Where the Lions Are...

  • April 01, 2014
  • Michael Cochrane

Two very different books, two very different leaders: Rob Ford and Roy McMurtry.

Two recently released books of interest to lawyers about two well-known, but totally different Canadian public figures, recently landed on my desk – Crazy Town: The Rob Ford Story by Robyn Doolittle (Penguin/Viking) and Memoirs and Reflections by Roy McMurtry (Osgoode Society, University of Toronto Press). One book I immediately devoured but then found myself feeling queasy and in need of an antacid. The other I savoured patiently and was ultimately left feeling satisfied and full of warm nostalgia for what was a different time in our profession and Canadian public life.

Crazy Town The Rob Ford StoryCrazy Town indeed. On February 3, 2014 I sat in a sold-out cinema with several hundred Torontonians to hear Ms. Doolittle talk about how she came to this astonishing story as a Toronto Star reporter, how it unfolded and how it affected her personally. The crowd sat riveted as she explained that members of the Dixon Bloods, a violent Toronto gang, read her story about Mayor Ford’s alleged drunken or drug-fuelled stupor at a charity ball. An enterprising gang member, having read the story, contacted her, saying basically, “If you think that’s interesting, how would you like to buy a video of Rob Ford smoking crack cocaine?” That offer launched a wild ride for Doolittle that would see her put her personal safety on the line, meeting gang members at night in parking lots to see the evidence for herself. The story she wrote, after seeing that video, put her, Mayor Ford and the City of Toronto on a personal and political rollercoaster that continues to this day.

At the book launch, Doolittle shared the shock and sadness she felt as the truth about the Fords was gradually revealed. She faced personal attacks and accusations of fabricating the story. An Ipsos-Reid poll showed that half of Toronto residents simply refused to believe the story and Ford’s personal popularity increased five points. So much for investigative journalism. However, knowing that the attacks would come, she took pains in her book to document every reference and source in some 34 pages of footnotes.

What does Crazy Town tell us that we didn’t know already from newspapers, radio and TV?  Lots. And it’s scary at times. What dysfunction in that family (who reportedly consider themselves a blue collar Canadian version of the iconic Kennedy clan) led to the daughter having a life-long problem with drug abuse, Doug Jr. becoming a reported hashish retailer in West Toronto and Rob Ford having his alleged battle with alcohol and drugs, all the while aspiring to be even Prime Minister of Canada, we may never know. Doolittle examines (with over 2000 hours of interviews) the origins of the family and the mythology they have built around themselves. 

Doolittle’s encounter with our justice system and the frustration she felt with freedom of information provides a wake-up call for Canadians. For example, she contrasts the response to a request for information about Ford’s drunk driving arrest in Miami (the clerk emailed a PDF of the police affidavit within hours) with Ontario’s information runaround.  “To get the paperwork you need to know the information that can only be found from the paperwork,” said Doolittle. “It’s a Catch-22.”  A situation that, as explained to Ontario’s Information and Privacy Commissioner, Ann Cavoukian, left her “aghast”. Canada, according to the Halifax-based Centre for Law and Democracy, ranks 65 out of 95 countries in the Annual Transparency Report.  According to their analysis, Canada is slipping behind and, in doing so, is inhibiting the ability of good journalists to break these kinds of stories. Poor freedom of information is bad for journalism and weak journalism is bad for democracy.

Lawyers will be intrigued by the legal problems Rob Ford has faced to date. Who among us would not have sympathy for his lawyer, Alan Lenczner, as he battled Clayton Ruby over Rob Ford’s alleged breach of the Conflict of Interest Act?  At his trial in September of 2012, after Ford had been elected four times, Ruby secured an admission that Ford had never even read the Councillor Handbook and then this exchange:

“Ruby: What steps, if any, did you take to find out what the Municipal Conflict of Interest Act required of you?

Ford: None.

Ruby: None.  That’s your answer? 

Ford: Yes.”

After reading Ford a passage from the Conflict of Interest Act, the following exchange:

“Ruby: You’re familiar with that?

Ford:    I’ve never read that before.

Ruby:  You had to have read that before.  That’s the Municipal Conflict of Interest Act.

Ford:    I’ve never read this before.”

The courtroom erupted in giggles. Shooting fish in a barrel? His conviction was reversed on appeal and Ford skated away on a technicality. 

At the conclusion of Crazy Town we are left feeling uneasy about this man and his family and their role in public life. Drugs, lying, bullying, drunkenness, boorish behaviour. Can this type of person survive in public life? Can he win again? As Doolittle puts it, “I believe it’s possible for a long list of reasons.” It is a riveting read but please, pass the antacid.

