The Top 25 Most Influential - Criminal Law/Human Rights

  • Subtitle: Cover Story
Written by  Posted Date: August 5, 2013


Justice Rosalie Abella

Judge, Supreme Court of Canada, Ottawa

Since being appointed to the Supreme Court of Canada in 2004, Justice Rosalie Abella has become known for her strong presence on the bench, particularly when pushing the limits of Canada’s human rights laws. Abella was the sole dissenter in the 2012 case of R. v. N.S., where she argued that requiring a witness to remove her niqab would effectively force her to choose between her religious beliefs and participating in the justice system. In her dissent, Abella likened the religious face coverings to those “who are unable to testify under ideal circumstances because of visual, oral, or aural impediments.” Abella has been setting a high bar for the profession since 1976 when, at the age of 29 and while pregnant, she became the first Jewish woman and the youngest Canadian to be made a judge. With reasonable accommodation issues at the forefront of Canadian society, Abella remains an incredibly influential figure in the profession.

What the panel had to say: “Justice Abella has always had and continues to have a deep commitment to human rights that influences the nation.”

Joseph Arvay
Partner, Arvay Finlay
Barristers, Vancouver

From the right to die, to aboriginal rights and civil liberties, Joseph Arvay seems to be at the centre of every legal story of significance in Canada. In 2012, Arvay argued a constitutional challenge to Canada’s sex worker laws before the Supreme Court of Canada. He worked with the B.C. Civil Liberties Association to have assisted suicide decriminalized. He has fought to defend Insight, Vancouver’s safe-injection site, and the rights of children of sperm donors. Last fall, he was the Asper Centre’s inaugural constitutional-litigator-in-residence as well as a visiting clinical practitioner in residence at Osgoode Hall Law School. Arvay has been on the Top 25 for the past three years.

What the panel had to say: “Arvay never shies away from taking on divisive and socially controversial cases in his pursuit of civil liberties and human rights.”

Brian Greenspan

Partner, Greenspan Humphrey Lavine, Toronto

Brian Greenspan continues to play a significant role in Canadian criminal law. Before the Supreme Court of Canada in R. v. Ryan, Greenspan helped redefine the scope of the defence of duress now available to all accused. He is also lead counsel for the Ontario Provincial Police Association in Schaeffer v. Wood, where the Supreme Court will determine whether the notes of a police officer under investigation should be vetted by a lawyer prior to being formally documented in police records. Greenspan also gave the speech at June’s call to the bar in Toronto, where he also received an honourary doctorate from the Law Society of Upper Canada. Greenspan appeared in the very first Top 25 in 2010.

What voters had to say: “Obviously, these brief statements do not do justice to Brian’s influence and power.”

Joseph Magnet
Professor, University of Ottawa Faculty of Law, Ottawa

Joseph Magnet has long been one of Canada’s foremost constitutional scholars. In the past year, his work has paid off for some of Canada’s most disadvantaged and neglected minorities. In the landmark decision Daniels v. Canada, together with co-counsel Andrew Lokan — also a Top 25 nominee — Magnet persuaded the Federal Court that Métis and non-status Indians are indeed “Indians” according to the Constitution. Magnet has also been active advancing minority rights in East Africa. Since 2010, he has been working pro bono for the Afar people, a minority in northern Ethiopia, advising them on a series of constitutional and human rights issues.

What voters had to say: “Many of the most challenging aboriginal constitutional law cases end up on his desk because of his reputation for taking on tough cases.”

Pam Palmater
Associate professor, Ryerson University Department of Politics and Public Administration, Toronto

Pam Palmater is a Mi’kmaq lawyer whose family originates from the Eel River Bar First Nation in northern New Brunswick. As the chair in Indigenous Governance and academic director of the Centre for Indigenous Governance at Ryerson, she has had a huge impact on aboriginal governance issues. Following her unsuccessful race last year for the leadership of the Assembly of First Nations, Palmater took centre stage during the Idle No More protests that shook the leadership of AFN rival Shawn Atleo. By bringing her message to both the mainstream and social media, Palmater has been challenging Canadians to think seriously about aboriginal issues.

