Former Osgoode dean being considered for Supreme Court vacancy

A pair of senior Ontario judges are emerging as leading contenders in a contest to fill two vacancies on the Supreme Court of Canada, wrote The Globe and Mail June 8. Within Ontario’s gossipy legal community, a belief has taken root that Ontario Court of Appeal judges Andromache Karakatsanis and Robert Sharpe are in the lead.

Federal Court of Appeal Judge David Stratas and Justice James MacPherson of the Ontario Court of Appeal are also considered serious contenders for the seats that will be vacated in August by Justice Ian Binnie and Justice Louise Charron.

Judge MacPherson, a former dean of law at York University’s Osgoode Hall Law School, is fond of cutting to the chase during court hearings with tough, blunt questioning. Bilingual, affable and well-versed in the law, he would also wade into the fray of oral argument.

Yes, we must pay attention to judges’ values

As we move into another season of judicial appointments, the usual chorus insists that considerations of “merit” should be uppermost in the prime minister’s mind, wrote Allan Hutchinson, distinguished research professor in York University’s Osgoode Hall Law School, in The Globe and Mail June 8. Issues of “ideology” are treated as having no legitimate place in the selection of Supreme Court judges.

The ambition to appoint judges who are truly meritorious is unquestionable. Nobody would want to have judges on such an important tribunal who did not possess all the technical and professional attributes of a competent judge. This much is undeniable.

The problems arise when people assume that this can be achieved with indifference to the ideological leanings of any particular candidate…. The assumption of many, however, seems to be that merit and ideology stand separate and apart, that it’s possible to attend to matters of merit without taking ideology into account. No matter how much people may wish it were so, it simply is not. Merit and ideology walk down much the same street.

So when we select judges, we should pay attention to their values, not try to ignore them. Pretending to do otherwise is not only a mistake, but also a fraud on democracy and the Canadian people. If adjudication is about values and ideals, then we owe it to ourselves to inquire into the values and ideals of those who are or are about to be judges.

  • Jamie Cameron, professor at Osgoode Hall Law School, took part in an online chat about upcoming appointments to the Supreme Court of Canada, on The Globe and Mail’s website June 7.

Study finds diversity lacking in Toronto law firms

On the bench, in the senior Crown offices, at the partner level of the major law firms, minorities are significantly under-represented, according to the research, wrote The Globe and Mail June 7, in a story about The DiverseCity Report conducted by the Diversity Institute at Ryerson University.

“The argument that you’ll hear is that it takes time. You need to work your way up in law and the demographic bulge in visible-minority applications started too recently,” said Sonia Lawrence, a professor at [York’s] Osgoode Hall Law School. “But I think that a reason to question that is they said the same thing about women and that hasn’t panned out.

“Like many professions, law is a self-replicating profession. If you don’t make a deliberate effort to make a deliberate intervention, that self-replication doesn’t change.”

Lawrence said more needs to be done to ensure the profession better reflects the population it serves. “If you have a legal profession that at its elite levels and especially in terms of appointments to the bench and the prosecution is wildly unrepresentative, you have a crisis of legitimacy,” she said.

  • Julia Shin Doi [JD ’92, LLM ’07]… finished law school at [York’s] Osgoode Hall Law School and was called to the Ontario Bar in 1994, wrote the Toronto Star June 7.

The corporate lawyer for York University is also part of an under-represented group in Greater Toronto’s legal sector, according to a new study by Ryerson University’s Diversity Institute, released Tuesday.

Shin Doi, daughter of Korean immigrants, is one of 2,700, or just 14.4 per cent, of 19,135 practising lawyers in Greater Toronto who happen to be from visible minorities.

“There are many benefits of having a legal system representative of the diversity,” said Shin Doi, who is also president of the Federation of Asian Canadian Lawyers, an advocacy group that aims to promote equity, justice, opportunity and professional development within the community. “A diverse background gives perspective and a better understanding of the social context in advising clients.”

Left earring too gay?

Willy Mutunga [DJUR ’93] has impeccable credentials, wrote Xtra June 8.

He graduated from Osgoode Hall Law School at York University and obtained law degrees from the University of Dar es Salaam in Tanzania. He has worked with the Kenya Human Rights Commission and the Ford Foundation and is a senior counsel and advocate at the High Court of Kenya.

On May 13, the Kenyan Judicial Service Commission announced Mutunga as their top choice of nominees to the position of chief justice. So why has Mutunga’s nomination caused such a storm?

The Kenya Broadcasting Corporation says it is because Mutunga wears a stud in his left ear. Apparently the stud means he is gay and therefore not fit to be appointed to the highest judicial position in the country.

Mutunga has defended his earring, saying that the choice to wear it is based on his spiritual beliefs and not his sexual orientation.

On June 7, Mutunga and the nominee for deputy chief justice, Nancy Barasa, appeared before Parliament’s Constitution Implementation Oversight Committee. According to the Daily Nation, they were questioned about their views on abortion, divorce and homosexuality.

Mutunga was blunt: “I am not gay. Having said that, let me say that I don’t discriminate against gay people.”

Stalled cases are not often solved, says York prof

For roughly five months, Hamilton police worked to build a case against David Laurie Scott for the murder of 73-year-old Audrey Gleave, found stabbed and violently attacked in the garage of her rural Indian Trail home Dec. 30, wrote The Hamilton Spectator June 8, in a story about evidence that later exonerated Scott and left investigators with no suspect.

