Clara Brett Martin ’96 (1874-1923)
Clara Brett Martin’s first battle was to just get into Osgoode. Her petition to the Law Society of Upper Canada to be recognized as a student was initially rejected, but with the support of politicians, including Ontario Premier Oliver Mowat, and prominent activists Emily Stowe and Lady Aberdeen, legislation was passed on April 13, 1892 that permitted the admission of women. She went on to become the first woman in the British Commonwealth to be called to the bar. Although celebrated for her determination in “opening the bar” to women, recent archival evidence has disclosed that Martin held anti-Semitic views which she expressed in a letter to the Attorney General. Whether this reflects a prevailing attitude of the time among the Bar or the Toronto establishment, or whether it is a stain on her record of achievement, Clara Brett Martin’s legacy as a trailblazer continues to shape legal education a century later.
Helen A. Kinnear ’20 (1894-1970)
Described as generous and self-effacing, Port Colborne native Helen Kinnear was the first federally appointed woman judge in Canada. Before attending Osgoode Hall Law School, she received a BA from the University of Toronto in English and History. She set up practice with her father and participated in numerous Liberal political associations. She was even nominated to run as a federal candidate but declined. Kinnear was the first woman to plead a case in the Supreme Court of Ontario, the first woman to be appointed a King’s Counsel in the British Commonwealth (1934), until finally she became the county court judge for Haldimand. She also served on the Council of the Canadian Bar Association, was the honorary president of the Women’s Law Association of Ontario, and was appointed by the Province of Ontario as a member of the Minister’s Advisory Council on the Treatment of the Offender. In 1965, she became the first woman to receive a medal from the John Howard Society of Ontario in recognition of her contributions to the profession and concern for the rights of the offender.
David A. Croll ’24 (1900–1991)
David Croll was born in Moscow and immigrated with his family to Canada when he was a young boy. An early advocate of welfare and other types of social assistance, Croll first worked as a lawyer then moved into politics. He served as the mayor of Windsor from 1931 to 1934 during the height of the Great Depression. Croll insisted the city go into deficit in order to provide relief programs for the unemployed and destitute. He became Canada’s first Jewish cabinet minister when he was appointed the Minister of Public Welfare under Mitchell Hepburn’s Liberal government. While serving as Minister of Labour, Croll resigned from Hepburn’s Cabinet, after the Premier sided with General Motors during the 1937 United Auto Workers Strike in Oshawa. He wrote: “I would rather walk with the workers than ride with General Motors.” After another term as mayor of Windsor, and service with the Canadian Army during WWII, he was elected as an MP for Toronto-Spadina riding. Croll became Canada’s first Jewish senator in 1955. He was the author of an influential report on poverty, which moved the Trudeau government to triple family allowances and institute the Child Tax Credit in 1978. Croll was also responsible for several Senate reports on aging. In 1990, he was sworn into the Queen's Privy Council, an honour usually given only to federal cabinet ministers.
Vera Parsons ’24 (1889-1973)
Vera Parsons was the first female criminal defence lawyer in Ontario, likely the first woman to appear before judge and jury, and the first to defend an accused murderer. A great fan of litigation work, especially at the appellate level, Parsons practised criminal law at a time when it was seen as particularly unsuitable to women. Parsons, the daughter of a Simpson’s department store executive, was a highly educated woman, holding a Bachelor of Arts degree from the University of Toronto and a Master’s degree in Comparative Languages from Bryn Mawr College. In 1924, she graduated from Osgoode and became the first woman whose academic accomplishments earned her the Osgoode Silver Medal. Parsons was also one of the first female lawyers in Canada with a disability, requiring a cane after having contracted polio as a child. In 1944, she became only the third woman to be named King’s Counsel.
Margaret Hyndman ’25 (1902-1991)
Upon Margaret Hyndman’s call to the bar, the guest of honor remarked that he regretted that her parents had spent so much money to educate her for a profession in which there was no room for women. Undeterred, Hyndman went on to establish a successful career in company law and litigation. In 1945, she became the first woman director of a Canadian trust company. She was also the first Canadian woman to appear before the Privy Council in London. During WWII, Hyndman organized the voluntary registration of Canadian women for war work and pushed to provide free legal aid to members of the Armed Forces and their families. For her services to the Free France Movement she was awarded a citation from Charles DeGaulle and received a silver medal from the City of Paris. A passionate advocate of women’s rights, Hyndman served on many legal and women’s organizations, such as the National and International Federation of Business and Professional Women. In her role as president, she helped shape Ontario’s legislation on equal pay for equal work. Hyndman also participated in the Kaufman birth control case, the Lavell case involving native women's loss of status after marrying non-native men, as well as the Bell Canada equal pay case. In recognition of her accomplishments, she was appointed the second female King’s Counsel in 1938, a member of the Order of Canada in 1973, and received the Law Society Medal in 1986.
The Honourable Abraham (Abe) Lieff ’26 (1903-2007)
Abraham (Abe) Lieff was the first Jewish justice of the Supreme Court of Ontario and, as such, was also the first person to be sworn in wearing a yarmulke and holding the Old Testament. Born in Antopol, Poland (now Belarus), Lieff emigrated to Canada when he was just one year old. After graduating from Osgoode in 1926, Lieff joined his brother’s practice in Ottawa where he specialized in family law (at a time when divorces could only be obtained through special acts of Parliament). In 1963, he was appointed to the Superior Court of Ontario and, as a judge, pioneered the use of pre-trial conferences for mediating child custody, spousal support and other contentious disputes outside of the courtroom. Lieff’s contributions earned him the title of “Father of Ontario Family Law.” He was an example for generations of Jewish lawyers in Canada who aspired to leadership positions in the profession.
The Honourable Bora Laskin ’36 (1912-1984)
Bora Laskin was the first academic and the first Jewish man to be appointed to the Supreme Court of Canada (1970) and to become Chief Justice (1973). Born in 1912 in Fort William, Ontario (now Thunder Bay) to a Russian immigrant family, Laskin grew up playing baseball and excelling in school. He graduated from Osgoode in 1936 after studying law at the University of Toronto. He went on to complete a Master of Laws degree at Harvard University. Despite his academic credentials, Laskin faced considerable difficulties in finding an articling position, employment or a place in the academy in the anti-Semitic atmosphere of 1930s and 40s Toronto. Laskin persevered and obtained a teaching position at the University of Toronto in 1940. Five years later, he was appointed to Osgoode’s faculty. In 1949, Laskin resigned in order to return to the University of Toronto as a founding member of the new faculty of law. Laskin was appointed to the Ontario Court of Appeal in 1965 and in 1970, was elevated to the Supreme Court of Canada and became its first Jewish member. He is remembered for the doors he helped open for Jewish Canadians, his love of learning, his compassion and his commitment to reason and integrity.
Kew Dock Yip ’45 (1906-2001)
Kew Dock Yip was Canada’s first Chinese Canadian lawyer. Born in 1906, he was the 17th of 23 children of Vancouver businessman Yip Sang. After graduating from Osgoode Hall Law School in 1945, Dock Yip, as he was known, worked with Jewish civil rights lawyer Irving Himel and activists from across Canada to repeal the Chinese Exclusion Act. Dock Yip was a leader within Toronto’s Chinese Canadian community, working out of his office in Chinatown for 47 years until his retirement in 1992. In 1998, he was awarded the Law Society Medal from the Law Society of Upper Canada.
The Catalysts Project celebrates inspiring Osgoode alumni who overcame barriers in the legal community and who paved the way for many others. These incredible individuals took risks, persevered regardless of the challenges and demanded that society, and the legal profession, aim for higher ideals.
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