Law Society Awards 2020: Recognizing Excellence
The recipients of the Law Society Awards 2020 were announced back in March immediately before the Province went into lock-down. A virtual reception will be held for them and their invited guests with Treasurer Teresa Donnelly on December 8.
The following members of Ontario’s legal professions will be recognized for their exceptional career achievements and contributions to their communities.
Law Society Medal
The Law Society Medal was first struck in 1985 as an honour to be awarded by the Law Society of Ontario to members who have made significant contributions to the profession. It is given to those who perform the ordinary tasks of a lawyer, but with such diligence or effectiveness or so much to the benefit of the profession as a whole, that they deserve recognition.
The award is made for outstanding services within the profession where in the area of practice or in the academic sphere or in some other professional capacity where the service is in accordance with the highest ideals of the legal profession and whether by devotion to professional duties over a long term or for a single outstanding act of service.
The honour is granted only to members of the Law Society of Ontario or in recognition of service given while a member of the Society.
Professor Jeff Berryman: Called to the Bar in 1994, Professor Jeff Berryman currently holds the position of Associate Vice President, Academic and Distinguished Professor of Law at the University of Windsor. In addition, he is an honorary Professor of Law, Faculty of Law, University of Auckland, New Zealand. He is an exemplary academic role model. He is recognized both nationally and internationally as a scholar in his field of expertise – remedies, contract and restitution. He has proven himself to be an outstanding teacher noted for innovative course design and is held in high regard by his students – many have said that he has had a profound effect on their lives. Professor Berryman’s long and sustained devotion to law and legal education in Ontario and abroad has made a significant contribution to the profession and he continues to provide invaluable inspiration to his students and colleagues.
Marie Chen: Called to the Bar in 1991, Marie Chen has dedicated her career to advocating for justice for low- income and marginalized communities. She has served the majority of her professional career in legal aid clinics. Ms. Chen has engaged in law reform and litigated countless cases that have advanced racial equality and income security for disadvantaged communities. She is looked to as a mentor by colleagues and always challenges her peers to adopt a human rights and anti-oppression lens to understand the legal barriers faced by members of racialized, Indigenous and other marginalized communities. Her work in constitutional law and human rights and her support of other lawyers is an invaluable contribution to the profession. Her contributions to social justice through her work both in, and outside of, the clinic system have had a profound impact on the most vulnerable clients that the system supports.
Dr. Ron Ellis (PhD Law): Called to the bar in 1964, Dr. Ron Ellis, management labour-law lawyer, poverty-law lawyer, teacher, labour arbitrator, educator, tribunal administrator, adjudicator, scholar and author is a recognized leader in administrative law who speaks and writes extensively about tribunals and administrative-justice and is known for his persistent advocacy of administrative-justice reform. His contributions include a leading role in consolidating Ontario’s system of community legal services clinics while Director/Co-Director of Parkdale Community Legal Services, 1975-80; an innovative influence on legal education as Bar Admission Course Head and Director of Education for the Law Society, 1981-84; and a leading role in the entrenchment of the rule of law in the workers’ compensation system as the inaugural Chair of the Worker’s Compensation Appeals Tribunal, 1985-97. He is a founding member of SOAR, and recipient of the SOAR and CCAT Medals and the OBA’s Tom Marshall Award of Excellence. His standing in the administrative law field is also reflected in Osgoode Hall’s annual Ron Ellis Prize in Administrative Law and the OBA’s annual Ron Ellis Award of Excellence in Workers’ Compensation.
Arleen Huggins: Called to the Bar in 1991, Arleen Huggins has dedicated her legal career, as well as her extensive volunteer and pro bono activities, to championing equity within the legal profession. A former President of the Canadian Association of Black Lawyers, she has been instrumental in advocating for inclusiveness for racialized women, lawyers and students in law. In 2018, she was appointed as the Independent External Reviewer by the Provincial government to review complex Workplace Discrimination and Harassment Program cases from an anti-racism perspective. Her resulting report continues to serve as the basis for ongoing work by the Ontario Public Service in the area of anti-Black racism. Ms. Huggins is known for being a frequent mentor to racialized students and lawyers and a highly respected employment, human rights and litigation counsel. She is described as an influential and persuasive champion for equality, diversity and inclusiveness in the profession as well as society overall.
