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Citation for Honourable Dennis O'Connor at the 12th Annual Eid-ul-Adha Celebrations at Queen's Park on December 12, 2008
Delivered by Paul Cavalluzzo
is a real honour this evening to introduce Justice Dennis O’Connor who, over
the last several years, has earned the enormous respect and admiration of
It is clear that Justice O’Connor made significant contributions to
It is clear that Justice O’Connor made significant contributions to
these various careers Justice O’Connor has shown particular compassion and
respect for vulnerable groups of citizens when their concerns and interests
have not been adequately protected by government.
For example, in 1973 as a young lawyer he moved to the Yukon Territory
and was appointed as a magistrate.
among people he respected and loved, within the Yukon’s small and fragile
communities, he became an icon, so loved by the aboriginal people of the
Territory that on June 5, 1976, he was introduced into the Tlingit (in
English, “Klinkit”) First Nation, Beaver Clan.
In that culture, a heavy emphasis is placed upon kinship and family.
The name lovingly bestowed upon him was Old Crow.
his return to
teaching and practising law for a number of years in
got to know Chief Justice O’Connor in two public inquiries on which he acted
as Commissioner and I acted as his Commission Counsel.
first is the Walkerton Public Inquiry. As
you know, public inquiries are normally called in the wake of a tragedy when
the public has lost confidence in public agencies and institutions.
Walkerton was such an example where contaminated water in May 2000 had
caused the death of 7 citizens and the illness of 2,300 others in a town of
Needless to say the citizens of Walkerton had lost trust in all public
agencies - from the local government to
Needless to say the citizens of Walkerton had lost trust in all public agencies - from the local government to
Inquiry hearings were long and very stressful.
The issues were complex, contentious and controversial.
However, one thing was clear at the end.
In an era in which criticism of the legal profession is common, the
lawyers performed splendidly.
demonstrated a high level of competence in furthering their client’s
interests while respecting the public interest by ensuring that the
proceedings were thorough and expeditious.
Much of this can be attributed to Justice O’Connor who had the
enormous respect of every lawyer who appeared at Walkerton.
Most importantly, the procedures and model that Justice O’Connor
developed in Walkerton became the model and standard for future public
inquiries. Walkerton revived
public confidence in public inquiries.
from the process, the Walkerton Inquiry was also very significant on a
substantive level. Justice
O’Connor’s recommendations received worldwide attention and respect.
Environmental groups, municipal water operators, academics and other
interested groups applauded his policy recommendations.
The legacy is the Safe Drinking Water Act which the Government of
Ontario enacted after the Inquiry. How
did the people of Walkerton receive the report?
One story will suffice. On
the day that the report was publicly released in the Walkerton Arena, Justice
O’Connor made a brief statement. At
its conclusion, the hundreds of Walkerton citizens who packed the arena stood
up and applauded and cheered many with tears running down their faces.
It was quite a spectacle. The
first time I have ever seen a judge get a standing ovation.
how could one improve on this remarkable achievement.
One would have thought that after hitting a home run like this that one
would not risk their reputation by tackling another difficult inquiry.
Not Justice O’Connor.
2004, Justice O’Connor was appointed by the Federal Government to conduct a
second public inquiry, the Arar Inquiry. As
you know, Maher Arar is a Canadian citizen who was sent by the United States
to Syria where he was imprisoned for a year and tortured and abused.
Mr. Arar’s disturbing treatment, not only by foreign governments but
also by Canadian officials, became the focus of this inquiry.
Arar Inquiry was the most difficult legal challenge I have ever encountered.
The question of the protection of national security without prejudicing
our civil liberties is one of the most vexing and important legal issues we
face today in light of the so-called global war against terror.
The inquiry was the first time that any government had opened all of
its national security records for independent review in order to assess
whether the government and its officials had engaged in misconduct.
of the problems Justice O’Connor faces was the alienation of our Canadian
Muslim communities who felt that they were being targeted by Canadian police
and intelligence agencies in their national security investigations.
As a result, they had lost confidence in many Canadian agencies.
the public forum was filled with leaked misinformation about Mr. Arar - leaks
which were deliberately done to destroy his reputation and defend government
interests. The clear implication
of the leaks was that Maher Arar was a terrorist.
Needless to say, Mr. Arar had little faith and confidence in Canadian
institutions. Would he ever gain
trust and confidence in this public inquiry?
this backdrop, Justice O’Connor had to conduct a public inquiry into the
national security activities of various Canadian agencies and officials.
Much of the relevant evidence had to be heard in secret because of
national security confidentiality. However,
in order to have legitimacy and credibility, the process had to be fair to Mr.
Arar even though he and his counsel would be excluded from secret hearings.
Moreover, the public interest required maximum public disclosure
because it was a public inquiry.
order to achieve fairness and maximum public disclosure, Justice O’Connor
developed a procedure which has been put forward as the constitutional
standard for other judicial hearings into national security matters.
the procedure was not perfect, Mr. Arar and the other parties accepted the
legitimacy of the process. Much of
their trust and confidence in the process I believe, was based on Justice
O’Connor’s integrity and fairness. They
trusted he would get to the bottom of this story - and he did.
The public trusted that the essential story would be publicly disclosed
- and it was.
The final reports of the Arar Inquiry made significant recommendations which will fundamentally change Canadian public policy and law. The Part I Report deals with some of today’s crucial issues of civil liberties such as:
appropriate role of the RCMP when engaged in national security activities;
controls on sharing of information on Canadians with foreign agencies;
rules when Canadian agencies are dealing with foreign nations with poor human
rights records, who may engage in torture and other human rights abuses;
4. racial stereotyping.
Part I Report made 23 recommendations. The
Government of Canada has stated that it has accepted and implemented all of
these recommendations including settling Mr. Arar’s lawsuit without forcing
him to go through a long trial. The
Part 2 Report recommended a comprehensive, independent review mechanism for
the RCMP and other agencies when engaged in national security activities.
This Report was released in December 2006 and the Government is now
considering the recommendations along with the recommendations of two other
inquiries. Justice O’Connor’s
reports have been very well received by Canadians and indeed have received
world wide attention. The
Americans are very interested in the report because it gives a graphic example
of what can happen when an innocent person becomes caught up in their policy
of extraordinary rendition. The
European community used the report in some of the work done by a number of
their legislative committees looking into illegal national security behaviour
by their agencies. Finally. I am
advised that the reports have been the topic of favourable and positive
discussion in many Canadian mosques. Hopefully
Justice O’Connor has gone a long way in helping to restore the trust and
confidence which our Muslim communities have in Canadian government
are achievements which most lawyers and judges can only dream of.
Justice O’Connor’s contributions to the Canadian law, public policy
and human rights have been fundamental and all Canadians will benefit from his
achievements for years to come.
In closing, let me say that Justice O’Connor has all of the qualities which
make a great lawyer, judge or public official.
Qualities such as integrity, fairness, compassion, fearlessness and
humility. These are the
characteristics which underlie all of his achievements and why Canadians hold
him in such high regard.
In closing, let me say that Justice O’Connor has all of the qualities which make a great lawyer, judge or public official. Qualities such as integrity, fairness, compassion, fearlessness and humility. These are the characteristics which underlie all of his achievements and why Canadians hold him in such high regard.