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From the OJEN Blog

Remembering the Honourable R. Roy McMurtry

“We were very sad to hear that Ontario has lost Former Chief Justice McMurtry. Throughout his political and judicial career, Former Chief Justice McMurtry was a champion for human rights and justice. OJEN is a tangible and lasting part of his legacy of ensuring young people in Ontario understood their rights and could access the legal system. We hope that our work will continue to honour the values he embodied and the tenacity he brought to issues he believed in.”Justice Breese Davies and Luis Filipe – Co-chairs, OJEN’s Board of Directors

When the Honourable Roy McMurtry passed away on March 19th, people throughout Ontario and across Canada mourned the loss of a man who made historic contributions to Canadian politics and law. At the Ontario Justice Education Network (OJEN), we also mourn the loss of our founder. It was his vision for a civil society through dialogue and education that led to OJEN’s creation in 2002.

Roy McMurtry was elected to the Ontario Legislature in 1975 where he served as Attorney General of Ontario for 10 years. Engaging with youth was important to him even then. While leading the province through complex legal affairs, McMurtry made it a priority to attend schools and speak to students in order to promote understanding of the justice system. Later, as Chief Justice of Ontario, he continued this practice.

McMurtry was Attorney General of Ontario during the bitter negotiations between the federal and provincial governments that led to the patriation of Canada’s Constitution in 1982. In a late- night effort to break a critical deadlock, he, along with Saskatchewan attorney general Roy Romanow and Jean Chrétien, then justice minister, drafted the deal that became known as the “kitchen accord”. The resulting addition of the “notwithstanding clause” to the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms, secured the support of every province except Quebec. The proclamation of the Charter enshrined the fundamental rights of all Canadians and forever changed the justice system.

Following his time as Attorney General, McMurtry served as High Commissioner of Canada to the United Kingdom. He then served as Associate Chief Justice and later Chief Justice of what is now known as the Ontario Superior Court of Justice. In 1996, he was appointed Chief Justice of Ontario.

McMurtry strongly believed that the justice system belonged to everyone and that it must listen to and reflect all sectors of society. To that end, the inner chambers of Osgoode Hall were often forums for dialogues with youth and community representatives. He continued to make time to visit classrooms and weekend gatherings, listening to the issues and concerns of youth.

As Chief Justice of Ontario, McMurtry became co-chair of the Public Information Committee of the Canadian Judicial Council. In 1999, that Committee issued a report calling on judges in Canada to take steps to increase the public’s understanding of our legal system. He then set out to activate that recommendation in Ontario.

In 2000, McMurtry convened the Public Legal Education Task Force with Chief Justices Patrick LeSage of the Superior Court of Justice (SCJ) and Brian Lennox of the Ontario Court of Justice (OCJ). Recognizing the key role of teachers in strengthening the public’s understanding of the justice system, representatives from the education sector were included on the task force. Individuals from the legal community and the judiciary who shared his commitment and vision for an inclusive and responsive justice system, also took part.

The earliest activities of the task force included the development of classroom resources and programs for students and teachers of law and civics. Committees of volunteers were established across the province to initiate justice education activities locally. McMurtry personally assembled a network of key individuals from legal, education and community sectors. The continuing role of this group in supporting the work of the task force, and later the Ontario Justice Education Network (OJEN), facilitated justice education efforts within diverse communities.

Then Chief Justice McMurtry officially announced the launch of the Ontario Justice Education Network (OJEN) at a special ceremony on April 15th, 2002, which commemorated the 20th anniversary of the Canadian Charter for Rights and Freedoms. In his address, McMurtry stressed how essential public understanding of the justice system was for the continued protection of fundamental values enshrined in our Constitution. He voiced his confidence in OJEN to continue working toward this goal.

In the 22 years since then, OJEN has made significant strides in honouring McMurtry’s voice and vision. Specifically, OJEN works daily to meet the public legal education needs of youth throughout Ontario. With the continued support of our Network partners and thousands of volunteers from the justice sector, our justice education initiatives have impacted millions of young people. While OJEN’s initial focus was on high school students and their teachers, outreach initiatives now also engage with youth from a broad range of diverse communities. In addition to informing youth about the role of the justice system, we empower them with legal life skills so they can manage everyday legal issues in their lives. We connect youth and justice sector professionals regularly so that they may engage in dialogue and mutual learning.

Living up to the vision the Honourable Roy McMurtry had for OJEN is an immense challenge, but also a high honour that we continue to pursue vigorously. We are proud to be part of his enduring and towering legacy in our legal, community, and education systems.

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