The stalled investigation is also making closure difficult for those who loved Gleave, a private, retired school teacher with a knack for gardening and cars.

But experts say statistics show police are not likely to solve the case.

“Generally, cases are not usually solved after something like this happens,” said Paul Brienza, director of York University’s criminology & sociology program [in the School of Public Policy & Administration, Faculty of Liberal Arts & Professional Studies].

When investigators spend months building a case around a particular suspect and then that case falls apart, it can be almost impossible to go back to the beginning, he said, adding that a considerable amount of time and resources have already been spent.

Barring a major break, such as a sudden DNA match or new eyewitness coming forward, these cases go cold and are not solved, Brienza said.

It’s become a trend for police to believe forensic tests will back up their cases, he said. Investigators are now under double the pressure – to find a violent killer and to reassure the public they are safe.

Longing for tweets of the old-fashioned kind

Amid the cacophony of urban noise…one sound that would be most welcome in Calgary isn’t much there anymore. Birdsong, wrote the Calgary Herald June 8.

I thought it was just a figment of my imagination…. But no, the birds really have disappeared, according to Bridget Stutchbury, an ornithologist, biology professor and Canada Research Chair in Ecology & Conservation Biology at York University [Faculty of Science & Engineering].

"Just since I was born," Stutchbury said in a telephone interview Tuesday, "many of the species have dropped by 30 to 40 per cent already. We’re talking huge numbers of birds missing from the picture."

Stutchbury is a child of the baby boom generation, so she can also remember a time when a highway drive yielded a windshield splattered with bugs. "Nowadays, you drive around in summer and there’s the odd splat on your windshield; not a big deal," she said. Insects are missing from the picture, too. Which might be a cause for celebration, until sober second thought leads you to the opposite conclusion.

"Some would go ‘yea, fewer mosquitoes or blackflies’. But we’re talking about a food base for these birds," said Stutchbury, who is currently studying the decline of insect-eating purple martins in Ontario and Pennsylvania. "Birds have blue-collar jobs; they have the really important jobs in the ecosystem," she added.

It’s not just migratory birds that are in decline. "Resident birds are declining. Boreal chickadees, ruffed grouse and bobwhite have gone down," Stutchbury said, adding, "They live here year-round, but they suffer habitat loss and exposure to pesticides.

Liberal ad may be cribbed, but it’s effective, says Schulich prof

Observers say the slick one-minute ad rolled out by the Liberals last week bears “uncanny” resemblance to [a] Chrysler spot, an ad that did as much to stir political debate and hometown sentiment as it did to sell cars, wrote the National Post June 8.

So, did the Liberals crib the idea for the ad? No way, said Ontario Liberal party spokesperson Christine McMillan.

Pish posh, said Alan Middleton, a professor of marketing at York University’s Schulich School of Business. “Here’s my scenario: they had the theme line, they had the strategy laid out maybe as early as December, because it’s a logical strategy for an incumbent government to take against a Hudak Conservative,” he said. “But I bet what happened as it went through the evolution of the execution, it got more and more effective: ‘Let’s get that down-to-earth real person feeling, because that’s who we are’, and then the Super Bowl and the following ads they repeated were very evocative.” At the end of the day, Middleton said, “99 per cent of the electorate” won’t know or care if it was cribbed from elsewhere. The question is whether the ad will work. “Overall I found it pretty effective.”

Life in ‘Third City’: Nasty, brutish and short

Since the late 1980s we’ve embarked on a path that would make manifest in our urban fabric the social problems of inner-city America, wrote Simon Black, a graduate student and researcher in the City Institute at York University, in the Toronto Star June 8, in a story about the death of 15-year-old shooting victim Andrew Naidoo in what he refers to as Toronto’s “Third City”.

We cut the social safety net; we’ve neglected the built environment of poor neighbourhoods; we’ve failed to regulate precarious employment and create “good jobs”; we’ve yet to solve high dropout rates and youth unemployment, disproportionately impacting racialized youth; and we’ve rolled back equity initiatives that acknowledged the ways socio-economic outcomes continue to be shaped by race.

We appeared to turn a corner with the tragic murder of Jane Creba: the problems of the Third City had made a violent appearance on the streets of the First, the spaces of commerce so central to Toronto’s competitiveness and standing as a “world class” city. Commitments were made – however limited – to deal with urban social exclusion and the problems, including community violence, which it breeds.

Alas, with shifting political winds, support for such initiatives appears to be drying up.

It is time that we, as a city, confront some hard questions: Are we going to accept 15-year-olds being gunned down outside their homes as our modern urban condition? Is this to be the fate of more of our city’s youth? Has Toronto become so divided, so polarized, that many of us think “our city” is not “their city” and “we” therefore have nothing to worry about?

Schulich prof says elected senate won’t happen in his lifetime

Charles McMillan, a policy adviser to former prime minister Brian Mulroney who is now with York University [professor of policy in the Schulich School of Business], commented on the post-election road ahead, and surprised [a working-lunch crowd of politicians and policy-makers on Tuesday at the Chateau Laurier Hotel in Ottawa] by predicting that Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s attempts to bring in an elected Senate is doomed, wrote The Hill Times June 7.

McMillan said he has predicted the reform will not take place “in my lifetime.”

On air

  • Stephanie Ross, social science professor in York’s Faculty of Liberal Arts & Professional Studies and co-director of the Centre for Research on Work & Society, spoke about the rotating strikes by postal workers, on CBC Radio’s “The Current” June 7.