What voters had to say: “This is an honourable, brave woman who serves her people in the area of justice in an unjust society.”

Page 1:     Introduction
Page 2:    Top 5 in Corporate-Commercial Law
Page 3:    Top 5 Changemakers
Page 5:    Top 5 in Government/Non-Profits/Associations
Page 6:    Top 5 In-House Counsel
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0 # Court ClerkEileen Cummins 2016-06-05 20:38
Ms. Cheryl Goodier is a hard working, tenacious, passionate crown attorney who advocates for those who have been victims of child abuse and/or sexual abuse. She makes a difference in this world.
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0 # missthabsile 2014-01-17 14:46
this is the best criminal laywer
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+1 # Be proactive not reactiveAnon 2013-08-07 17:38
If you want to see a variety of different names and faces in the list, you should nominate lawyers whom you feel are deserving of the honour. All the people listed here were nominated by someone else. They didn't pick the names out of a hat.
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-5 # Response to Harry BlaierMartha Abbott 2013-08-07 13:58
Mr Blaier, I don't have to meet you to know that you are white. I did my homework before responding to you. If you are not Harry Blaier from a law firm in Toronto and from U of Toronto, then I must be mistaken - however, I am pretty sure that I am not. Please do not purport to lecture to me about logic and fairness. You have already shown your prejudice by the implications in your comments that recognising minority lawyers` achievements in this context would be tantamount to tokenism. It is people like you, who pretend to be impartial, who are the real obstacles to fairness and justice for minorities in the legal profession in Canada. Please show me in which years a minority, who was not Native & Canadian, was selected for this esteemed list. Yet, you would have us believe that this selection process is fair and unbiased. Trying to convince a white man of the existence of racism and prejudice - there`s a first.
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-5 # Response to Harry BlaierMartha Abbott 2013-08-07 10:51
Naturally, the minute that someone stands up for the blatant prejudice shown to minorities in the legal profession, we get the racists like you, Harry, who also suggest that selecting a minority would be based only on tokenism. My point, which you chose to miss, is that out of the significant number of minority lawyers in Canada, who are all high achievers - based on their merit and despite the prejudice they encounter daily - not one managed to be selected. Perhaps you never read the statistics and reports about prejudice at the Bar. But then, we are asking those who perpetrate the prejudice, to try to understand the insidious effects of it - not really in their interests, is it? The irony is that some of those selected are called champions of "diversity" but even a casual glance at their employees will reveal a lily-white brigade. Of course, no one expects people like you to understand, from your Ivory Tower- pun intended.
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0 # LawyerHarry Blaier 2013-08-07 11:54
Oh my. First, I just don't "get it" and then I'm an out and out racist. I certainly hope, Ms. Abbott, that in the course of your practice you bring a bit more logic to bear. You call me a racist simply for disagreeing with you. This old fallacy of logic is called "poisoning the well"--i.e. if you can't assail the argument, attack the proponent. Must the conclusion be that the selection committee is comprised of racists or that they only "see" white and are insensitive to the visible (or other) minority communities? As for your so-called pun, I am not aware of having ever met you, Ms. Abbott, so I wonder why you jump to the conclusion that "from [my] Ivory Tower", I am white. Can it be that you believe people of colour are incapable of bringing logic to bear? I happen not to share that view.
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-4 # Response to Harry BlaierMartha Abbott 2013-08-07 10:44
Naturally, the minute that anyone attempts to highlight the prejudice against minority lawyers in Canada, we get people like Harry Blaier who are quick to jump on the bandwagon that minorities may just not have been very good that year. Apparently, the world that you live in is fair and everything happens on merit - the delusion that Canadians love to peddle for the rest of the world. In which other year have those minorities been good enough for you? Perhaps you never read the news about the discrimination suffered by minority lawyers in Canada. My point, which you so obviously missed, is not that people should be recognised on the basis of tokenism. Rather, out of the significant number of black and other visible minority lawyers in Canada, not one managed to be good enough to be selected. People were selected who claim the champion diversity - the irony is that when you look at their work colleagues you will see only the lily white. Maybe you didn't notice from your ivory tower.
