Reflections on the Month of June

by julia.hanigsberg | July 14th, 2014

Julia Hanigsberg

Photo by Clifton Li

On June 13, 2014, it was my great privilege to deliver the citation for the Honourable Roy McMurtry, upon whom Ryerson University conferred an honourary doctorate.

I took the occasion to share some highlights of the career of this legal and political luminary: Attorney General of Ontario in the Cabinet of Premier Bill Davis where he also served as Solicitor General; key protagonist in the patriation of the constitution and the development of a Charter of Rights and Freedoms and principal participant responsible for the November 6, 1981, “Kitchen Accord,” a late-night agreement that broke the deadlock which had arisen in the patriation negotiations paving the way for nine provinces signing on to the constitution; Canada’s High Commissioner to the United Kingdom; heading up the CFL; Chief Justice of Ontario’s Superior Court; and Chief Justice of Ontario.

While these highlights are exciting and speak to a man who has had great influence in law and politics I shared my opinion that they form an incomplete picture of the man. Roy McMurtry has throughout his entire life dedicated himself with all his considerable intellect, energy, warmth, compassion and wisdom to advancing the well-being of those who society could easily leave behind.

June is always an exceptionally busy, exciting and emotional time on campus. The early part of the month is spent readying and making beautiful our campus to welcome friends, family and new graduates for our dozen or so convocation ceremonies. 2014 was especially busy as World Pride was coming to Toronto and Ryerson and our close neighbours were playing host to many important events. WorldPride is an international celebration incorporating activism, education and the history and culture of global LGBT communities.

In celebrating the accomplishments of Roy McMurtry I closed with an example particularly apt for a sunny June afternoon with Pride celebrations approaching. Now, I expect, for the graduating class of 2014, it probably seems the most normal thing in the world that two men or two women can demonstrate their commitment to each other by being married.

Rewind the tape back to 2003, and that wasn’t the case. It was another June day when the Ontario Court of Appeal, over which Mr McMurtry presided, ruled that the legal definition of marriage was a violation of the Charter of Rights and Freedoms, and ordered that the decision take effect immediately. The Globe and Mail described the profound impact of the decision this way:

“the legalization of same-sex unions was the most concrete sign of the country’s determination to be a socially liberal place, where differences can be celebrated and choice will be honoured.”

As a result of that ruling, The Globe and Mail named Mr McMurtry and his two fellow Court of Appeal judges who rendered this decision “Nation Builders of 2003.”

Despite Mr McMurtry’s great achievements there is still more to be done! I exhorted the grads of 2014 to take inspiration from the life’s work of Roy McMurtry and join him in commitment to building a civil, humane and just society.

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