Michael Tulloch raised the bar nine years ago when he became one of the youngest legal minds to be appointed to the Superior Court of Justice.
The Jamaican-born Tulloch has set another historical precedent with his landmark promotion to the Ontario Court of Appeal. He’s the first African-Canadian to sit on the top law-making provincial court since its establishment 145 years ago.
The 24-member court, headed by Ontario’s Chief Justice, Warren Winkler, considers civil and criminal appeals from decisions rendered by the Superior and Ontario Courts of Justice.
Former provincial Chief Justice Roy McMurtry hailed the milestone appointment.
“The fact that Michael is the first Black on the Ontario Court of Appeal is important, but equally significant, if not more so, is that he’s very qualified for the position,” said McMurtry, the chancellor of York University. “He’s also a highly admired trial judge who has the respect of the criminal defence bar in particular and lawyers in general. He’s a welcomed addition to the court.”
A migrant to Canada at age nine, Tulloch and McMurtry sit on the Osgoode Society Legal History board and the province’s former top judge is the founding patron of the Second Chance Foundation which Tulloch and Rick Gosling established to assist young people with criminal records.
“I am so excited for Michael,” said Gosling who started the Children’s Breakfast Club 29 years ago. “He is always giving back to the community and supporting initiatives that involve young people.”
Ian Kirby of the boutique litigation law firm Gilbert, Wright and Kirby which provided Tulloch with his start in the legal profession, said the appointment is “business as usual” even though Tulloch is making history.
“I come to this as someone who saw him at the start of his career, read his decisions after his appointment to the Ontario Superior Court and as someone who spent a number of years on the Judiciary Advisory Committee, making recommendations to the Superior Court and Court of Appeal,” said Kirby.
“I can say with certainty that Michael was an excellent student and everything I ever heard thereafter is that that ability continued when he became a lawyer. For me, the colour of his skin was and will always be irrelevant to that assessment. He got appointed to the Superior Court because he demonstrated exemplary skills as a lawyer and his appointment to the Court of Appeal now clearly shows he has the ability to do the job…They only appoint the truly qualified. That’s business as usual.”
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.
He and Ontario’s Ombudsman Andre Marin were both hired as crown attorneys at the same time.
“This is a brilliant appointment,” Marin said of Tulloch’s ascension. “Michael is an incredibly skilled lawyer and judge and he will be a tremendous asset to the Court of Appeal. I am very proud of him.”
Tulloch spent eight years in private practice, specializing in criminal law until he was elevated to the Bench in 2003. While in private practice, he was appointed a special prosecuting agent with the Federal Department of Justice and he participated in a number of commissions, including the Ontario Government Review on Civilian Oversight on Policing, the Review of the Ontario Legal Aid Plan and the Criminal Code Review conducted by the Federal Attorney General and the Minister of Justice.
Former Canadian Association of Black Lawyers (CABL) president Frank Walwyn said Tulloch will make the Bench stronger and representative of the community and also enhance the court’s reputation in Canada and the rest of the world.
“I have always maintained that it is most important that a judiciary be representative of the community it serves,” said Walwyn, who is a rising star in Canada’s legal community. “The decisions of the Ontario Court of Appeal are held in the highest regard across Canada and indeed around the world. I appear before courts in many countries and the reasoning of the Ontario Court of Appeal is always accorded the greatest respect and has extremely strong persuasive value.”
In 2003, Tulloch was appointed a Superior Court of Justice judge, presiding in the Central West Ontario region.
Tulloch, and Central East Regional senior judge, Gregory Regis, worked together as crown attorneys until Regis’ appointment to the Ontario Court in January 1999. Tulloch also was a director of the Jane-Finch Community Legal Services Clinic at the same time that Regis was the executive director.
“Michael is a legal star, but what is hardly known about him is that he’s very community-oriented and he has done a lot of pro bono work,” said Regis. “It’s good to see another barrier has been broken and he is the person who has cleared the hurdle and opened the door.”
Criminal lawyer Marie Heinen said her Osgoode Hall classmate possesses all the qualities to be successful in his new position.
“Justice Tulloch brings compassion, common sense and a great deal of practical knowledge to the law,” said the former president of the Advocates’ Society.
An academic fellow of McLaughlin and Vanier College at York University and former York University lecturer and member of Osgoode Hall’s Dean’s advisory board, Tulloch sits on Ryerson University School of Criminology’s advisory board and is an adjunct professor at the University of Ontario Institute of Technology’s criminology department and an Ontario Superior Court Judges’ representative to the Judiserve Committee on Technological Innovation for Courts.
He’s also the recipient of honorary degrees from the University of Guelph and Tyndale University College and a member of the Ontario Superior Court Judges Education Committee and treasurer of the province’s Superior Court Judges Association.
“Michael has a solid background and experience,” said CABL founding president and Public Prosecution Service of Canada counsel, Sandy Thomas. “When you combine his legal expertise and his wealth of community service, there’s no doubt that he’s more than aptly qualified for his new position.”
Tulloch, who last April was honoured with a Harry Jerome Award, takes up his new appointment on June 30.
By RON FANFAIR