The day before Christmas

Bill Trudell
For so many, the day before Christmas is the beginning of a special time. No matter one’s faith, offices close early, last-minute shoppers scurry to find gifts as a sign of gratitude, a break from work is ahead.

Soon, relatives may arrive from afar, families gather at home or escape to an often-warmer destination. Whether we are eight or 88 some special feelings embrace our lives. Some wish they were children for just one night to recapture the magic.

Many squeeze in for a seat in our glistening places of worship that have been ignored for about 364 days. We may wonder about that ancient story of the child in the manger. Was he a saviour? Or just a historic footnote?

It does not really matter. There is some undeniable spiritual feeling that touches us. We are reminded of others less fortunate, we think about world peace, and experience a sense of joy, no matter if only for a few hours.

Into this fleeting but spiritual trance on Dec. 24, 2014, an intruder of unexpected sadness appeared — Eddie Greenspan passed away.

Phones, e-mails, and texts lit up throughout the profession. Many needed to spread the news. So many just needed to reach out and communicate with someone. It was surreal really.

Sobbing and unstoppable tears overtook our lawyers’ coolness. It was not just unfair that Eddie had died, it was somehow not right.

The landscape had been altered without notice. A tangible shadow was cast over a joyful time of the year. An important page had been ripped from our personal profiles without warning, without fanfare. We were afforded no opportunity for a final summation, a verdict had been rendered that we were not prepared for.

We will not be the same. Eddie made us look good. The defence counsel in our society is an unwanted necessity. Not many admit they need us or ever have used us. We are almost like Buckley’s cold medicine; we taste terrible but we work.

Eddie would have none of it. He was out there, brash, brilliant, funny, and self-assured. He loudly proclaimed, “You need us!” His message was theatre. We envied him at times, criticized his methods at others, but he was one of us. He kept what we do and the importance of justice on the front pages.

There have been other leaders of the criminal bar over the last quarter century in Canada, but none as unrepentantly flashy as Eddie. He did not hide the defence of the mighty, he broadcast it, and we sheepishly cheered.

He was a character, someone said “larger than life.” I don’t know if he was larger than life but he loved it, embraced it, and filled a void for many. Eddie made being a defence counsel sexy in some way. I think many became defence lawyers because he inspired them with his stature and apparent success.

He never disappointed us. As a guest speaker he remained in demand. Sometimes it was his dinner speeches, educational lectures, and conference addresses that rekindled our passion for justice when it seemed often unappreciated, so ineffectual, so lonely.

Eddie was a master of the moment. He was funny and smart and inspiring. As recently as November 2014 when he was asked to deliver the keynote address for the recipient of the G. Arthur Martin Medal, his distinguished friend Richard Peck, he demonstrated on a dime how quick and brilliant he could be on his feet.

A previous speaker had embarrassingly announced that Sidney Peck was the recipient of the award. He soon corrected himself but the damage was in the air in a room of 400. Eddie started by announcing that he was shocked that Richard Peck was to receive the award. He came prepared to praise Sidney Peck. He did not even know who Richard Peck was!

The same remarkable use of occasion took place during one of his sensational trials. He was on his feet defending Helmuth Buxbaum, notoriously charged with having his wife murdered.  Eddie was arguing a point. The judge was not impressed. On cue there was a minor earthquake and a momentary tremor reverberated through the courtroom. Eddie of course seized the moment as evidence of the force, if not divine nature, of his argument.

He could do that as all great counsel can, but in his arsenal it was magic, he owned it.

We as members of this profession owe a great debt to Eddie Greenspan. He offered Camelot in the exhausting, frustrating, everyday crusade of those who defend. He did not sit back at 70 years old and accept the rigid law-and-order initiatives of the current federal government. He was out there openly critical in print and in public forums.

Many who knew him saw his health visibly waning recently, but we did not stop to think he could be taken from us. . . .

His death should shock us into embracing each other and not be afraid to voice our love and admiration for our colleagues and friends. I think Eddie did that. I know his love for his remarkable daughter Julianna and his unparalleled brother Brian was exhibited daily in their unwavering family and professional connections.

There is a void in the profession for many of us, but certainly nothing comparable to that for Brian and Julianna with the passing of their brother, father, and intimate colleague.

Eddie was the gift that was taken away this Christmas.

The Greenspan legacy of excellence and unquestionable passion for justice will continue on Julianna’s and Brian’s watch.

Nevertheless, as the holiday season fades back into work, we must never forget the sadness that visited this year.

Eddie brightened our landscape. We loved him for it. On the day before Christmas the unplanned but heartfelt calls we made to each other, to share our grief and renew our affections could perhaps be his ongoing gift to us.

Life is precious. We work too hard. We need to stop just for a moment and treasure those we still have in our lives as well as those, like Eddie, who we have lost.

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