Civil rights

Eloquent civil rights lawyer Clayton Ruby followed his powerful moral compass

Lawyer Clayton Ruby speaks to the editorial board of The Globe and Mail in Toronto on July 24, 2013.Kevin Van Paassen/The Globe and Mail

Civil rights attorney Clayton Ruby was guided by a simple rule instilled in him by his parents: If he saw something wrong in the world, he should try to fix it. There was never a “should”, because the way he saw it, he had no choice.

Whether advising America’s draft dodgers in 1967 at an upstart sidewalk clinic in Toronto’s Yorkville neighborhood or arguing cases before the august Supreme Court of Canada, Mr. Ruby always did what he knew was right. just. Sometimes he won. Often he did not. But regardless of the outcome, he was never distracted from continuing the fight in and out of court because he knew that court rulings, no matter how long, tone or detailed, were not set in stone. in time forever.

He said so in an interview with SEE Change magazine six years ago, while discussing the impact of R. v. Askov, a 1990 Supreme Court decision he won regarding the rights of an accused to a speedy trial. One would have thought that would have been the end – a significant moment enshrined in law that should have ensured the timely prosecution of all those tried. Instead, Mr. Ruby noted, since then the principle has been denied, with Crown prosecutors appearing before judges to argue for “small extensions” because the charges are too serious to dismiss, and to label a several-month delay for disclosure that “could have been in three days” as “neutral time”.

“Over the years that followed, the judges accepted that,” he said. “Now this is a classic example of law reform when judicial decision is absolutely unnecessary.”

Mr. Ruby, a member of the Order of Canada known for his eloquent arguments, his prodigious work ethic and his brightly colored socks worn under elegantly tailored suits, died Tuesday at Toronto General Hospital of complications from a aneurysm. He was 80, a foodie and oenophile with a penchant for Diet Pepsi on ice, whose only regret was that his family would be sad when he was gone.

He lived as he wanted, on his own terms, with a strict moral code, undying love for his wife, two daughters, their partners and children, and absolutely no compromise.

“He told me,” said his eldest daughter, Emma Ruby-Sachs. “Dad set the bar so high for everyone because he was an example of everything a person can do. From equality rights to arbitrary detentions, to the environment, to the welfare of animals, women’s right to choose and the right to die, he touched them all and helped shape them.

Kate Best, her youngest daughter, recalls going to school in the winter of 1988 when her father worked for then NDP MP Svend Robinson, just after the latter came out as gay. .

“I was 7 or 8 and dad made me wear a pin that read ‘I’m Svend Robinson’, a huge political statement on my little shirt,” she said. “I don’t remember any other kids reacting to it, but I remember one teacher saying ‘Well, you’re going to be in big trouble if that’s the case.’

“Issues like these were so simple for him. You were right or not.

Clayton Charles Ruby was born in Toronto on February 6, 1942, the older of two children of Lou and Marie (née Bochner) Ruby. His father was a self-taught, print shop owner who got his start in Montreal as a brash, determined eight-year-old boy selling newspapers on street corners.

From the start, young Clayton – his mother picked the name after seeing it appear in the credits of an old western – was smart. After finishing high school at Forest Hill Collegiate, he received a BA from York University in 1963 and a law degree from the University of Toronto six years later when he was also called to the bar.

In 1967, while still a law student, he teamed up with young lawyers, including his future partner Paul Copeland, to run what they called the Village Bar. At first it was an outdoor table and chair operation outside the Grab Bag convenience store on Yorkville Avenue – a place where they provided free legal advice to everyone from draft dodgers to hippies who were harassed by the police. That first year they were called to the Law Society of Upper Canada and told to cease and desist immediately because the work they were doing only served to confuse the public and throw the discredits the entire practice of criminal law.

Clayton Ruby on March 18, 1988.Zoran Milich/The Globe and Mail

“We were told that people didn’t know if we were lawyers or law students,” Mr. Copeland said. “The following year we moved in and continued what we were doing before.”

