Judges should be prepared to adjust the system as society evolves

Photo by Barbara Howe

Former Supreme Court judge, the Hon. Ian Binnie chats with Nelcy Lopez Cuellar at the reception following his talk at the UOIT downtown Oshawa campus.. Looking on is Dr.Natalie Oman , professor of legal studies at UOIT.

It is important for judges to be willing to change the law-making system as our society evolves.

This according to former Supreme Court Justice Ian Binnie who addressed about 100 students, faculty and members of the local legal profession at the downtown Oshawa campus of the University of Ontario Institute of Technology (UOIT) recently.

The Faculty of Social Science and Humanities (FSSH) welcomed the Hon. Ian Binnie as the inaugural speaker in a series of talks organized by the Legal Studies program’s Distinguished Visitors Lecture Series.

The 77-year-old retired lawmaker was appointed to the Supreme Court in 1998 and spent 14 years on the bench.  He is one of only a few appointed to the position without serving as a judge in a lower court first.

“Activism runs in both directions. It is expansive and contractive,” explained Justice Binnie during his hour-long address entitled In Defence of Judicial Activism in the Supreme Court of Canada.

He spoke of examples where judges have played active roles in shaping the political and constitutional landscape of Canada.  Such as in 1982, when he referred to ‘Trudeau the elder’, and his attempt to bring the constitution home from the control of the U.K.

Despite the provinces not being in full agreement with Pierre Trudeau, the prime minister at the time, Binnie spoke of how the courts came up with a formula to legitimize the terms.

Justice Binnie also spoke about Quebec’s attempt to secede from the federation, as well as, Aboriginal and equality rights.

“It is desirable you have judges that are prepared to adjust to the system as society evolves,” said Binnie.

He said the question of gay rights would never have been discussed when Canada’s constitution was born in 1867.  However, Binnie added, “society evolves, people begin to understand the community they live in.  Time has come to include gay rights as relevant.”

A reception followed the event where students mingled with the former judge. When asked his opinion about cameras in the courtroom, Justice Binnie said he was in favour.

Ian Binne with second-year law student Aylina Dhanji get together at the reception following the speech.
Ian Binnie with second-year law student Aylina Dhanji get together at the reception following the speech.

Aylina Dhanji, a second-year student in the legal studies program, waited in line to speak to the former judge

“All our professors are amazing,” said Dhanji. “A lot of his speech overlaps our studies.”

Jake Lauder, a forensic psychology student, was also impressed with Justice Binnie’s presentation, “It was very insightful.  He has a great way of answering everyone’s questions.”

Malcolm McRae from McRae Law and Evan Clemence, a lawyer from Creighton Law attended the event from their nearby law offices.  “I always enjoy listening to him,” said McRae. “Anyone can listen to him speak.

Sasha Baglay, program director of the legal studies program said she hopes to attract and invite speakers of a similar calibre next semester.

'Rick' - a traditional knowledge keeper from the Mississaugas of Scugog Island First Nations performs a smudging ceremony.
Rick, a traditional knowledge keeper from the Mississaugas of Scugog Island First Nations, performs a smudging ceremony as a prelude to the evening.

As a prelude to the evening a smudging ceremony was performed by representatives from the Mississaugas of Scugog Island First Nation. The ritual not only welcomed the esteemed speaker, but also purified the air from any negative energy by burning cedar,sage, tobacco and sweetgrass.