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Farewell Marlys

April 20, 2018

Marlys Edwardh retires after 42 exceptional years at the bar

Marlys Edwardh, one of Canada’s titans of criminal law, is retiring after a remarkable career that spanned more than four decades.

Marlys joined Goldblatt Partners in 2011, and we consider ourselves extremely fortunate to have spent the past seven years working with her.  Although we are happy that Marlys will now have more time to spend sailing and taking her new puppy for walks, we will miss watching the wheels of her formidable intellect turn as she searches for practical solutions to complex legal problems.

A couple of weeks ago, some of Marlys’ colleagues in the criminal law bar held a dinner to celebrate her career.  Justice Mel Green gave the following speech, describing Marlys’ impact on and contributions to the profession. With his permission, we post it here, to provide others with a snapshot of the career of this extraordinary woman.

I’m pretty sure I’ve known Marlys longer than anyone in this room. She is one of my most beloved friends.

I’m hardly the only beneficiary of Marlys’ inspiration, her guidance and her near-infinite patience. It is true but almost trite to say that Marlys has been the role model for women lawyers. But that only tells a small part of the story. The bigger truth is that Marlys has been muse and mentor for anyone within her orbit who has sought, in her own words, “to eradicate the enemies of reason, liberty and fairness”.

Marlys is a fearless advocate. She is passionately committed to client, cause and the correction of inequity and injustice. She is enormously respected by bench and bar. She has devoted her professional life to speaking truth to power.

Marlys’ crusades are uniformly dedicated to righting the wrongs endured by our most vulnerable – the disadvantaged, the disempowered, the marginalized, the victims of prejudice and discrimination. There is nothing quixotic about Marlys’ management of these campaigns. She is principled and practical. Indeed, she is the most realistic idealist I have ever met.

If in all too brief synopsis, consider, by way of example only, Marlys’ contributions in the following righteous endeavours:

  • She worked to end capital punishment in Canada – and then, most importantly, Canada’s complicity in extraditing defendants to death penalty jurisdictions. She continues to work to put an end to solitary confinement – a most cruel if all too usual punishment.
  • She consistently served the LGBTQ community, from the now-notorious “bathhouse raids” of 1981 through the days of the Krever Blood Inquiry and beyond. As senior counsel at the Blood Inquiry, Marlys made sure the gay community – then both victimized and stigmatized by the AIDS epidemic – had funding, voice, agency and proper respect.
  • Marlys has worked tirelessly on behalf of the wrongly convicted. She helped found the Association in Defence of the Wrongly Convicted and, over many years, helped vindicate several victims of these terrible miscarriages of justice – most notably and directly, Donald Marshall Jr., Guy Paul Morin and Steven Truscott. A mere two months ago, she engineered an innocent Dr. Hassan Diab’s return to Canada following his shameful extradition to France.
  • Marlys’ contribution to the plight of the mentally ill in our criminal justice system is legendary. We are indebted to Marlys for the legacy of Parks and Swain. The Charter principles developed in Swain helped decriminalize assisted suicide in Carter and sex work in Bedford – two further exercises in Marlys’ campaign to end the paternalistic moralism that infects so much of our criminal law.
  • And Marlys, since her articling days, has acted for the most publicly reviled defendants – those charged, often speciously, with terrorism-related offences or associations. With a small coterie of equally dedicated counsel (and a nod here to Barbara Jackman and Paul Copeland and, of course, the very recently appointed John Norris), Marlys pushed back against the politicization of public security claims. She pressed an agenda of respect for individual rights and procedural protections consistent with the search for truth. More than a few of those once labelled terrorists – Mehar Arar among them – owe the restoration of their freedom and reputations to Marlys’ efforts.

Marlys’ clients are the measure of our legal conscience. Her work has been invaluable to the aspirational project to which we all subscribe – that of achieving a truly just society.

My wife Jane had an intimate lunch with Bev McLachlin and a couple of others on Monday. Told about tonight’s event, Bev appeared somewhat skeptical, “Oh sure”, she said, “Marlys has been promising to retire for years”. In other words, absent a statutory guillotine there is no way to get Marlys out of the law. Or the law out of Marlys.

I expect Bev’s at least partly right – even if she’s no longer the Chief. But I also think that Marlys is entitled to take the time to take care of herself and those she loves. She has earned the right to survey both the law and justice from a place of some detachment.

She has also earned our eternal respect. Our gratitude. Our love. And most certainly this moment of celebration.

Thank you Marlys.

Yes, thank you, Marlys, for your contributions to the profession, for your dedication to civil rights, for blazing a trail for young female lawyers, and for giving us the opportunity to work directly with you over the past few years.  All of us at Goldblatt Partners wish you the happiest of retirements, and hope you will often return to visit us.