It has been quite a “victory lap” for retired Chief Justice of Ontario Warren Winkler. I had occasion to attend several events honouring Chief Justice Winkler since his retirement in early December 2013, and Osgoode Hall Law School has the privilege to now be home to the newly launched Winkler Institute for Dispute Resolution (with the former Chief himself joining Osgoode this January as a Distinguished Visiting Professor) at the start of 2014. Having heard the speeches, sipped the wine and tucked into a variety of chicken breasts and lamb racks, I have come away with the following insights about “the Chief”-  and our judicial system more broadly.

1.        First, Warren Winkler knows how to work a crowd. His stories are legendary (and even hearing the same one a second or third time always yields new insights). In his stories, he is always both the outsider and someone comfortable in his own skin (like the story of his brief flirtation with Peter Lougheed’s firm in Calgary, until they learned he wanted to practice Labour Law and sent him packing back to Toronto). Check out his memorable remarks on the occasion of Osgoode’s Building Celebration in 2011 here.


2.       Second, Winkler as a judge was able to wring deals out of parties they did not know could be wrung. He charmed and cajoled major restructuring agreements in Air Canada and  Shaw, resolved Walkerton’s Class Action, the dispute between Ontario Hydro and Power Workers and many other complex disputes.  Winkler’s vision of the justice system is as an accessible, responsive place where problems can be solved.

3.       Third, The Winkler Institute will be a lively place. With a significant and growing endowment provided by a wide range of donors (both in and out of the legal world), a generous Law Foundation Grant and a supportive home at Osgoode, the Institute is poised to hit the ground running. It will be devoted not just to research and teaching on innovation in dispute resolution, but also serving to incubate and pilot initiatives on the ground. On-line dispute resolution as a means of enhancing access to justice; training in negotiation and consultation as a way of building capacity and trust between government indigenous communities and industry; , commercial arbitration as a means of spurring investment and economic development; community “problem-solving” justice as a means of providing alternatives to courts, all are ideas which the Institute will explore.  The hunger for turning such ideas into action is palpable, and led a broad range of luminaries to volunteer to join the Institute’s Advisory Board, from Roberta Jamieson to Bob Rae, Buzz Hargrove to Amanda Lang, Ian Binnie to Joe Clark, and many others.

4.      Fourth, the legal community really is a community. Whether the Labour Bar, the Class Actions Bar or the Commercial Bar, Winkler’s career (and retirement) brought lawyers together in common causes. This trait may explain why one or two or even three farewell soirees were not enough to mark the Chief’s retirement.

5.      Fifth, as we wait for the Government to announce the appointment of a new Chief Justice of Ontario, it is worth reflecting on the evolving scope of this role. Since at least Roy McMurtry’s tenure in the office, it is a leadership role not just for the Ontario Court of Appeal and the Ontario judiciary as a whole, but also entails a pivotal role as a support for public interest legal innovation (McMurtry, for example, played a key role in launching the Ontario Justice Education Network (OJEN) and Pro Bono Law Ontario (PBLO)) Winkler’s drum-beating for access to justice, for court reform and for judicial mediation, all have led to broader attention to these priorities for the justice system.  My hope is that the Winkler Institute becomes one of the legacies that speaks to the Chief Justice’s role as a catalyst for change.