When naming the law school, founding dean Lee Stuesser, along with university president and vice chancellor Brian Stevenson, Ross Murray, who Stuesser describes as a “life bencher” in Thunder Bay, and a “series of community flag bearers” — settled on the Bora Laskin Faculty of Law.
Laskin had a long and prosperous career in the legal community. In a press release, Stevenson called him a “profound, visionary lawyer and judge who left a lasting influence on Canadian law.” Not a bad legacy to bestow on a law school.
“He’s a great Canadian — he’s probably one of the great legal minds of Canada,” Stuesser says.
“So quite frankly from our point of view it’s almost a no-brainer.”
A donor reception at Lakehead on Sept. 30 officially announced the chosen name for the Faculty of Law. Members of Laskin’s family — daughter Barbara Laskin and nephew John Laskin — attended the celebration.
The event was held to thank supporters and donors, including those from Thunder Bay’s legal community and from across Northern Ontario who raised $3 million to date.
The donated funds have gone towards transforming the former Port Arthur Collegiate Institute into Ontario’s newest law school.
As a finishing touch, a portrait of Laskin was unveiled in the faculty’s main entrance.
Laskin, who passed away in 1984, was born and raised in Thunder Bay, growing into an exceptional student and eventually moving along with his family to Toronto to further his education.
Laskin’s story resonates with many people in smaller centres, Stuesser says. He calls his upbringing a “classic Canadian story.”
The son of Russian immigrants, Stuesser says Laskin’s parents worked hard to see their family members well-educated. In 1930, at just 17 years old, Laskin was accepted into second year of the honour law undergraduate program at the University of Toronto.
After receiving his B.A. in 1933 and an MA in 1935, he earned his LLP from Osgoode Hall Law School the following year, while articling and preparing for entrance to the bar.
The next year, in 1937, he obtained an LLM from Harvard University in Cambridge, Mass., and returned to Canada to teach at U of T and Osgoode before his career launched him into the realm of judge.
Laskin — a lawyer, academic, and judge — was key in writing numerous important pieces of Canadian law. He served on the Supreme Court of Canada for 14 years, including a decade as chief justice of Canada.
A few years before his appointment to chief justice, Laskin was named chancellor of Lakehead University — a role he held from 1971-80.
In a speech given at the unveiling of the new Bora Laskin Faculty of Law, Stevenson called the University of Toronto Laskin’s “intellectual home.”
Laskin was impressive because he “taught at all levels of legal education, he made the time to publish numerous articles and books, edit law reports, sit on various university committees, and frequently act as placement coordinator for students, having kept in close touch with the practicing profession,” Stevenson’s speech went on to say.
He also left his mark on legal education, a theme that resonates with legal professionals and students today. Stuesser says his law school, with its innovative approach to legal education, recognizes a kindred spirit.
“Bora Laskin was instrumental in changing legal education and we’re not being presumptuous and saying we are changing legal education throughout Canada but we are certainly doing things differently,” Stuesser says.
“Incorporating theory and practice — we are almost taking a step further than what professor Laskin would have been contemplating in the late 50s.”
Also in honour of Laskin, the school is launching a fundraising campaign. It will be built around the following pillars:
• Transform a student’s future;
• Inspire a generation;
• Create an architectural legacy endowment; and,
• Name the law school library.
Linking Laskin’s legacy with Lakehead is simply the right thing to do, Stuesser says. The school is thrilled to have the support of the Laskin family, both by their appearance at the unveiling and by agreeing to allow the school to use the Laskin name.
As for Lakehead law students, honouring a “local boy who became a great Canadian” has created more pride in themselves and their school, Stuesser says.
“They’re a wonderful group to begin with but I think there’s a little more pride now,” he says.