A law career with many firsts
Morton Minc is Concordia University’s first jurist-in-residence. (photo from Morton Minc)
During his long career in the field of law in Quebec, Morton Minc has made several firsts. His latest – becoming Concordia’s first jurist-in-residence.
Born in Lublin, Poland, Minc came from a very religious, but also academic, family. His father was studying medicine in Paris when the Second World War broke out. The family made their way to Montreal and started over again, with only $17, provided by the Jewish community.
After graduating from Sir George Williams University with an arts degree, Minc went onto law school at the Université de Montréal, where he won several awards. He then joined a large law firm and eventually opened his own practice, specializing in general commercial banking law. He married his wife, Linda, and they had one daughter, Samantha (who is a vascular surgeon in the United States).
“I then was the first Jewish judge in the history of the municipal court of Montreal,” said Minc of his 1993 appointment. “Then, I was nominated as chief justice of the municipal court of Montreal [in 2009], and I was the first Jewish anglophone judge appointed to the municipal court in their history.
“When I became chief judge, I used the court in a different manner,” he said. “One part of the court was streamlining toward social justice programs, social justice courts and problem-solving courts, and the other was traditional justice. The aim of the social justice court is not only to identify an individual’s problem, but also to assist, rehabilitate and help him/her to find his/her way back into society … once they’ve completed the program set by the court successfully, and even decriminalizes their record when possible. In other words, they were charged with a criminal matter or with statutes where they had to pay all these fines … [and] we had made arrangements with an execution department of the city for them to get amnesty.”
Minc was responsible for initiating the program, including working with judges who specialized in mental health.
“We had Crown prosecutors who specialized in the mental health program and a defence lawyer full-time to assist the offender who had the mental health issue when he/she committed a crime,” said Minc. “These people worked not in a combative way, but it’s what we call, ‘participating justice.’”
Most judicial systems are considered adversarial, where the parties are in opposition to one another. But, in these social justice and problem-solving courts, he explained, everyone is working together on the same “side” toward the good of the person on trial.
“I was responsible for establishing the court for the homeless,” said Minc. “We had judges dedicated to the issue of homelessness, so we’d find the person a place to live if s/he had a mental issue, alcohol issue and/or drug issue…. We’d work toward resolving these problems. It wasn’t necessarily a problem of homelessness.
“We dedicated a court only for these social issues, so that they wouldn’t be in the mainstream of the criminal system … so that they would not be embarrassed; the homeless, they wouldn’t feel ill-at-ease. And, the same thing for mental health and domestic violence court…. I can tell you, the success rate was over 85%. It was a win-win situation…. We had a minister of justice coming to our court every year to see what we were doing in our social programs.”
Minc attributed his own compassion for others to his Jewish heritage and its tradition of involvement with and assistance for those who are less fortunate.
When it came time for him to leave his position, Minc – who said he is not a believer in retirement – was asked to meet with Concordia University president Alan Shepard, provost Graham Carr and the dean of the faculty of arts and science, André Roy. The trio invited Minc to join the history department’s Law and Society Program, and he accepted, becoming the first jurist-in-residence.
“My role, or the goal, is to help students, mentor students, on what they could do in the future, about law school…. You don’t have to necessarily become a lawyer, but to get a law degree, or become a lawyer,” said Minc. “There are all kinds of different other institutions you could work at and use your law background for.”
In addition to introducing students to different aspects of law, Minc is helping students find ways to get involved in the legal system, using his vast knowledge and contacts.
“Perhaps Concordia will have its own law faculty one day,” said Minc. “My goal is to stimulate and excite students about the law – and it seems well-received.
“While Concordia doesn’t have a law school,” he added, “it offers students the option to minor in law and society, and to study issues like governance, crime, conflict and social justice from sociological, historical, anthropological and philosophical perspectives.”
Minc’s appointment as jurist-in-residence is for a two-year term and, while he hopes that his successor continues what he is starting, he is focused on doing what he can do now. So far, all of the events he has organized have sold out.
As example of the types of events he has put on, Minc hosted a fireside chat with now-Chief Justice Richard Wagner of the Supreme Court of Canada, on Nov 23. 2017. The talk covered Wagner’s journey to becoming a judge and what it’s really like to be part of the Supreme Court.
On Oct. 19 last year, Minc hosted an event on the legal and psychological implications of the maltreatment of children. A number of distinguished panelists took part, including Judge Patrick Healy (Quebec Court of Appeal) and Judge Martine Nolin (Court of Quebec, Youth Court Division).
Minc also mentored the Concordia Moot Law Society for a legal debate competition against other Canadian universities. He helped student delegates prepare legal arguments and taught them about legal jargon.
Rebeca Kuropatwa is a Winnipeg freelance writer.