Justice Joseph Callaghan: Sitting on the Bench of the Ontario Court of Justice

  • February 14, 2024
  • Rachel Allen (she/her)


Justice Joseph Callaghan is an openly gay judge currently sitting in the Ontario Court of Justice in Toronto. He has progressed through his career following the principles of kindness and community.


Throughout his career, Justice Callaghan has carried the principles he learned from his parents. The throughline behind the decisions he has made is that kindness is a superpower, and that one should always do their best in any context to be kind.

Justice Callaghan grew up in Sarnia, Ontario, with his three siblings. When he was around 21 years old, he came out to his parents as gay. Not long after, Justice Callaghan’s younger brother Michael - the other Justice Callaghan - also came out. 

His family responded with unconditional love. After he and his brother came out, his parents searched for a PFLAG chapter in Sarnia and, unable to find one locally, started their own. He has fond memories of watching his parents at the ‘batphone’ as they staffed the PFLAG chapter from their own home.

Justice Callaghan himself first became personally involved in the 2SLGBTQ+ community in law school, where he strove to support students who were facing the daunting and ongoing process of coming out. He knew that community and representation were crucial – people need to see examples of what is possible. At the time, 2SLGBTQ+ representation in the legal profession was minimal.


Justice Callaghan has worked in the criminal justice system since his articles for a criminal defence lawyer in 1995. Justice Callaghan has been openly gay throughout his career. He knew that he wanted to work in the criminal justice system, and that to succeed, he needed to be his authentic self.

He began his career as a criminal duty counsel, where he cut his teeth on bail hearings. He believes that fully engaged duty counsel are integral to the proper functioning of the criminal justice system. After spending a year and a half as duty counsel, Justice Callaghan joined his brother as a crown attorney, though they did not work in the same office. He practiced law as an Assistant Crown Attorney, Deputy Crown Attorney, and then Crown Attorney for North York. He also did a secondment at the Assistant Deputy Attorney General’s office. His work as a Crown prosecutor included multiple murder cases including the high profile Toronto van case. He was also part of the small group who developed and rolled out the SCOPE electronic scheduling and case management system, which is now used by all Crown offices in the province.

After spending over 25 years working in the criminal justice system, Justice Callaghan decided to apply to become a judge with the Ontario Court of Justice and was appointed in 2021. He currently presides at the courthouse at 10 Armoury St. in downtown Toronto.


Justice Callaghan deeply believes in the importance of community. He considers himself fortunate to be a member of the 2SLGBTQ+ community. The community is filled with individuals who have undergone the kind of introspection and questioning that cultivates uniqueness, creativity and resilience.

When he was a lawyer, Justice Callaghan participated and engaged with different organizations supporting the 2SLGBTQ+ community. For example, Justice Callaghan has been a strong supporter of Supporting Our Youth and the Bill 7 Group. Supporting Our Youth, which is currently a part of Sherbourne Health, is a charity focused on supporting the health, well-being, and goals of 2SLGBTQ+ youth and young adults. The Bill 7 Group provides scholarship funds for queer students.

As a judge, Justice Callaghan found himself in a new legal community. At 10 Armoury, he is one of three openly gay judges with whom Justice Callaghan helped organize the first Pride event in the judges’ lunchroom, which immediately received positive feedback.

Justice Callaghan believes in the importance of visibility. Although he would never encourage someone to come out who does not feel safe doing so, he feels that he has a responsibility to be visible as an out and gay judge. Growing up, he knows that many 2SLGBTQ+ kids may not be aware of people like them who are practicing in jobs or roles that they respect and aspire towards. Visibility demonstrates to queer individuals that they have options on which paths to follow in life.  

Justice Callaghan has seen the demographics of the profession change throughout his career. As a cisgender, white, gay man, he is aware of his privilege and understands that he cannot provide a direct example to every individual who is wondering whether there is a place for them in the legal profession. He knows that every layer added on to queerness can create an additional area of professional challenge. He believes that young lawyers should be granted a community which can understand each person’s individual perspectives and support them to move forward as their own unique selves.


Justice Callaghan intends to keep leading by example. He makes time to speak with the legal profession, and encourages 2SLGBTQ+ lawyers to continue striving forward and building community. He wants anyone struggling to know that there are many people who will support them.

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