The Top 25 Most Influential 2016 - Changemakers

  • Subtitle: Cover Story
Written by  Posted Date: August 1, 2016


Justice Rosalie Abella Supreme Court of Canada Ottawa

This year, Abella became one of only three other Canadians — and the first female Canadian — to receive an honorary law degree from Yale University, the latest in a long line of honours for the well-respected judge and human rights defender. A Yale press release called Abella “one of the world’s finest living judges.” Among her many rulings from the SCC, Abella recently and again took a stand for equality rights in the Carter v. Canada decision. The decision was a landmark one for Canada and has already changed the legal landscape when it comes to assisted dying. With a unique animal rights decision in June, Abella was the sole dissenting voice in a ruling that said penetration was a requirement for bestiality. She argued in her opinion that acts with animals are “inherently exploitive” and the narrow definition of bestiality “completely undermines the concurrent legislative protections for animals from cruelty and abuse.” Many peg Abella as the next chief justice of the Supreme Court after Chief Justice Beverley McLachlin retires in 2018.

What voters had to say:

“She is a visionary that is ahead of her time. Her judicial reasoning that was often a dissenting decision in her earlier decisions is now often a majority decision. Her consideration of social justice issues facing the impoverished and vulnerable provides for a judiciary that best represents Canada’s value set.”

Chris Bentley Executive director, Ryerson University’s Law Practice Program and Legal Innovation Zone Toronto

Bentley had an illustrious political career as a former Ontario attorney general and as a Liberal leadership candidate, but he has been making interesting waves in the legal industry recently. He is a staunch promoter of legal innovation and is pushing hard to bring change and innovation to Canada’s somewhat staid legal profession, particularly by instilling innovative sensibilities in potential and young lawyers. He runs the experimental Law Practice Program at Ryerson, where he also helped to establish the Legal Innovation Zone, which partnered with Osler Hoskin & Harcourt LLP earlier this year. Bentley is very active in the profession, making educators and practitioners examine what they need and how to work together to move the profession and practice of law forward.

What voters had to say:

“As a mentor in the LPP . . . I was inspired by Chris Bentley’s commitment to the integrity of the program, its core mission, and candidates alike.”

Craig Forcese and Kent Roach Associate professor, University of Ottawa Faculty of Law; and Professor & Prichard Wilson Chair in Law & Public Policy, University of Toronto Ottawa, Toronto

This duo more than anyone helped educate the Canadian public on the pitfalls and issues of the previous federal Conservative government’s proposed anti-terrorism laws. Forcese and Roach’s approach to influencing public policy development also changed the way academics contribute it. They ditched traditional models in order to engage in real time on bill C-51, launching a blog about it (, publishing their work on the world’s largest open-access database — the Social Science Research Network — sending it to public policy-makers, writing op-eds, and appearing before parliamentary committees. Their book False Security: The Radicalization of Canadian Anti-terrorism, will be published this fall.

What voters had to say:

“Had tremendous impact this last year!”

Justice Sheila Martin Alberta Court of Queen’s Bench Calgary

Martin made the first ruling allowing a woman with ALS to have doctors help her end her life. It was the first decision under the process created by the Supreme Court of Canada in the interim period when the court’s decision made the old law invalid and before the government had introduced a new one. It set an important precedent that, while applicable for a short period of time, set out a process for patients seeking access to physician-assisted death. Martin had to decide how many doctors were needed to verify the applicant’s physical and psychological suffering and whether a psychiatrist was required to assess her mental competence. The Alberta decision also had to be applicable in British Columbia, where the patient would go for the procedure.

What voters had to say:

“Not only an eminent jurist but an erudite and inspiring professor. Justice Martin has been an inspiration to a generation of lawyers who benefited from her teaching at the University of Calgary.”

Murray Sinclair Senator, chairman of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada Winnipeg

A Top 25 honouree last year, Sinclair’s Truth and Reconciliation report is having a substantial impact on Canadian society including law schools that are moving on its recommendations to include more aboriginal law and legal and cultural understanding of aboriginal dispute resolution. His recent appointment to the Senate of Canada means his strong voice continues to influence Canadian society and ensure the rights and needs of First Nations will always be heard. He was also among this year’s inductees to the annual Ka Ni Kanichihk elders’ list in Winnipeg. He is among seven others nominated by indigenous political and service organizations. Sinclair recently called on the city of Ottawa to adopt the UN Declaration of Rights of Indigenous Peoples as a means to engage with Canada’s First Nations.

What voters had to say:

“Above reproach. A beacon of hope, forgiveness, and true reconciliation in our country.”

“Mr. Sinclair made a profound impact on the lives of all indigenous people of Canada. I thank him for his role in ensuring the rest of Canada hears and knows the impact residential schools continue to have on our families and communities.”

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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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