Memoirs and Reflections

Roy McMurtryA few months earlier I had the privilege of attending the Ontario Bar Association ADR Section Awards Dinner, at which Roy McMurtry received the Award of Excellence for his work in Alternative Dispute Resolution. I had an opportunity to speak with him briefly about his recently published Memoirs and Reflections. Soft-spoken, humble and still sharp as a tack, he joked that the Osgoode Society felt obliged to publish his book; after all, he was one of its founding members 30 years ago. 

Here is a book that should be mandatory reading for every first year law student in Canada, as it is not only filled with a valuable history lesson about our legal profession, but it also establishes some benchmarks that young lawyers might set for themselves as they launch their careers. 

McMurtry takes the reader on a journey through another time, through his early life (his father was a lawyer too, who was devastated when he lost a favourite junior associate in World War II), his formative university days at the University of Toronto and football, playing an extra in Aida at Maple Leaf Gardens (I’m not kidding. He was literally a spear-carrier), his articles where he learned advocacy at the feet of experienced trial counsel, involvement in politics, plus marrying and having six children along the way.  And that was just the beginning.

His description of his early years in practice are priceless. Imagine Magistrates’ Court in the 50’s filled with many unrepresented accused and a few flamboyant defence counsel. The Magistrate had become bored and had consumed an alcoholic beverage or two before entering the courtroom. McMurtry was there as a prosecutor (having been appointed as one of the first fee-for-service Crown Prosecutors in Toronto). I’ll let McMurtry tell the story.

“During a short lull in the proceedings, one of the accused succumbed to flatulence, and the sound reverberated through the courtroom. A moment later, a senior defence counsel stood up and stated: ‘Your worship, I want you to know that there are others in this courtroom who hold you in greater respect.’ The presiding Magistrate was clearly not amused and, later that morning, the lawyer’s client paid the price.”

Memoirs and Reflections is filled with precisely those kinds of gems that will leave experienced lawyers smiling and law students chafing at the bit to get into courtrooms themselves.

Another interesting turn in McMurtry’s career occurred after his success in winning his first criminal jury trial. His performance there had impressed and word spread to Arthur Maloney, a senior and well-respected trial lawyer himself. That led to Maloney’s mentorship of McMurtry and readers will wish they had had a similar encounter early in their careers, mentorship in our profession being so critically important.

At over 500 pages, Memoirs and Reflections is a read that you will want to spread out over a few weeks.  You will want to appreciate McMurtry’s entry into politics and his role as Attorney General, where he took an immediate interest in policy issues that included ensuring our courts were bilingual, family law reform and restructuring of the courts.  And let’s not forget his role in patriation of the Constitution.  What could he do for an encore after such a stellar legal career? Brian Mulroney answered that question, when, in 1985, he called McMurtry and offered him the position of High Commissioner to the UK.  McMurtry and his wife, Ria, having become empty-nesters, moved to London, England, and there he began yet another fascinating phase of his career. Although he clearly loved and enjoyed his time in London, he does state that he returned home “somewhat ambivalent about the future role of the monarchy in Canada.”  McMurtry returned from London to the bench and, ultimately, to becoming Chief Justice of Ontario. 

In the final chapter, called “Reflections on My Life”, McMurtry states, “My life has had no master plan…My life is a result not so much of good management as of good luck, and a willingness to accept new challenges and opportunities when they arose.” As sports heroes are often heard to say, “You have to be good to be lucky.”

Given Doolittle’s observations about the Ford family’s view of themselves, an interesting comment appears when McMurtry notes that many people have spoken generously about the careers of the four McMurtry brothers, occasionally describing them as “the Kennedy family without money.” McMurtry’s father “never allowed himself to appear overly ambitious for his sons, but his own competitive instinct certainly had an influence. This fact, coupled with his integrity and our mother’s humanity and sensitivity, provided us with an important and positive home environment…” Enough said about where great men start.

These two books juxtapose two very, very different men and two very, very different times. Emerson once said, “Our chief want is someone who will inspire us to be what we know we could be.” Mr. McMurtry’s life and accomplishments and sense of justice left me inspired. Robyn Doolittle’s book, Crazy Town, as fascinating and readable as it is, left me despairing for the City of Toronto and for public discourse in Canada.   

Michael CochraneAbout the Author

Michael Cochrane is a partner with Brauti Thorning Zibarras LLP

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