(Interview conducted on November 29, 2022)
Q: Thank you for joining the OBA Civil Litigation Section, Justice Simpson. Could you start by telling us a bit about your path to the bench and path through the bench?
A: There wasn’t really a path. I had not considered the bench. I was at what was then Fraser and Beatty, with a practise that emphasised competition law. One Friday afternoon, I was approached by two senior members of the bar who said they were looking for a person who would ultimately become chair of the Competition Tribunal. To take that position, one had to be a member of the Federal Court. I hadn’t been the first choice of either gentleman, but I was the first person they could agree on, so they asked me if I would be interested, and we went from there.
When I first joined the Tribunal, Justice McKeown was the chair. When he retired, I was given the position, and I held it for about 8 years. I was on the bench for 29, years so the Tribunal wasn’t my whole time on the court, but it was part of it.
Q: It sounds like you’re in the interesting position of having done two types of adjudication: the court and the Tribunal. How was life in each of those different from life in private practice?
It was very different. First of all, I was required to move to Ottawa, and so I left Toronto and my colleagues and friends there. On the court, in a normal month, I travelled three weeks out of four. The Federal Court’s jurisdiction is the whole country, so sometimes I was far afield and it really meant that new acquaintances pretty well came from the court. I couldn’t even have a regular tennis or fitness arrangement in Ottawa because I wasn't there. So it was a big change. And as we know, the phone doesn’t ring the same way.
Meanwhile, the Competition Tribunal membership is completely different. It has lay members and you sit as a panel of three, so I was often sitting with economists and business people. The Tribunal had six or seven judges, but an equal or larger number of lay members. It also had a national jurisdiction.
Q: Did the economists and lay members approach the issues any differently?
A: The economists would bring a different perspective. If you had a case in court that involved economic issues, you would typically have expert witnesses on the point. In the Tribunal you would as well. What was different was that you had a sitting member who had the expertise to question the witness.