Faculty of Law

Faculty of Law
Faculty of Law

Cromwell Award winner champions justice for all

(July 26, 2016)

Justice Harvey Brownstone, Law’80, winner of the Justice Thomas Cromwell Distinguished Public Service Award
Justice Harvey Brownstone, Law’80, winner of the Justice Thomas Cromwell Distinguished Public Service Award

It would be difficult to imagine a more inspired choice than Justice Harvey Brownstone, Law’80, as the 2016 winner of the Justice Thomas Cromwell Distinguished Public Service Award. 

After all, Thomas Cromwell, Law’76, LLD’10 (Mus’73) is the first Queen’s Law graduate to sit on the Supreme Court of Canada. And as the three alumni who nominated Brownstone for his award have pointed out, like Cromwell, “Harvey Brownstone has truly been a trailblazer throughout his remarkable and illustrious career.”

A native of Paris, France, he’s a one-time Legal Aid counsel, criminal lawyer, former Director of Ontario’s Family Responsibility Office. He’s also been a television talk show host, and a bestselling author; his 2009 book Tug of War: A Judge’s Verdict on Separation, Custody Battles and the Bitter Realities of Family Court is the first book ever written by a sitting judge in Canada. Oh yes, and let’s not forget that when Brownstone accepted his appointment to the bench of the Ontario provincial court in March 1995, he became the country’s first openly gay judge. 

Speaking at the Celebrate Queen’s Law in Toronto reception on May 31, where Brownstone received his award, Justice Cromwell praised him for working to make the courts more accessible and transparent to the public, for “pulling the judiciary into the 21st century in many ways,” and for serving as a “Canadian ambassador for equality rights, which are the foundation of any judicial system.”

Cromwell’s words echoed those of Brownstone’s nominators. “He has made a huge impact in Ontario, across Canada, and internationally,” they wrote. “Justice Brownstone is a wonderful, caring person who combines the courage and conviction to speak passionately and act decisively where there’s a need or a wrong to be corrected.” 

In accepting his award, Brownstone said he was “humbled and very honoured” to receive the Cromwell Award. He went on sing the praises of Queen’s Law and Law’80, which he said will always be “a very special class” to him. 

Brownstone recalled how in 1976 when he “came out,” he was temporarily estranged from his parents. “But my Queen’s Law classmates were accepting and supportive,” he said. Then, as he smiled at the 23 members of Law’80 who turned out for the event, Brownstone added, “You became my family.”