First racialized justice on Court of Appeal for Ontario retires from bench after 23 years

South Asian Bar Association names human rights award for Russell Juriansz and his wife, Kaye Joachim

First racialized justice on Court of Appeal for Ontario retires from bench after 23 years
Russell Juriansz is being called a ‘trailblazer’ after his retirement from Ontario’s appellate court

Growing up in Toronto, Russell Juriansz was the only brown person that he knew outside of his own family. He had emigrated from India with them at the age of eight, in 1955, and at that time Canada’s immigration policy was still very restrictive, he says, with only small numbers of non-whites admitted.

Juriansz began his legal career articling with Blake, Cassels & Graydon LLP in Toronto in 1972, where, again, he was the only non-white. “Every time I was in court, likely I would have been the first non-white person the judge had ever had” appear before him, he says today. “I was just used to it; it was the state of affairs that I grew up with.”

On Aug. 30 Juriansz was “sworn out” of his role as a justice of the Court of Appeal for Ontario, where he was the first racialized person appointed to that court, in 2004. In 1998, Juriansz had been the first South Asian appointed to the Superior Court of Ontario. And prior to his appointment to the bench, he had spent 24 years as a constitutional and human rights lawyer that included winning several notable cases before the Supreme Court of Canada.

On Sept. 1, the South Asian Bar Association of Toronto (SABA Toronto), announced that it was creating a new award to commemorate and honour the career and achievements of Justice Juriansz and his wife, who “worked tirelessly to protect human rights in Canada.”

At Justice Juriansz’s swearing out ceremony, SABA President Devin Persaud thanked the retiring judge “not only for his mentorship, but his teachings, and his driving passion to always improve the law,” Persaud told Canadian Lawyer. As well, “he showed us that through hard work, determination and perseverance, that no height is too high.”

In creating the award, “we wanted to recognize his outstanding contribution, not only to the South Asian bar, but to commemorate his long and impressive career,” he adds.

The SABA award will recognize outstanding singular or cumulative contributions to the promotion and advancement of human rights as defined in the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms and other human rights legislation in Canada. It will be presented annually at SABA’s Gala and Awards night, and will foster donations to the endowments in Juriansz’s name at Osgoode Hall Law School.

The retired judge graduated from Osgoode Hall in 1972, where he had been president of the students’ association and received a Dean’s Gold Key award. In 2014, Osgoode had established – with the help of Juriansz’s old law firm, Blakes -- the Honourable Russell Juriansz ’72 Bursary Fund and the Blakes/Juriansz Inclusivity Fund, to help promote inclusivity, equity and accessibility at Osgoode.

The awards are fitting given Juriansz’s own life experience, in addition to his career. He recalls the 1970s, when Canada’s immigration laws changed to allow more non-white immigration – largely from South Asia and the West Indies -- and a backlash resulted, he says: “the Paki joke, and the ‘Paki go home’ and the Paki bashing.”

Racist signs such as “Paki go home” were everywhere in Toronto, he recalls, and South Asians were being physically attacked as well. In perhaps the worst of those incidents, Tanzanian immigrant Shamshudin Kanji was pushed onto Toronto’s subway tracks by three drunken youth on New Year’s Eve 1976; Kanji suffered two broken legs and was hospitalized for four months after the attack.

Following that, Juriansz joined Ontario educator and politician Walter Pitman on Pitman’s Task Force on Human Relations, which in November 1977 produced the report Now is Not too Late for the Council of Metropolitan Toronto. “That’s what got me into human rights field,” Juriansz says.

Pitman had sat in Parliament with Gordon Fairweather, who became the first Chief Commissioner of the Canadian Human Rights Commission; the Canadian Human Rights Act was passed in 1977. “Pittman suggested [the Commission] would be a good place for me to go, and he introduced me to Gordon Fairweather,” says Juriansz. “I thought I would go [to Ottawa] for a year or two, it would be interesting, and I ended up staying 10 years.”

Returning to Toronto in early 1986, Juriansz joined Blakes, where he had articled, but now he was taking on constitutional and human rights cases rather than the criminal cases and litigation he had cut his teeth on.

He argued the first pay equity case in the Supreme Court of Canada -- S.E.P.Q.A. v. Canada (Human Rights Commission), [1989] 2 S.C.R. 879 – as well as the first sexual harassment case to reach the high court, Robichaud v. Canada (Treasury Board), [1987] 2 S.C.R. 84. He was also a counsel in the first systemic discrimination cases, which were heard together: Bhinder v. Canadian National Railway Co., [1985] 2 S.C.R. 561, and OHRC & O'Malley v. Simpsons-Sears Ltd., [1985] S.C.J. No. 74.

Juriansz was also counsel on the case before the Canadian Human Rights Tribunal that would see women allowed to serve in combat positions in Canada: Gauthier v. Canada (Canadian Armed Forces), [1989] C.H.R.D. No. 3. “That was significant,” he says today; at that time the associate deputy minister of finance was a woman -- Mary Collins -- and the federal government decided not to appeal the tribunal’s decision.

And Juriansz appeared as counsel in Canada (Human Rights Commission) v. Taylor, [1990] 3 S.C.R. 892, the first case that concerned communicating hate messages. The court found that s. 13(1) of the Canadian Human Rights Act, which prohibits the communication of hate messages by telephone, was constitutional.

He also taught human rights law and constitutional law at the University of Ottawa’s Faculty of Law and was a frequent writer, editor and speaker on human rights-related subjects.

Stepping down from the bench after 23 years, Juriansz says that he and his wife, Kaye Joachim, an alumna of Osgoode Hall and former vice-chair of the Human Rights Tribunal of Ontario, “were very pleased, and a little bit surprised, and flattered and humbled by [the] creation” of the SABA human rights award to honour them.

He is also heartened by SABA’s growth, noting that Persaud had said at the swearing out ceremony that SABA Toronto now claimed about 800 members.

“I find that number astounding,” Juriansz says, even though “I've always predicted that the children of immigrants would create a tidal wave of qualified, capable people who would naturally fill the gaps in representation” that was caused by “the long, lingering effects of Canada's restrictive immigration policy.

“I attend the events, and to me they all seem to be doing very well.”

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