Justice Harvey Brownstone inspires PBSC students at Osgoode and U of T Event!Print
The University of Toronto and Osgoode Hall chapters of Pro Bono Students Canada came together on Thursday, March 12 for their annual Volunteer Appreciation Event, graciously hosted by PBSC’s National Law Firm Partner, McCarthy Tétrault, at their beautiful downtown Toronto Office. This year, the event featured the charismatic and accomplished family and criminal court judge, Justice Harvey Brownstone of the Ontario Court of Justice.
After a warm introduction by McCarthy Tétrault partner Matt Kelleher, Osgoode Dean Lorne Sossin led an engaging discussion with Justice Brownstone. Dean Sossin effortlessly and humorously guided the conversation through a range of topics, including Justice Brownstone’s involvement in the evolution of LGBTQ rights in Canada, the vulnerable groups he typically sees in his courtroom, and new initiatives he hopes to see implemented that would modernise the family law and criminal courts and improve access to justice for marginalized Ontarians.
Beginning with a discussion of the rate of change in law and the courtroom in particular, Justice Brownstone noted that today things are done in generally the same fashion as they were 100 years ago. The one exception he could point to, aside from electronic orders, was… photocopiers in the courtroom! Justice Brownstone recalled lobbying for six months before a photocopy machine was finally placed in every courtroom, in order to make copies of documents and provide litigants with copies of endorsements would improve the efficiency of the system.
This is not nearly the most impressive advocacy engaged in by Justice Brownstone. He recounted a case in which a young man appeared before him in youth court after having severely beaten another student at school. The violence in this case was a clear case of gay-bashing and, having learned this, Justice Brownstone recalls unabashedly informing the courtroom – including the accused youth and his victim – that he was a proud member of the gay community. Justice Brownstone had tears in his eyes as he recounted the look of astonishment and gratitude on the young victim’s face, and the look of stunned disbelief on the perpetrator’s face. There was total silence in the room as the audience took in this poignant moment.
It was with similar emotion and passion that Justice Brownstone talked about his admiration for PBSC and the important role it plays in providing opportunities for students to get out of the classroom, experience the dynamic of a courtroom, and witness the effect of the justice system on real lives. In particular, Justice Brownstone praised PBSC’s Family Law Project (FLP) for its positive impact in the family law courts. Having himself been instrumental in the development of the FLP, he said: “The thing I am most proud of in my career is the FLP. The students are so important in giving the most marginalized and vulnerable people a voice. I am so proud of the students who come to court every day and the ones who decide they want to practice in this area in order to make a difference.”
He went on to describe the marginalized litigants served by PBSC, and some initiatives that could improve their experience of the system and outcomes as they navigate the legal system. “There are too many people on the outside looking in [to the justice system],” Justice Brownstone said with reference to current access to justice issues. As a proponent of modernization and access to justice, Justice Brownstone has advocated for the implementation of programs such as an integrated domestic violence court that would serve family litigants also dealing with the criminal justice system.
Justice Brownstone closed the discussion with an inspirational message to the students as they embark on their legal careers: “When a door shuts, a window will open. It’s important to trust in your destiny and remain positive.”
To thank Justice Brownstone for his inspiring remarks and participation in the event, PBSC made a donation in his name to Lawyers Feed the Hungry, a program of the Law Society Foundation that provides hot, healthy community meals to street involved residents in Toronto, Ottawa, London, and Windsor.