Clayton Ruby, one of Canada’s best known criminal lawyers, activists and civil rights champions, has died at the age of 80, his Toronto law firm confirmed Wednesday.
The Toronto native died peacefully Tuesday afternoon surrounded by his family, read a post on the Twitter account belonging to his law firm Ruby Shiller Enenajor DiGiuseppe. The cause of death was not revealed.
“Clay was a dedicated advocate for human rights, a champion of the underdog and a loving friend. Our thoughts are with his family and our entire firm mourns the loss of our leader and mentor,” read the tweet, confirmed by partner Stephanie DiGiuseppe. Ruby was married to Superior Court Justice Harriet Sachs. They have two daughters, Emma and Kate.
Federal Justice Minister David Lametti, a law professor, called Ruby “a true giant of the Canadian bar.”
“His decades of principled advocacy have left an indelible mark on our justice system and Canadian society,” he wrote in a tweet.
Nader Hasan, one of many prominent criminal lawyers and judges taught and mentored by Ruby, wrote in an email that the late lawyer “hated bullies and injustice.”
“He was a champion for important causes even before the mainstream Left embraced them. Perhaps that’s why he made such a mark in so many different areas of Canadian law and society.”
Ruby was involved in many landmark cases. They included Askov, where the Supreme Court of Canada reaffirmed the constitutional right to a speedy trial, the Michelle Douglas case, which ended the decades-long policy of discrimination against LGBTQ2+ in the armed forces, along with innumerable abortion rights cases.
“Clay’s cases not only changed the law, but his methods would become the blueprint for future lawyers on how to take on government in high-stakes constitutional litigation,” Hasan wrote in his email.
Born Feb. 6, 1942, Ruby graduated from the University of Toronto law school in 1967 and was called to the Ontario bar in 1969. In the 70s, he earned a law degree from the University of California (Berkeley), the former hotbed of alternative thought.
For 50-plus years, Ruby ran a private practice based in Toronto specializing in criminal, constitutional and administrative law. He appeared more than 50 times at the Supreme Court of Canada.
Ruby devoted “his professional career to ensuring that those who are underprivileged or facing discrimination are given equal access to our legal system,” Dying with Dignity Canada wrote on its website. In 1994, Ruby represented former MP Svend Robinson who had been present at the unlawfully medically-assisted death of Sue Rodriguez. Robinson did not end up being charged.
He was a “dear friend” and a “pillar of the progressive community, and a fine and decent man, a mensch,” Robinson tweeted.
Ruby was named to the Order of Canada in 2006, and won numerous awards including those for human rights and for environmental advocacy. He also had many community memberships and affiliations.
During the ’80s and ’90s, Ruby was involved in some of Ontario’s most high-profile criminal cases.
Described in the Star in 1986 as “the fastest-talking lawyer in Canada,” Ruby represented Guy Paul Morin who was acquitted after his first trial in the 1984 sex-slaying of Christine Jessop, his next-door neighbour’s nine-year-old daughter.
Taking a calculated risk, Ruby told the jurors that Morin was innocent, but if they decided that he had in fact killed the girl, they should accept psychiatric evidence that he did not know what he was doing at the time of the murder.
The Crown appealed the acquittal, and Morin was convicted after a second trial. He was eventually exonerated after DNA excluded him as the killer. (In 2020 the real killer was identified. He died in 2015.)
To Ruby, the case against Morin highlighted civil rights issues he argued for throughout his career.
“When the majority of the evidence is gathered after the arrest one can never be sure whether police are really finding out who committed the crime, or whether they’re finding out if you put someone under enough of a microscope, enough of a spotlight, you can find evidence that looks like something, even though it’s not very convincing, “ Ruby said after the acquittal.
Also in the ’80s, Ruby defended Andrew Leyshon-Hughes who brutally killed Nancy Eaton, the great-great-granddaughter of Sir Timothy Eaton, the department store founder.
During the trial, Ruby called a medical expert who testified Leyshon-Hughes was the “crocodile man” because, when he went into the fits of rage, he was using only the part of the brain present in reptiles. Before the case went to the jury, the Crown conceded Leyshon-Hughes was criminally insane at the time of the murder.
Decades later, when Nader Hasan started working with Ruby, he was already “a legend,” he wrote in his email.
“On a personal level, he was warm, empathetic, and very interested in you as a human being. I would hate to ever have been cross-examined by him in a courtroom, but to us, he was a tremendous lunch and dinner companion, a generous mentor, and a loving friend.”
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