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Law Society announces 2020 award recipients

March 13, 2020

TORONTO, ON — Members of Ontario's legal professions will be recognized for their outstanding career achievements and contributions to their communities at the annual Law Society Awards ceremony on May 27, 2020*, at Osgoode Hall.

*Please note: event may be rescheduled subject to advice of public health authorities.

“Through the Law Society awards, we recognize important contributions and important leadership,” said Law Society Treasurer Malcolm Mercer. “Each award recipient is deserving of recognition. Each recipient provides a worthy example of professional service. We look forward to honouring them at our annual awards ceremony with the Law Society’s highest awards of recognition."

The awards presented in May will include: The Law Society Medal, The Lincoln Alexander Award, The Laura Legge Award, The William J. Simpson Distinguished Paralegal Award and the J. Shirley Denison Award.

The following highlights the achievements of the 2020 recipients.

Law Society Medal

Professor Jeff Berryman: Called to the Bar in 1994, Professor Berryman is an exemplary academic role model. He is recognized both nationally and internationally as a scholar in his field of expertise – contracts, remedies and restitutions. He has provided exceptional leadership at the University of Windsor and continues to provide invaluable inspiration to his students and the faculty.

Marie Chen: Called to the Bar in 1991, Marie Chen has dedicated her career to advocating for justice for low- income and marginalized communities. Her commitment has led her to serve the majority of her professional career in legal aid clinics. Ms. Chen has engaged in law reform and litigated countless cases that have advanced racial equality and income security for disadvantaged communities.

Dr. Ron Ellis (PhD Law): Called to the Bar in 1964, Ron Ellis is recognized as a leader in administrative law, a teacher and mentor, adjudicator and tribunal administrator who has spoken and written extensively about administrative justice systems. As the inaugural Chair of the Worker’s Compensation Appeals Tribunal, he entrenched the rule of law in the adjudication of workers' compensation claims in Ontario and is known for his persistent advocacy for rule-of-law reforms in Canadian administrative justice systems generally.

Arleen Huggins: Called to the Bar in 1991, Arleen Huggins has been a strong voice and champion for equity within the legal profession. A former President of the Canadian Association of Black Lawyers, she has been instrumental in advocating for inclusiveness for racialized women, lawyers and students in law. She is a partner and head of the Litigation Employment Law Group at Koskie Minsky LLP specializing in litigation, employment law and human rights. 

Gilbert Labine: Called to the Bar in 1977, Gilbert Labine has dedicated his career to advocating for the most vulnerable and marginalized people in Northwestern Ontario– a community he is deeply committed to. He is an integral part of that community’s criminal justice system.

Colonel (Ret’d) Vihar Joshi, OMM, MSM, CD, QC: Called to the Bar in 1990, Colonel Joshi has made remarkable contributions as a lawyer and soldier representing the best of the Canadian legal profession on international military operations in Haiti, Bosnia, and Afghanistan. He has served Canada for more than 28 years as military officer and lawyer with the Office of the Judge Advocate General.

Heather Joy Ross, LLB: Called to the Bar in 1986, Heather Ross is being recognized for her exceptional leadership and contribution to the legal profession and her community. She played a critical role in the establishment of the Huron Women’s Shelter in Goderich and she is a founder and active member of the South West Region Women’s Law Association. She served four consecutive terms as an elected Law Society of Ontario Bencher, starting in 1995, and then served as a life Bencher until 2019.

Dr. Dianne Saxe (PhD Law): Called to the Bar in 1976, Dianne Saxe is being recognized for her exemplary dedication and leadership to the development of environmental law in Ontario. As a pioneer in this area of law, she is one of Canada’s most respected environmental lawyers with more than 40 years’ experience in writing, interpreting and litigating Ontario’s energy, environment and climate laws.

Donald V. Thomson: Called to the Bar in 1973, Donald Thomson is being recognized for his work as a solicitor and his leadership in the Real Estate Bar. He is the former Head of Section for the Law Society’s Bar Admission Course. He is a speaker and contributor to continuing legal education programs and is recognized as a preeminent expert in real estate law.

Lincoln Alexander Award

John E. Valeriote: Called to the Bar in 1968, John Valeriote has been an integral part of the Guelph legal community for more than 50 years. He has committed his life to numerous community causes and countless fundraising initiatives in support of community programs. His community service has been recognized with the Confederation Medal in 1992 and the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee Medal in 2012.

Laura Legge Award

Jacqueline Lewis: Called to the Bar in 1991, Jacqueline Lewis has demonstrated extraordinary achievement and leadership as a lawyer and as an advocate for LGBTQ Rights. She is the founder of Canada’s largest woman-owned refugee law firm. Ms. Lewis is the President of Egale, Canada’s only national charity dedicated to improving the lives of members of the LGBTQ12S communities and she spearheaded the creation of Egale Centre, the only crisis centre for homeless LGBTQ12S youth in downtown Toronto.

J. Shirley Denison Award

Mary Birdsell: Called to the Bar in 1996, Mary Birdsell is being recognized for her unfailing commitment and dedication to her clients and to promoting and advancing access to justice for vulnerable children and young people. She is the Executive Director at Justice for Children and Youth (JFCY), a legal clinic serving vulnerable and marginalized children. She is the founder of JFCY’s Street Youth Legal Services program, a specialized legal outreach program designed to serve the unique needs of homeless youth.

William J. Simpson Distinguished Paralegal Award

Michelle L. Haigh: Licensed in 2008, Michelle Haigh is a highly regarded practitioner who has demonstrated extraordinary commitment to her profession. Having operated Precision Paralegal Services since 1996, she has mentored countless paralegals and frequently shares her expertise through professional education programs. She has been instrumental in the significant advances made in paralegal regulation in Ontario through her leadership and contribution as a Law Society Bencher.

The Law Society regulates lawyers and paralegals in Ontario in the public interest. The Law Society has a mandate to protect the public interest, to maintain and advance the cause of justice and the rule of law, to facilitate access to justice for the people of Ontario and act in a timely, open and efficient manner.

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Media contact: Jennifer Wing, Senior Communications Advisor, External Relations and Communications, at 416-947-3455 or jwing@lso.ca. Follow us on LinkedIn, Instagram, Twitter and Facebook.