Tribute Dinner for Madame Justice Claire L'Heureux-Dube


Photo of Patricia LeFebour by, 2002
Patricia LeFebour (McGowan Elliott & Kim), one of the co-chairs of the event.



Link to  Elliott & Kim - our heroes fighting for our right to marriage in Ontario



Joe Varnell, Evan Wolfson, and Kevin Bourassa, photo by, 2002
Joe Varnell, Evan Wolfson (Freedom to Marry, USA), and Kevin Bourassa



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Celebrating justice and same-sex marriage with the Law Society of Upper Canada



She has the following two word answer to the question: Do judges make law? "Duh, hello!"
The Honourable Rosalie Silverman Abella, May 6, 2002




Kevin Bourassa, Madame Justice L'Heureux-Dube and Joe Varnell (Photo by, 2002)
Kevin Bourassa, Madame Justice L’Heureux-Dubé and Joe Varnell

In October 1999 Madame Justice L'Heureux-Dube addressed a conference on same-sex benefits at Queen's University in Kingston. "In failing to recognize and support partnerships, traditional and otherwise, are we not doing violence to the fabric of our community?" asked L'Heureux-Dube in her keynote speech



"If equality is the conscience of the law, and justice the right of the weak, I hope to have made a difference ..."
Madame Justice L’Heureux-Dubé
May 6, 2021



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Advocacy: Events

Monday, 6 May 2021

A Tribute to Madame Justice L’Heureux-Dubé

As we pulled up to the hotel in a cab, past the protestors gathered outside, we knew it was going to be a memorable evening. We gathered in the basement/ballroom of the Toronto Hilton, thrilled to be amongst those who were honouring a hero to equality workers everywhere. We knew, as we awaited the decision for our marriage case, that our success, in no small part, would be based on the influence of Madame Justice L’Heureux-Dubé.

Cocktails and Foyer

We mingled amongst the legal beagles whilst imbibing mildly. The revellers sipped their bar scotches and white wines, ignoring the handful of protestors who had camped outside the Hilton to protest against the humanist views of this honoured judge.

Among those present in the "schmooze and booze" were numerous players in our unfolding legal drama here in Ontario, including: Lead counsel for the Attorney General of Canada, at leastPhoto of Douglas Elliott by, 2002 two of the Justices in our case (we wanted to get everybody together in the bar and settle things amicably over a bottle of Laphroaig) Martha McCarthy, Joanna Radbord, Trent Morris, Cynthia Petersen and the remarkable Douglas Elliott (pictured right) who ably defended us before the bench. Douglas, was fresh from a tremendous first day in the Marc Hall case against Catholic School Board discrimination, representing the Coalition for Marc Hall.

Our table

We found ourselves seated at table two surrounded by familiar faces. We dined with Douglas, Evan Wolfson (who we met for the first time, but we have correspondeMichelle Douglas, Irshad Manji, and Rev. Dr. Brent Hawkes (Photo by, 2002)d over the past year), the Rev. Dr. Brent Hawkes, Irshad Manji (former host of Queer TV on CityTV who now has a show on TVO) and her charming partner Michelle Douglas.

The table hummed with little cliques of conversation over dinner while the hotel tried to manage the needs of a huge crowd assembled for the evening. Before long, however, we were brought back to focus on the guest of honour while we ate our dessert.

The Video Presentations

There were two video messages for the honourable Madam Justice Claire L'Heureux Dubé. One showed her winning the Margaret Brent Women Lawyers of Achievement Award and was a lovely retrospective on her life. It told how she had worked hard to estalish herself in those days when women had "no place in the law".

The second video was from the High Court of Australia and from its chief justice, who had worked with Mme. Dubé for some time. He spoke eloquently of her contributions to International Law and Human Rights. Mme. Dubé was quite moved by his warm words and the inclusion of this message in the festivities.

There was a third video tribute scheduled from the High Court of South Africa, however it was still in transit between here and there.

The Speeches

The speeches were excellent. Speakers were brief, had wonderful delivery and above all they were funny.

The Right Honourable Beverly MacLachlin, Chief Justice of Canada recalled, "Claire gave me a great deal of practical help. I was contemplating these huge red robes with ermine with some consternation. She said, 'Well, they are very hot, but let me tell you my secret. We don't wear anything under them.' So on June 10th, when you witness the swearing out ceremony and we're all in our red robes, I invite you to let your imaginations run wild."

"You can't make a pearl without a little aggravation. Our judgements may not be pearls but they are much better for Claire's aggravation. You send your reasons out, believing they may not be perfect, but they're pretty good. Within 2 days, sometimes less, you get a six-and-a-half page memo from Claire tearing the reasoning to shreds. She's usually right," said Justice MacLachlin.

"Human rights do not begin or end at a nation's borders. Human rights and human dignity are universal and inevitable, said Jerry Shestack, Past President American Bar Association, and former U.S. Ambassador to the U.N. Human Rights Commission. The ABA had previously said, "Claire's judgements, often descenting, have consistently demonstrated the potentency of judicial activism as a force for social change."

"A few days after she was appointed to the Supreme Court of Canada," the Honourable Rosalie Silverman Abella, Court of Appeal for Ontario, recalled, "another judge meeting with Bertha Wilson, in the office next door, asked what the unusual noise was coming from Claire's office. Bertha listened and said, "It's called laughter."

Finally, her ladyship rose and spoke with wonderful eloquence about the blessings she had enjoyed in her career.

"One has to have a vision of what the law can achieve," she said. "Law is not for lawyers, not for academics, it is for people. And all people want from the law is justice. Justice without partiality and prejudice. Justice which treats everyone as equal while taking account of differences. In the interpretation of law a balance must be struck between individual rights and society's rights.

Kevin Bourassa and Joe Varnell