2019 Distinguished Alumni Achievement Award nominee: Paul Robertson
Before his call to the bar and appointment to the bench, Justice Paul Robertson graduated with a Bachelor of Environmental Studies from the University of Waterloo. Law was not a goal or a pre-chartered path for Paul. Urban development to him was an opportunity to make a real impact in people’s lives. It was his dream job.
Paul ascribes his piqued interest in law to his attendance at hearings before the Environmental Assessment Board. He decided to attend law school so that he could represent parties proposing or opposing development. When he got there, however, he discovered his passion for criminal law – the process of advocacy, and the marshaling of evidence to make a point is what truly interested him.
“There is no better nor active an advocate than a criminal lawyer. Unlike their civil counterparts, a criminal lawyer is in court every day advocating for their client or for the Crown. I was sold.”
Paul went on to become Assistant Crown Attorney, and briefly an Acting Deputy Crown Attorney before joining the defence bar. He conducted one of the first Not Criminally Responsible hearings following the Supreme Court of Canada’s decision on the rights of the mentally ill in their criminal defence (R. v. Swain).
In 2003, this Waterloo grad became the Honourable Mr. Justice Paul Robertson. The suggestion to apply for a judicial appointment surprised him; to become a judge seemed to sacrifice advocacy, but he realized that being the decision-maker held its own appeal. Over the past 16 years presiding over Toronto’s criminal cases, including one of the largest preliminary inquiries in Canadian history, the prosecution of the notorious street gang, the Galloway Boyz, Paul has had a real impact on people’s lives every day. It is his dream job.
Planning and the courses he took at Waterloo taught Paul a great deal about how to consider problems holistically – a perspective he employs daily.
“Judging may appear easy to those outside the justice system. The media reports only the crime. It doesn’t tell you about the person – how they got to where they are - their challenges; their struggle with mental health; their addictions – their life story….and to address the ultimate question: how do we deal with the person so as to minimize the chances they will come back? ”
Paul has served the legal profession outside the courtroom as much as he has within it. Currently, Paul is representing the Court in the design of the New Toronto Court House where he gets to draw upon his urban planning background which he is thrilled about. For his extensive work with the Ontario Bar Association and legal profession in Ontario, Paul was awarded the OBA’s Linda Adlam Manning Award for Volunteerism.