Gilbert Labine: Called to the Bar in 1977, Gilbert Labine has dedicated his career to advocating for the most marginalized people in Northwestern Ontario. He is recognized for his commitment to fairness, his leadership to young lawyers and for his approach to legal practice. Mr. Labine has held many roles within the profession such as President of the Thunder Bay Law Association, executive member of the Criminal Justice Section of the Ontario Bar Association and Director of the William W. Creighton Youth Services Centre. He was also Chairman of the North West Local Health Integration Network, Vice-President of the Thunder Bay Regional Health Sciences Centre, a member of Lakehead University’s Board of Governors and adjunct professor at the Bora Laskin Law School. In addition, he has exhibited extraordinary commitment to the community including coaching and managing many youth hockey teams and founding the Northern Hawks Junior B hockey team and AAA summer hockey program.
Colonel (Ret’d) Vihar Joshi, OMM, MSM, CD, QC: Called to the Bar in 1990, Colonel Vihar Joshi has made remarkable contributions as a lawyer and soldier representing the best of the Canadian legal profession on international military operations in Haiti, Bosnia and Afghanistan. He has served Canada for more than 28 years as military officer and lawyer with the Office of the Judge Advocate General. Colonel Joshi is Canada’s foremost authority on military administrative law. Throughout his career, he has applied his knowledge and leadership to nationally important projects including drafting Canada’s Anti-Terrorism Act, the first Canadian Armed Forces’ Pension Plan for Reserve Force personnel and ensuring the effective and efficient administration of the armed forces vote in two federal elections. Colonel Joshi is revered by his peers as a legal professional, a Canadian Forces senior officer and as a compassionate human being.
Heather Joy Ross, LLB: Called to the Bar in 1986, Heather Ross is being recognized for her exceptional leadership and contribution to the legal profession and her community. As a practicing lawyer, Ms. Ross tackled issues of domestic abuse and gender inequality – bringing them to the forefront of the legal and judicial sectors to be addressed. She played a critical role in the establishment of the Huron Women’s Shelter in Goderich and she is a founder and active member of the South West Region Women’s Law Association. She served four consecutive terms as an elected Law Society of Ontario (LSO) Bencher, starting in 1995, and then served as a life Bencher until 2019. As a Bencher she was instrumental in the establishment of the Human Rights Monitoring Group and the LSO Human Rights Award. Throughout her career, Ms. Ross has given tirelessly to share her passion, time and experience with law students, new calls and her peers to help them realize their professional and personal aspirations.
Dr. Dianne Saxe (PhD Law): Called to the Bar in 1976, Dr. Dianne Saxes is one of Canada’s most respected environmental lawyers. She is recognized for her exemplary dedication and leadership in the development of environmental law. A pioneer in Ontario’s energy, environment and climate laws, she is a tireless advocate with extensive public and private experience on most environmental law issues. She was the Environmental Commissioner of Ontario 2015-19, reporting to the Legislature on environment, energy and climate. A prolific educator, Dr. Saxe is a leader in critical thinking about environmental issues including the impact of climate change. After 44 years’ work for a wide range of clients, she is able to view environmental issues through many complex lenses. She now heads SaxeFacts Law Professional Corporation and hosts the Green Economy Heroes podcast. Senior Fellow, Massey College. Clean50 honouree. Competent Boards certified. Featured on Wikipedia.
Donald V. Thomson: Called to the Bar in 1973, Mr. Thomson is being recognized for his work as a solicitor and his leadership in the Real Estate Bar. Born and raised in the Northern Ontario town of Kirkland Lake, he has practised at Walker Ellis as a real estate, commercial and estates lawyer in Toronto for over 45 years. Mr. Thomson has developed several continuing education programs and has assisted in setting the standard for professional licensing and accreditation as the former Head of Section for the Law Society’s Bar Admission Course. He is the former Chair and Vice-Chair of the Real Property Section of the Ontario Bar Association and participated on the Law Society’s real estate practice committee for many years. He is recognized as a preeminent expert in real estate law and is a frequent lecturer, demonstrating his unwavering commitment to the Bar.
