Justice Russell G. Juriansz became one of only two South Asians bestowed with the degree of Doctor of Law honoris causa by the Law Society.
The Law Society awards honorary doctorates to distinguished people in recognition of outstanding achievements in the legal profession, the rule of law or the cause of justice.
Justice Juriansz is described as a history-making judge for being the one who broke the colour line by becoming the first person of South Asian origin appointed to Ontario’s Supreme Court 1998 and the first racialized judge appointed to the Court of Appeal for Ontario in 2004.
He served as legal counsel, general counsel and then director of legal services of the then newly-established Canadian Human Rights Commission.
As a lawyer in government and private practice, he practised principally in the areas of human rights and constitutional law and has appeared before the Supreme Court of Canada on some of the country’s seminal human rights cases, including discrimination.
Justice Juriansz saw a lot of discrimination growing up in the Toronto of the 50s and 60s.
“We were exotic!” he recalls.
“You didn’t really see too many people who weren’t white. There were no settlement services, no reception, my parents had a very hard time initially.”
But theirs was the typical immigrant story, he adds. “There are still people who come with nothing, work hard and make a success of their lives. We were part of that – precarious beginning, but in the end, a well-settled, successful life.”
He encourages young lawyers to embrace change.
“Don’t be satisfied with just practising law. Search for ways to improve the law and legal process and then work to change things.
“A lot of people, when they find themselves in a situation, they take it as this is how things are, this is the way it’s always been done. That is not a satisfactory approach.
“Nothing remains the same.
“Things are going to change. You can either drift along or you can choose to be an agent of change.”