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+1 # LawyerHarry Blaier 2013-08-07 08:50
I respond to the comment of Ms. Abbott, in which her opening 4 words belie her sarcasm and then spirals downward from there. I would think that selections of this kind should be based on merit, not "minority visibility". Is it not possible that in any given year, a visible minority simply does not make it to the top of the the selection process? Ms. Abbott seems to prefer the belief that discrimination is the only explanation for the result. Apparently the demand for tokenism is alive and well in some quarters.
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+12 # NoneJoanne Shiers 2013-08-07 06:57
As my late grandmother used to say, there are a lot of high falutin people on this list. I mean, a SCC judge. The head of a big firm. The head of a faculty... I've worked in big firms and in-house. In my experience, the more expensive the car, the less interesting and influential the lawyer. How about highlighting the REAL lawyers in this country? The ones who work in the trenches and out on the streets where law matters. I don't want to see yet more Benz lawyers who spend their days lunching in fancy suits and even fancier restaurants. I want to see lawyers whose work is not televised.
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-7 # Not one Visible MinorityMartha Abbott 2013-08-06 18:04
Always great to see that not one visible minority made it to your hallowed list out of such a significant proportion in the legal profession. just not good enough for you, right?
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0 # Your facts are skewedGertrude Shnibbery 2013-08-07 16:08
Pam Palmater is Mi'kmaq, a visible minority. Aboriginal people represent about 4% of Canada, and 4% of this list. This may not be enough for you, but I think it is important to acknowledge that this list reflects some diversity, and more importantly, recognizes and affirms the importance of Palmater's work in Aboriginal governance. Furthermore, this list honours the work of lawyers working for minority rights, showing that this is a concern in the profession. Your comments are extreme, imprudent, and demonstrate a knee jerk reaction to this list.
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0 # Dear Gertrude...Martha Abbott 2013-08-07 17:36
So, Gertrude, to use your logic, since 9.2% of the lawyers in Canada are visible minorities, shouldn't there be a 9.2% representation of them on this list? Oh, shock, horror, there isn't?! You are right about one thing, though, no; it is not enough for me nor for the significant proportion of minority lawyers who have to contend with prejudice and racism at the Bar and with colleagues like you, who love to try to invalidate the experiences that they have on an almost daily basis. By refusing to even countenance the fact that there may be bias, people like you help to maintain the status quo, by not asking the right questions. I really am very tired of having to explain myself on this forum to people who have no interest in learning. This is the last from me. Goodbye.
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+3 # RE: Dear Gertrude...Gertrude Shnibbery 2013-08-07 17:56
If 9% of the lawyers on the list had been visible minorities, that would mean that there would be 2 visible minorities on the list. There is 1 visible minority on the list. Over this statistically insignificant difference, you label the profession and anyone who disagrees with you as racist, biassed, and opposed to equal rights. The evidence - namely the recognition of Ms. Palmater and others advocating for minority rights - indicates the opposite of what you believe. Good day, madam.
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Gail J. Cohen

One of Canada’s most experienced and respected legal journalists, Gail J. Cohen is the former editor in chief of Canadian Lawyer and Law Times, who was responsible for the editorial direction of all the publications in the group, which also includes Candian Lawyer InHouse, Canadian Lawyer 4Students, and the daily Legal Feeds blog. Gail has covered the legal profession in Canada as a reporter and editor since 1997, which had put her in a prime position to access and engage thought leaders in the regulatory, legal, and business realms. Canadian Lawyer and its editorial team have been the recipients of many journalism awards and their publications are highly respected throughout the legal profession in Canada and abroad.

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