On July 9, 2020, Robert Andrew James (“Rob”) Muir passed away suddenly at his home in Toronto at the young age of 56. Rob Muir was a case management Master in Ontario, appointed to the Superior Court of Justice in Ontario on September 25, 2009. He was the first openly gay Master ever appointed in Canada, a model of professionalism and mentorship whose legacy will live on in the many members of the legal community who benefitted from his leadership and support.
Called to the Bar in 1990, Muir had been a partner at Blaney McMurty LLP since 1996 prior to his appointment to the bench. He practiced in commercial litigation, with some experience in class action proceedings.
An active member of the Canadian and Ontario Bar Associations, in particular the Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity Committee (SOGIC), Muir was dedicated to addressing the needs of LGBT members of the profession for years. He also served as an executive member of the Law Practice Management Section at the OBA for a time, and was a member of the Toronto Lawyers’ Association and Advocates Society.
After Muir’s passing, I reached out to a number of contacts within SOGIC and throughout the profession to hear about his impact and influence. Doug Elliott, one of the founders of SOGIC National and a partner at Cambridge LLP, remembered him as the ideal choice as a Master at the Superior Court. He spoke to me over the phone about his impressions at the time of Rob’s appointment.
“I remember when Rob was appointed I was surprised because he was the first openly gay Master ever,” Elliott recollects. “I thought he was perfect for the role. Polite, thoughtful, caring. Old-fashioned, kind of gentleman-like. Always quite matter-of-fact about being gay.”
He earned a reputation for thoroughness and fairness. “I appeared in front of him on a number of occasions,” says Elliott. “He was always extremely well prepared. Even when I didn’t succeed, I never felt ill treated. No one, I think, ever left his courtroom feeling unfairly treated.”
Milé Komlen, a chair of OBA’s SOGIC Executive for seven years, also fondly remembers Muir’s influence as he was going through his own “coming out” process as a member of the legal profession. He reached out to me tell one of his favourite stories about Muir, and describe the impact he had on him and other young gay lawyers who were struggling with coming out during a time when being “out on bay street” was not nearly so accepted.
“I met Rob when I first started attending SOGIC executive meetings,” Komlen recalls. “As a senior partner at his firm, Rob became an identifiable beacon to those who were still struggling with their sexual identity at work. He was a tireless supporter during all my years at SOGIC, attending every event and social gathering.”
His career success was a source of great encouragement to many. “His appointment as a Master was a thrill to us all," says Komlen. “There was a real sense of celebration at such a pivotal moment when we were striving to achieve visibility and legitimacy within the profession.
“A friend and I took him out for a celebratory drink at the Black Eagle on Church Street after his appointment. When Rob arrived, we waved and yelled ‘Hi Master! We’re over heeeere!’ He hurriedly came over and, quite embarrassed, whispered ‘Don’t call me Master in a place like this!’”
Paul Saguil, a former chair of OBA SOGIC and SOGIC National and senior counsel at TD Bank, also remembers Muir fondly as a Master who wasn’t afraid to be seen openly socializing with his community. Saguil met Muir at a SOGIC Christmas party, held in the basement of Fly nightclub, and they would frequently see each other out and about in Toronto’s gay village.
“He was always a great supporter of SOGIC,” says Saguil. “He was part of a very small judicial complement of what we called ‘known homosexuals’ at the time. It was a big deal to see him out at these events. People would joke and call him ‘Master’ when he was at the clubs. But he was just a normal guy to me … and that was the beauty of it.
“SOGIC allowed that human connection,” which was crucial to his influence on those just starting out in law, Saguil explains. “Most law students like me would have been very reverential of a Master like him. He always seemed young at heart despite being a few years ahead of me. He didn’t put on airs. He was always available for young gay lawyers. He helped pave the way.”
Rob made a large and lasting impression on his fellow Masters at the Superior Court. A number of his colleagues, organized by Master Linda S. Abrams[i], sent me a touching tribute to Rob, which I have reproduced in full:
Master Robert Muir’s passing is a tremendous loss to the Masters. It is difficult to do justice in words to the life of a man and jurist who meant so much to so many people. Rob was the best of us: smart, patient, kind, efficient and funny. He was a jurist who knew and believed strongly in the important role he played in the administration of justice, which showed in everything he did and to everyone who appeared before him. For nearly eleven years, Rob was a valued colleague, admired mentor, respected leader, and cherished friend on the bench, particularly to Masters now retired, Masters who went on to be judges, and Masters currently sitting who will strive to carry on his legacy. All of the Masters will very much miss their dear friend and colleague.
Lastly, Chris Ellis, who worked at Blaney McMurty alongside Rob for years, shared his reminiscences of his articling principal, mentor, and best friend. Ellis first met Muir, who was e chair of the firm's student committee for many years, at a recruiting event at Queen's University, and says, “We soon knew we were kindred spirits.”
“Rob very much enjoyed attending Pride celebrations,” Ellis reveals. “We went to Toronto every year and to WorldPride in New York in 2019.” There, the two made their presence known. “We managed to get tickets for the parade reviewing stand, and ended up in a piano bar one night singing Frank Sinatra and show tunes. It happened to be Canada Day so we were wearing red and white. The piano player asked us why, so we sang ‘O Canada’ to a packed audience.
“Rob taught me much of what I know about being a lawyer. He had the highest ethical standards and strove for perfection in everything he did.”
Master Rob Muir will be missed by many both on the bench and in the gay lawyering community. SOGIC, the OBA, and the other Masters at the Superior Court of Justice are working closely together to develop a new commemorative program to ensure his legacy continues.
View previous articles in our 25th Anniversary series commemorating the founding of SOGIC and the pioneering work of its members here and here.
About the author
Teddy Weinstein is a graduate of the University of Windsor, Faculty of Law. He articled for the Canadian Civil Liberties Association and was called to the bar in Ontario in 2019. He is currently a research LLM fellow at the University of Ottawa Centre for Health Law, Policy and Ethics.
[i] Besides Master Abrams, the tribute was signed by Master Ronna Brott, Master Marie Fortier, Master Andrew T. Graham, Master May Jean, Master Karen Jolley, Master Jay Josefo, Master Alexandre Kaufman, Master Barbara McAfee, Master Michael McGraw, Master Janet E. Mills. Master Todd Robinson, Master Donald E. Short, Master P. Tamara Sagunasiri, and Master Charles G. T. Wiebe.