During this time, Mr. Ruby and Mr. Copeland wrote a book called Right Right Right, published in 1971 by the House of Anansi Press. At 116 pages, it was billed as a “down-to-earth manual for citizens on the most frequently encountered laws”, from driving to alcohol, apartment living and drugs.

Two years after the book’s publication, Mr. Ruby earned a master’s degree in law from the University of California at Berkeley.

In 1976, after parting ways with Mr. Copeland, he entered into a professional partnership with attorney Marlys Edwardh that would last more than three decades. In recent years he has been with the partnership Ruby Shiller Enenajor DiGiuseppe.

Usually, Mr. Ruby was at the forefront of societal change, a man who picked his cases because they appealed to his keen sense of right and wrong. There were the cases of people wrongfully convicted, like Guy Paul Morin, and his portrayal of doctor and abortion rights advocate Henry Morgentaler so that women who needed abortions could get them safely without being harassed by the demonstrators when they entered the clinics.

There was Michelle Douglas, who was released from the Canadian Armed Forces in 1989 as part of a discriminatory purge of its LGBTQ members. At first she was reluctant to pursue a claim, but with Mr. Ruby by her side, they fought the army for three years, until she agreed to settle, awarding him $100,000 as a result of a ruling by the Federal Court of Canada that men and women could no longer be barred from serving in the forces because they were homosexual.

There have been cases involving the environment and the fate of an elephant named Lucy at the Edmonton Zoo. There have been cases involving free speech, including one against the Lubicon Cree of Alberta for inciting a consumer to boycott a land claim.

And there have been instances of police misconduct and brutality, including one in 1988, when the mother of Michael Wade Lawson, a black teenager who was shot in the back of the neck while fleeing from Peel police in a stolen car, hired Mr. Ruby to demand a full and fair investigation. The result was the creation, in 1990, of the Special Investigations Unit (SIU), which was supposed to carry out independent investigations into violent incidents involving the police. Yet, more than a quarter of a century later, the lawyer will stress that the fight for justice never ends with a particular decision or law.

“I think most people have recognized [the SIU] from the beginning as a centerpiece, a fake organization,” Mr. Ruby told the Toronto Star in 2016. “There was never any plan to do anything other than pretend something was changing.

Jill Copeland, an Ontario Court of Appeal judge who articled with Mr. Ruby, remembers him as a teacher and mentor who taught the craft by giving young lawyers a real work to do on cases, from conducting cross-examinations to arguing appeals. “It was an amazing way to learn,” she said. “The criminal bar has not always been welcoming to women. to him, [gender] didn’t make a difference.

James Lockyer, one of the nation’s foremost criminal lawyers who specializes in fighting wrongful convictions, noted that Mr. Ruby always looked decisive. “He used to speak in short sentences very quickly and you wanted to hang on to his every word,” he said. “You can’t be a better lawyer than that.”

Former federal justice minister Irwin Cotler, who first bonded with Mr Ruby when they both attended anti-war protests in the mid-1960s, said he will always remember his friend’s sense of humor, even when they were talking about the most serious. problems.

“We were in the trenches all the time, whether it was wrongful convictions or other areas of criminal justice,” recalls Cotler. “Even though we didn’t see each other often, each time we did, it was as if we hadn’t been apart. The absence makes you realize how important this friendship is. The world was a better place because he was always there for what needed to be done. We will be lost without it.

And somehow, in the midst of his hectic work schedule, without fail, Mr. Ruby managed to take summers away from the courts to become the primary caregiver for his daughters at their cabin in the Kawarthas while their mother, Ontario Superior Court Judge Harriet Sachs, had to stay in town to work. He sat there, a work-at-home dad with all his files strewn around him, making sure the girls had as much fun, carefree, and sugar-filled as possible.

“It was him everywhere,” Ms Best said. “He sucked out as much joie de vivre as he could, for as long as he could, while changing the world at the same time.”

In addition to his wife and daughters, Mr. Ruby is survived by his daughters’ partners, a sister, Brenda, and two grandchildren.