Ecclesiastical Province of Ontario worked closely with Canon Riggs for many years.

One of Canon Riggs’ significant achievements was authoring a new procedure for the non-disciplinary termination of clergy in situations where an appointment needs to come to an end for a range of circumstances. The procedure, found in the diocese’s Canon 10, formed the basis of a change to the canons of General Synod and was adopted by many dioceses in Canada. Other dioceses in the Anglican Communion look to it as a model and are examining ways to include it in their canons.

While crafting the procedure and other revisions to Canon 10, Canon Riggs met with every clericus (a gathering of clergy in a deanery) in the diocese – 18 in total, spread over a wide geographical area. “He sat down and listened to the clergy,” recalled Archbishop Johnson. “It was a huge commitment of time to do this, especially for someone working full-time in a major law practice. That was the sort of careful listening he did.”

Canon Riggs played a key role in the development and ongoing revision of the diocese’s Sexual Misconduct Policy, which has been used as a template for similar policies in other dioceses, other denominations and non-profit organizations across Canada. In addition, his counsel was vital for the development and application of screening policies for both clergy and volunteers working with children and vulnerable adults in the diocese.

One of the top labour lawyers in Canada, Canon Riggs discerned the appropriate application of human rights legislation to clergy and parishes and advised the church and government about laws and regulations that impacted the ministry of the church and other faith groups. A partner in the Toronto law firm Hicks Morley, he was noted as a mentor to young lawyers and won judgements at the Supreme Court of Canada.

A parishioner of the Church of the Redeemer, Bloor Street, Canon Riggs served as vice-chancellor of the diocese (a volunteer position) from 1992 to 2007. He was named an honorary lay canon of St. James Cathedral in 2003 and was awarded an honorary Doctor of Laws from the University of Guelph in 2013. Canon Riggs and his wife, Erica, also owned a farm in Erin, in the Diocese of Niagara, and attended All Saints, Erin, when in residence there.

Canon Riggs served as the chancellor of the Ecclesiastical Province of Ontario from 2009 to 2015. The province is made up of seven dioceses and contains more than half the population of the Anglican Church of Canada. In one of his last duties as chancellor, Canon Riggs installed Archbishop Johnson to a second, six-year term as Metropolitan (senior bishop) of the province during a service at St. Simon the Apostle, Toronto, in October 2015.

Archbishop Johnson described Canon Riggs as “understated, gentle, humble, wise – and extraordinarily well read.” He recalled visiting him in the hospital shortly before his death. “I said, ‘What are you reading?’ and he proceeded to list a huge array of books that he had read, with a critique of each of the books, plus two or three newspapers a day.”

During another visit, Canon Riggs looked through a book of hymns and remarked on the faith expressed in them. The hymn, “All My Hope in God is Founded” stood out for him. “That one line expresses it all,” he said.

Canon Riggs is survived by his wife Erica, three daughters and grandchildren. One of his daughters, the Rev. Julie Burn, is the associate priest at the Church of the Resurrection, Toronto.

Visitation will take place at the Humphrey Funeral Homes on Jan. 22 from 7 p.m. to 9 p.m. A Requiem Eucharist will be held at the Church of the Redeemer, 162 Bloor St. W., Toronto on Jan. 23 at 1:30 p.m.