Canadian legal history was extolled last week when judicial practitioners celebrated Michael Tulloch’s landmark appointment as the first Black judge on the Ontario Court of Appeal.
Established 145 years ago, the members of the top law-making provincial court consider civil and criminal appeals from decisions rendered by the Superior and Ontario Courts of Justice.
A graduate of Central Peel Secondary School, where he was one of 18 alumni inducted into the school’s academic Hall of Fame two years ago to mark its 50th anniversary, and Osgoode Hall, Tulloch was appointed an assistant crown attorney in 1991 where he worked in Peel and Toronto. In that role, he was one of three lawyers who created and implemented a charge-screening strategy that is still used within the province’s criminal courts and other Canadian jurisdictions.
Nine years ago, he became one of the youngest legal minds to be elevated to the Superior Court of Justice.
Tulloch said he has been embraced and welcomed by his provincial Court of Appeal colleagues and he’s looking forward to the new challenges that lie ahead.
“By me being on the Court of Appeal, I believe it gives hope to young lawyers from all walks of life that Canada is an inclusive and a just society and one in which the Goddess of Justice has real meaning,” he said. “I am proud to be a Canadian and to be a part of the administration of justice. Like all the rest of my judicial colleagues, I commit to work hard and do my best to ensure that my oath of office will always be at the forefront of whatever I do and that the principles of justice are always reflected in my decisions.”
Tulloch, who migrated with his family from Jamaica at age nine, used the celebratory occasion to thank several people who played pivotal roles in shaping his career.
They include York University Humanities professor, Dr. Martin Lockshin, who suggested Tulloch pursue law and promised he would support his application to law school at a time when the then undergraduate student was contemplating enrolling in a Master’s in Business Administration program, and Ryerson University president and vice-chancellor, Dr. Sheldon Levy, who taught Tulloch at York University.
“At the time, Sheldon saw something in me that I never saw in myself and he mentored me and showed me that with education, you can actually change the world in which we live,” said Tulloch, who is the founding patron of the Second Chance Foundation that he and Rick Gosling established to assist young people with criminal records. “Over the years, Sheldon has been more like a father to me and for that I am grateful.”
Tulloch, who last April was honoured with a Harry Jerome Award, also paid tribute to former Ontario chief justice Roy McMurtry as “another mentor, one of the greatest Canadians of our generation and someone who has always devoted his life to those who are less fortunate”, and his mother.
“She was my greatest inspiration,” he said. “I remember watching her when I was a 10-year-old attending university and completing her degree in nursing which she graduated with high honours. I always wanted to be like her.”
In addition to his mother, 12 of Tulloch’s 16 uncles and aunts graduated from university and several completed graduate studies.
“It’s through my family I first developed a love for books and an insatiable appetite for learning,” he said. “I was blessed with incredible family members, teachers, mentors and friends who have helped to guide me and expose me to a world beyond the borders of Jamaica.”
The Canadian Association of Black Lawyers (CABL) of which Tulloch is a former president and Koskie Minsky LLP collaborated to host the event.
“As residents of Ontario, we were pleased that the Court of Appeal had gained another exceptional legal mind who will add great depth and legal acumen to the court,” said CABL president, Andrew Alleyne. “Our organization did not lose his support and guidance after he was no longer president. Over the years, he has demonstrated that he would always be present for our community, whether it is for fundraisers, CABL galas, speaking engagements or just to offer those quiet words of advice that we all so appreciate.”
Koskie Minsky LLP managing partner Murray Gold noted that Tulloch has contributed both to the development of the law in this jurisdiction and to the community while chief justice Warren Winkler marvelled at Tulloch’s expansive knowledge of various subjects.
They met for the first time nine years ago when Tulloch attended a course for newly-minted judges in Mont-Tremblant, Quebec where Minkler was an instructor. They sat next to one another on the bus and plane ride back to Toronto.
“What an engaging relationship we developed on that particular journey,” recalled Winkler who heads the provincial Court of Appeal. “It was there I learned that Michael is truly an eclectic person. There is no topic that I have ever been able to discern that he can’t talk about. His knowledge base is substantive…He’s a beacon and a model for everyone to emulate, particularly young people and his community contributions set him apart.”
Member of Provincial Parliament, Margarett Best, Senators Donald Oliver and Don Meredith and several judges, including Gregory Regis, Hugh Fraser and Selwyn Romilly, attended the event.
By RON FANFAIR