Western University, where Desbarats was the dean of the Graduate School of Journalism from 1981 to 1997 when it was the University of Western Ontario, announced his death Tuesday.
Desbarats spent three decades working as a journalist, including as co-anchor for Global Television and national affairs columnist for the Toronto Star.
He was one of three commissioners on an inquiry in the mid-1990s that investigated military misconduct in Somalia, where Canadian soldiers killed two civilians during a mission there.
Desbarats, who was critical of then-prime minister Jean Chretien's decision to shut down the inquiry in mid-stride, went on to write "Somalia Cover-Up: A Commissioner's Journal."
He also wrote several other works, including children's books, plays and a biography Rene Levesque.
Desbarats was named an officer of the Order of Canada in 2006.