Dianne Martin: lawyer, teacher, ‘giant in advocacy’


Above: Dianne Martin, 1945-2004

York’s Osgoode Hall Law School lost one of its leading lights on Dec. 20, 2004, with the sudden death of Professor Dianne Martin, “a dedicated colleague who was passionate about access to justice and a defender of the underdog,” said Dean Patrick Monahan.

An Osgoode graduate, Martin (LLB ’76) was 59 when she died of a heart attack at her home. She will be celebrated at a memorial service in Osgoode’s Moot Court Room on Wednesday, Jan. 5 from 10 to 11:30am. Family, friends and colleagues are invited to pay tribute to the tremendous contribution Martin made to the cause of social justice as well as to Osgoode during her 30-year career.

Colleagues were shocked and saddened at the loss of, not only a friend, but a “force” in the legal world who brought about many substantive changes in the law and its application to women, the poor and the wrongfully accused. Known for her work in many areas of criminal law, Martin “had a passion for life. She couldn’t sit quietly if there was a wrong that needed to be addressed,” said Professor Shelley Gavigan, Osgoode’s director of clinical education, who succeeded Martin in July 2004, one of several occasions when the two traded places at the head of Osgoode’s clinical education program. “Dianne didn’t need to wait to be told something was important,” said Gavigan.

Several of Martin’s friends and colleagues had recently written about her in letters nominating her for the YWCA’s 2005 Women of Distinction Award. Their comments paint a picture of a passionate defender of justice, a talented teacher and a committed social activist.

Julian Falconer, senior partner with Falconer Charney Macklin, who worked with Martin for many years, called her a “giant of advocacy in respect of cases raising state accountability.”

“Dianne was an exceptional teacher and mentor,” wrote York alumna Justice Mavin Wong (LLB ’85), who articled with Martin. “She taught me the importance of getting to know the client through detailed interviews.” Wong also noted that Martin was an “impressive litigator” known for her ability to “cross-examine some of the toughest, most experienced and thus hard to penetrate witnesses: police officers.” In her letter about Martin, Wong remembered some typically Martin-like advice she received as a junior litigator, writing, “after a long hard day in court when a judge had given me a particularly bad time, Dianne would tell me, ‘Just keep talking. They’ll eventually figure out that you are not going away.'”

As one of a handful of female criminal lawyers in Canada after her graduation from Osgoode in 1976 and her call to the bar in 1978, Martin blazed a trail for others, articling for Clayton Ruby and Marlys Edwardh and, eventually, forming her own firm with two Osgoode classmates, something virtually unknown for women at the time. “Dianne always worked to bring a feminist sensibility to the practice of law…and promoted equity not only for women but also for those disadvantaged on account of race, class, sexual orientation and ability,” Monahan wrote. Edwardh, also writing in support of the nomination, said Martin made her way as a woman in a male-dominated field by “doing prison law and by being involved in community issues. Some were highly controversial,” such as Toronto’s notorious gay bathhouse raids of 1981.

Osgoode Professor Fred Zemans, who founded Parkdale Community Legal Services in 1971, said Martin was, “committed to social justice for low-income Canadians and particularly [concerned] with the administration of criminal justice. She was an articulate commentator on the criminal justice system dating back to her years in practice.” He and Martin recently worked on a joint project on civil legal aid in Canada funded by the federal department of justice. As the only woman on the executive of the Criminal Lawyers Association of Toronto at the time, Martin worked at reforming the law and was instrumental, in the late 1970s and early 1980s, in bringing about changes to Canada’s statutes on rape and midwifery. Martin also helped form the Citizens Independent Review of Police Activities and through those efforts, helped persuade the Ontario government to adopt impartial investigations of complaints against police, a practice later adopted by governments across North America.

When she joined Osgoode as director of the Parkdale legal clinic in 1986, Martin developed a training program to teach Osgoode students how best to help women in court. In 1995, she and Osgoode Professor Janet Mosher published an important and widely cited article in the Canadian Journal of Women and the Law, one of several influential collaborations over the past decade.

In an article in the Toronto Star on Dec. 20, James Lockyer, a criminal lawyer who knew Martin for more than 30 years, called her, “an activist first and foremost and a lawyer second. She was always a social activist, right up until the day she died.” And it was in that role that Martin is best known to many Canadians. She and Osgoode Professor Alan Young helped to establish the Innocence Project at Osgoode Hall Law School (see story in the July 24, 2003 issue of YFile), which involves students and faculty in investigations of cases of suspected wrongful conviction. The program “has been tremendously successful, thanks in large part to Dianne’s extensive experience, her passion and relentless pursuit for justice,” Monahan said, noting the project helped overturn the conviction of Romeo Phillion, and others.

Martin spent many countless hours volunteering in organizations dedicated to the law and justice. She worked with the Elizabeth Fry and John Howard societies, and the Ontario Legal Aid Plan’s York County committee. She was a member of steering committee for the Law Union of Ontario and the National Association of Women and Law since 1973.

Born in Regina, Sask., on March 19, 1945, Martin held a master’s degree in law with merit from the University of London, England (1987) and a BA from the University of Toronto (1973). She was honoured in 1999 by the Leonard Peltier Defence Committee of Canada and named Rebel with a Cause by the Elizabeth Fry Society in 2001. In 2003, Martin was given a Gold Key award by Osgoode’s Alumni Association.

Monahan said plans were underway to establish a bursary award in Martin’s name to assist students in financial need who have a demonstrated interest in social justice. Those wishing to honour Martin’s memory may contribute to the bursary by sending a cheque payable to “Osgoode Hall Law School (Re: Dianne Martin Bursary)” to the Dean’s Office, Rm 222, Osgoode Hall Law School, or by going online to an Online Donation Form and typing in “Dianne Martin Bursary” under the heading “Please Direct my contribution to:”.