Your honour, Chief Justices, former Chief Justices, judicial colleagues, Mr. Premier, Mr. Minister, Mr. Attorney, Mr. Treasurer, friends, Ruth and Janet.
When I received the call leading to this appointment, I left a cryptic phone message for Ruth, my wife, to call me at the farm. She must have been alarmed by my tone, because when she called back, she immediately asked if one of our dogs had died. I assured her that it wasn’t anything that serious.
I am at once honoured and humbled to serve as the Chief Justice of Ontario and to be afforded the privilege of leading the largest and best appellate court in Canada. I felt much the same way during my tenure as a justice of the Superior Court of Ontario, a court renowned for its vitality and for its animating spirit of collegiality.
I have quickly learned how close-knit and cohesive this court is. It has been said, in fact, that this is not merely the Court of Appeal, but the Court of Appeal “family”. Each of the justices possesses unique talents and experiences; each also has an innate love of the law, as well as a powerful loyalty to their colleagues and the court.
The result is a synergy: the judges share a deep affection for one another; they support one another in times of need; they are also esteemed worldwide as a court of the highest excellence.
Gifted, as I believe the court is, it could not have achieved its strong work ethic and its huge jurisprudential output, without the benefit of strong leaders, such as Chief Justice McMurtry and former Chief Justice Dubin who honour me and my family by their presence here today.
I express my particular gratitude today to Chief Justice McMurtry under whose leadership this court has flourished. Chief Justice McMurtry has written and spoken often on the subject of professionalism and civility as “building blocks” upon which the administration of justice is founded. I know no other person, in whom those qualities are so obviously manifest, than Chief Justice McMurtry himself.
C’est aussi le Juge en chef McMurtry qui, quand il était Procureur général de l’Ontario, a rendu nos tribunaux, y inclus notre Cour d’appel, bilingue les rendant ainsi plus accessibles aux justiciables d’expression française.
I also want to acknowledge and thank Associate Chief Justice O’Connor for the warm welcome he extended to me from the very moment of my appointment. I look forward to working with him to ensure that the court remains focused on the same core principles that have served to make it strong during his distinguished tenure here.
Thank you for taking the time and trouble to be with me today on this special occasion, an occasion of great happiness for me and my family.
Turning now to my family.
Those of you who know me best understand that I would not have arrived at this place without the constant support of my family, especially Ruth. Ruth is the soul, the centre of our family, and of my life. Indeed whatever modest success I have had as a lawyer, and as a judge, pales in comparison to her work and achievements in the broader community. Ruth, thank you for your unwavering love and support during our forty years of marriage. Thank you, too, to my daughter Janet who is here today, and to my daughter Julia, my son-in-law David, and our granddaughters, Emily and Sarah. Unfortunately, they are unable to be here, but Emily had a message for me. She said: “grandpa, you have to learn to be more patient.” I promised her I would try to follow that advice, starting tomorrow.
Beyond my immediate family, I also wish to acknowledge, and pay special tribute to, a most extraordinary person, my aunt Christine, known affectionately in our family as Aunt “Teeny”. She is today 94 years of age, and, despite having suffered the loss of her eyesight as a child, she still lives independently in Brandon, Manitoba. While I was a student at the University of Manitoba, Aunt Teeny owned and operated her own successful business. She encouraged me constantly, and was an inspiration, teaching me by example to place my trust in hard work, perseverance, and determination.
As I stand here today that lesson has served me well.
As I look around this room I see many people, who, in various ways, have contributed meaningfully to my life and career. Time does not permit me today, in this public setting, to acknowledge all of them. But one at least stands out. That is the Honourable Robert Montgomery. He mentored me when I was a law student, and a lawyer, and a judge, and a fly fisher. He is a life-long and a most valued friend.
An occasion such as this marks both a beginning and an end. In embracing this new challenge, I am all too aware, of what I must leave behind.
I shall miss the everyday contact with the judges and court staff of the Superior Court, with whom I worked so closely over the past 14 years. To borrow a sentiment from a friend in Alberta, I say to them: “don’t worry, I haven’t gone far and I’ll write often”.
During these past 14 years, I have been a witness to, and to some extent modestly participated in, a great deal of change in the justice system in Ontario. Overall, the change has been for the good. There have been attempts to make justice more accessible to the public and more responsive to the needs of the legal community.
Of course, there is always much more to be done.
A well-functioning, respected system of justice is the wellspring of a strong, and free, and democratic society. Our justice system in Ontario possesses these attributes and has the public’s trust.
But we must strive everyday to improve it. We must ensure that justice is timely and accessible, and, above all else, transparent. It has been my experience that it is easier to set goals than to attain them. But I am convinced that if we apply the same values my aunt teeny imparted to me many years ago, we can achieve even our highest aspirations.
I, and my colleagues on the court, ask for your support and goodwill as we try to advance the work of Chief Justice McMurtry and his predecessors. In this way the Court of Appeal for Ontario will remain the standard, the exemplar, for all the world to follow.
To fulfill our obligation to the citizens of this province we must never waver in our effort to deliver a system of justice at once open, accessible, efficient, and fair.
We must try to make a difference.
If we strive for anything less, then to paraphrase the psalmist, we are no more than the grass, the wind rushes over, and it is gone, and its place knows it no more.