TORONTO – The legal community came together on Thursday evening to celebrate outstanding members of the profession who have made exceptional contributions to the practice of law in Ontario and to the Ontario Bar Association. This was the first OBA Awards Gala in three years, after the popular event was sidelined due to public health measures brought about by the COVID-19 pandemic.
"We have so much to celebrate this evening … first and foremost the fact that we are all able to be here in person to dine, to catch up with colleagues, and to fete our fine honorees," OBA President Karen Perron said as she welcomed guests and award winners.
"Lawyers have consistently played key roles in practically advancing and ferociously protecting the principles we prize most in an equitable and free society … peace, order, fairness, security, diversity, democracy … but it’s fair to say that a great deal of our work is done behind the scenes – and that most of us are very comfortable with that," she added. "But, tonight, we pull back the curtain, to shine a spotlight on stars of our sector whose individual stories of outstanding contribution to association, to profession, to community, access to justice, innovation and education combine to tell a tale of more than two years of lawyer service to bench and bar … of legal problem-solving put to the test on unparalleled and enormously complex challenges in justice administration and public life – and then passing with flying colours."
The major awards of the evening were the President's Awards presented by Perron and former OBA presidents Colin Stevenson (2019-20) and Charlene Theodore (2020-21).
Stevenson's selections were Mitch Kowalski, Crystal O’Donnell and Maurizio Romanin. He described all three as "true visionaries whose influence has been nothing short of game-changing in our profession."
"Unstoppable agents of change, they were as far ahead of the curve in legal innovation two years ago as they are today," said Stevenson, whose presidential mandate focused on innovation. "But, lucky for us, they are continually providing us with the tools, teachings and platforms to help us get up to speed."
Theodore's selection for her President's Award was the Tory's pro bono team of Joshua Morry, Molly Reynolds and Nic Wall for their work with Vaccine Hunters Canada, and Nana Yanful of the Black Legal Action Centre for making a difference in the lives of Black Ontarians and in the eradication of the systemic barriers they face.
"The lawyers I have elected to honour with the OBA President’s Award are ‘doers’ who fearlessly dove into the fray during a fraught period, to level the playing field and offer agency to those who were struggling for answers or disproportionately impacted by systemic barriers bolstered by a public health crisis," Theodore said.
The award winners chosen by Perron represented the “lawyers helping lawyers” theme that has played out time and time again during her presidency. Spearheaded by Noble Chummar, Ardy Mohajer, Kristin Taylor and Carla Potter, Cassels’ “Project Exit” was an effort that focused on assisting Afghan law firm Shajjan & Associates, helping members of that firm, which the Canadian government had contracted with to represent our interests and our mission in Afghanistan, find refuge in Canada.
"The Cassels Team drew considerable media attention to the plight of these abandoned lawyers, raising public awareness of the dangers to our allies and the urgency involved, while rallying the legal community here at home," Perron said. "With progress painstakingly slow – and up against a backlog with life-threatening implications – Cassels has kept momentum going, evidencing a tenacity, fortitude and commitment to community emblematic of the very best of our profession."
Other award winners honoured during the evening were:
Award for Distinguished Service
Michel W. Drapeau, Drapeau Law Office
Ian M. Hull, Hull & Hull LLP
The Honourable Audrey Ramsay, Superior Court of Justice
Reuben M. Rosenblatt, Q.C., LSM, Minden Gross LLP
Ena Chadha, Barrister & Solicitor
Joel Kuchar Award for Professionalism and Civility
Esi A. Codjoe, Turnpenney Milne LLP
J. Gregory Richards, WeirFoulds LLP
Susan E. Gunter, Dutton Brock LLP
Linda Adlam Manning Award for Volunteerism
Juliet L. Knapton, University of Ottawa
Vanessa M. Lam, Lam Family Law
David Scott Award for Pro Bono
Michelle S. Henry, Borden Ladner Gervais LLP
Janani Shanmuganathan, Goddard & Shanmuganathan LLP
Mundell Medal for Legal Writing
Professor Philip Girard, Osgoode Hall Law School
OBA Foundation Award
The Honourable Todd Archibald, Superior Court of Justice
Professor Noel Semple – University of Windsor