York community remembers Dianne Martin

Everyone agreed, that if there was one thing for sure, Dianne Martin had plenty of moxie.

Martin, a professor of law at Osgoode Hall Law School and director of the school’s Innocence Project, died suddenly of a heart attack on Dec. 20, 2004. (See the Jan. 4 issue of YFile for more about Martin’s life and her accomplishments.) She was remembered with affection, fondness and respect on Wednesday, Jan. 5, during a memorial service held in the newly renovated Moot Court located in Osgoode Hall Law School.

Right: Dianne Martin

The capacity crowd met with Martin’s family to remember their fallen colleague. Describing her as a friend, professor, mentor, colleague, dedicated lawyer and humanist, friends, family and coworkers praised her independent spirit, determination and uncanny ability to cut through unnecessary details to get to the heart of an issue.

“All of us in our lives aspire to make a difference, to leave this complex world a better place than when we entered it,” said Patrick Monahan, dean of Osgoode Hall Law School. “Dianne was truly someone who made a difference. The public tributes that we have heard stressed Dianne’s belief in the use of law to achieve social justice, as well as her unwavering commitment to the dispossessed and marginalized in our society and to bring dignity to all members of society.

“When a group of faculty members gathered yesterday to remember Dianne, one of our colleagues produced a T-shirt for the Innocence Project at Osgoode Hall Law School. I asked him where he got the shirt. He told me that Dianne had sold it to him for $20 to raise funds for the Innocence project. The nice thing about the shirt is the saying on the back, from ‘Lovers in a Dangerous Time’ by Bruce Cockburn. The shirt says ‘Kick at the darkness ‘til it bleeds daylight’. Now, I have to highlight that there is a somewhat ironic note at the bottom that says ‘Used by permission’. It is difficult to imagine that if you are prepared to kick at the darkness ‘til it bleeds daylight that you need to ask anyone’s permission to do it. But Dianne wanted to note that the saying was used by permission,” chuckled Monahan. “That saying captured Dianne’s belief that we can’t afford to settle for the way things are and that if we don’t tackle to problems in this world, then things will get worse, not better. That is what she achieved as a teacher, social activist, scholar and friend.”

To celebrate her memory, Osgoode Hall Law School has established the Dianne Martin Bursary Fund to provide financial assistance to a student in need who has demonstrated a commitment to social justice. As well, Monahan announced that, on the personal recommendation of York President and Vice-Chancellor Lorna R. Marsden, the law school through its alumni association will establish a special award, titled the “Dianne Martin Medal for Social Justice Through Law”. The commemorative bronze medal will be created and cast this year and awarded annually to a member of the Canadian legal community who has exemplified Martin’s commitment to the use of law as an instrument for achieving social justice and fairness.

Along with Martin’s colleagues, family, students and friends at the memorial was Romeo Phillion, a man who spent more than 30 years in prison for a murder that many in the legal profession, including Martin and her colleague and friend James Lockyear (both of the Association for the Wrongfully Convicted), believed he did not commit. Martin, together with the students working in the Innocence Project, played an instrumental role in securing Phillion’s release from prison last year.

Lockyear, criminal lawyers and legal activists Marlys Edwardh and Michael Lomor, barrister Jack Gemmell and Osgoode and Innocence Project alumna Anna Martin (LLB ’02) all delivered moving tributes to Martin and each revealed the complex, fiercely dedicated, intelligent and passionate personality of their lost colleague. “She understood the people that she represented and saw them as people first, accused second,” said Gemmell.

As a professor, Martin was described as a valued colleague and important member of the Osgoode faculty and an inspiration to her students, always challenging them to new heights while enthusiastically acknowledging their efforts.

As an activist, she dedicated her career to defending the rights of women and the wrongfully convicted. Reform of Canada’s rape laws in the late 1970s and recognition of midwifery were among the initiatives she pursued that directly affected the lives of women.

Martin graduated from Osgoode Hall Law School of York University in 1976 and later acquired an LLM (with merit) from the University of London in 1987. She joined Osgoode in 1989 as a professor.

One of her favourite expressions was, “Life lies before you like newly fallen snow; be careful how you tread it because every step will show.”

To see a streaming video of the memorial ceremony for Martin, click here.