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Churchill Society Gala Honours Former Chief Justice of Ontario Roy McMurtry 

 

The Honourable R. Roy McMurtry was the recipient of the 2016 Churchill Society Award for Excellence in the Cause of Parliamentary Democracy at the 33rd Annual Churchill Society Gala Dinner in Toronto. Mr. McMurtry, along with then Minister of Justice Jean Chrétien and Attorney General of Saskatchewan Roy Romanow, played a significant role in the patriation of Canada’s Constitution while serving as Attorney General of Ontario. These three formidable nation builders met in the kitchen of Ottawa’s Government Conference Centre on the night of November 4th 1981 to broker the deal – known as the “kitchen accord” – that led to the patriation of Canada’s Constitution, achieving full sovereignty for Canada and enshrining the Charter of Rights and Freedoms.

The Churchill Society for the Advancement of Parliamentary Democracy serves to preserve and advance the principles of parliamentary democracy that were championed so vociferously by Britain’s wartime Prime Minister, Sir Winston Churchill. “Too many forces seek to threaten individual liberties and democratic institutions where they exist in our day” said the Society’s current Board Chair John Parker. “In the spirit of the great man for whom our Society is named, we remind ourselves that it has never been more vital that we as Canadians remain resolute in our commitment to the preservation and advancement of the principles of parliamentary democracy that have helped make our country the envy of the world.”

In addition to presenting Mr. McMurtry with the Award for Excellence, the Churchill Society welcomed CBC’s Chief Correspondent Peter Mansbridge to the stage to speak to recent world events. “Imagine how Churchill would have taken down Trump’s consistent inconsistencies during the election” commented Mansbridge. Although there is certainly a role for humour in politics – in fact Churchill was known for his cutting wit – Mansbridge warned that “what’s happening in the world is not funny. We have an opportunity as Canadians to stand up for equality and justice.”

 

 

Following the remarks by Peter Mansbridge, the Society’s honouree Roy McMurtry took to the stage. For Mr. McMurtry, the results of the recent US Presidential election are of grave concern:

"To me, [Donald Trump] is an aberration to what Churchill stood for. What Churchill believed was the importance of a democracy for the people to elect their leaders, even how imperfect that result might be. Donald Trump is obviously a classic example of that and I think reminds us all that we have to be vigilant in respect to our own democracy and not take it for granted. It can become quite fragile, as America is experiencing now with their President-Elect."   

When asked what he believes to be the greatest legacy of his own career, Mr. McMurtry pointed to his work fighting for a fairer and more equal society in Canada. “To me, one of my great interests was respecting the diversity of our society and respect for minorities, having had the chance to negotiate a settlement that included the Charter of Rights through patriation. That’s probably my happiest memory.”

In addition to his role helping to usher in the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms, Mr. McMurtry was at the centre of the landmark decision that made same-sex marriage legal in Ontario in 2003. As Chief Justice of Ontario and head of the Court of Appeal for Ontario, McMurtry lead his panel of judges to rule in Halpern v. Canada that provisions in the Charter of Rights and Freedoms guaranteeing equality under the law require marriage licenses to be issued to same-sex couples by the Province of Ontario. Ontario became the third jurisdiction in the world to legalize same-sex marriage.

Also present at the 33rd Annual Churchill Society Gala was Toronto Mayor John Tory. Earlier that day Mayor Tory made his provocative announcement that he plans to introduce road tolls on the Don Valley Parkway and Gardiner Expressway in order to tackle congestion and lessen a widening infrastructure funding gap. Mayor Tory is facing both loud criticism and vehement praise for what is being hailed a “bold decision.” It is reassuring to see bold ideas and rigorous debate continuing at all levels of government in Canada – one of the world’s greatest parliamentary democracies.