Lincoln Alexander Award
This award is awarded annually in recognition of an Ontario lawyer who has demonstrated long-standing interest and commitment to the public and to the pursuit of community service on behalf of residents of Ontario.
John E. Valeriote: Called to the Bar in 1968, John Valeriote has been an integral part of the Guelph legal community for more than 50 years. He is one of the founding partners of Smith Valeriote which is the city’s largest law firm. He has committed his life to numerous community causes and fundraising initiatives in support of improving the lives of individuals in Guelph. Among his civic efforts he spearheaded the fundraising campaign which resulted in the Guelph Museum being relocated to a refurbished facility in the downtown core and the establishment of the iconic “The Family” statue and fountain in the city centre. His community service has been recognized with the Confederation Medal in 1992, the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee Medal in 2012 and The Mayor’s Award in 2019. Mr. Valeriote is commended as having benefitted his hometown with both stellar professional contributions and countless hours of volunteer service.
Laura Legge Award
This award is presented annually to a female lawyer in recognition of service given while a member of the Law Society of Ontario.
Jacqueline Lewis: Called to the Bar in 1991, Jacqueline Lewis has demonstrated extraordinary achievement and leadership as a lawyer and as an advocate. She is the founder of Canada’s largest woman-owned refugee law firm, consisting of 25 lawyers, five articling students and several support staff. For 30 years, she has served vulnerable and marginalized clients with unfailing compassion and integrity. Ms. Lewis is also the President of the Board of Egale, Canada’s only national LGBTQI2S charity dedicated to improving the lives of members of the LGBTQI2S communities. Under her leadership, Egale has become the “go to” resource for all levels of government, business and the general public for LGBTQI2S education research, consulting, litigation and direct action and has spearheaded the creation of the first exclusively LGBTQI2S transitional housing centre, “Friends of Ruby.” Ms. Lewis leads by example and gives back to her communities and has helped to shape the careers of many young lawyers.
J. Shirley Denison Award
This award is bestowed annually to an Ontario lawyer or paralegal in recognition of significant contributions to access to justice and/or poverty issues.
Mary Birdsell: Called to the Bar in 1996, Mary Birdsell is being recognized for her unfailing commitment and dedication to her clients and to promoting and advancing access to justice for vulnerable children and young people. She is the Executive Director at Justice for Children and Youth (JFCY), a legal clinic serving marginalized children. She is the founder of JFCY’s Street Youth Legal Services program, a specialized legal outreach program conceived in 1999 by Ms. Birdsell to address the gap in legal services faced by homeless youth. She heard their needs and worked to break down practical and structural barriers to legal services. She works tirelessly to advance the rights and dignity of children in Ontario and Canada, and to ensure sustainable access to justice. Ms. Birdsell is known for serving her clients with compassion and care while continuing to be a fierce advocate on their behalf.
William J. Simpson Distinguished Paralegal Award
This award recognizes a licensed paralegal who has demonstrated a number of criteria, including: outstanding professional achievement, outstanding contribution to the development of the profession, adherence to best practices and mentoring of others in best practices, a history of community service and personal character that brings credit to the legal profession.
Michelle L. Haigh: Licensed in 2008, Michelle Haigh is a highly regarded practitioner who has demonstrated extraordinary commitment to her profession. Having operated Precision Paralegal Services since 1996, she has mentored countless paralegals and frequently shares her expertise through professional education programs. She has been instrumental in the significant advances made in paralegal regulation in Ontario through her leadership and contribution as a Law Society Bencher. She was appointed by the Treasurer to the Federation of Law Society’s of Canada – the only paralegal to have served as a member. Through her work with the Federation, Ms. Haigh further advanced the profession nationally and globally – including being invited to the Ukraine to assist with the development of their paralegal program. She also served as director at Legal Aid Ontario for nearly six years. She is a tireless advocate for mental health issues and donates her time to community events and organizations.