Faculty of Law

Faculty of Law
Faculty of Law

Order of Canada honour for Law’78 grad 

(August 8, 2017)

Catherine Latimer, CM, Law’78
Catherine Latimer, CM, Law’78

Catherine Latimer, Law’78, Executive Director of the John Howard Society of Canada (JHSC) and a fellow at the Broadbent Institute, says she was “surprised and humbled” to learn that she is among the latest group of distinguished Canadians to be named to the Order of Canada. Latimer earned the honour for her more than 40 years of “principled contributions to the development of criminal justice policy, most notably on issues related to youth justice.”

While her commitment to those principles has been lifelong, it was in her second year of studies at Queen’s Law that she truly found her sense of direction.

Ottawa-born and Toronto-raised, her mother – Margaret (Pierce), BA’44 – was a bacteriologist, while her father William was a tax lawyer. “Dad suggested that I study law – preferably at his alma mater, U of T – while my mother suggested I study at Queen’s, which was a bit of a tradition for women on her side of the family,” says Latimer.

Convinced a legal career would be “as dull as dishwater,” Latimer instead earned a BA at the University of Waterloo in 1975. It was a 1974 summer job at Brookside Training School, a young offenders’ vocational facility at Cobourg, Ontario, that changed her career perspectives. “My experiences there buttressed my awareness of the need to protect the rights of those who come into conflict with the law," Latimer recalls.

That led her to Queen’s Law, a decision that pleased her parents and proved pivotal for Latimer herself.

In second year, she got involved in the Correctional Law and Legal Assistance Project, headed first by Professor Ron Price and then by Alan Manson. Latimer also volunteered with Kingston’s youth probation service. “It was a real eye-opener for me to see how legal issues actually played out in the field of correctional law,” she says.

After earning her LLB, Latimer pursued grad studies at the University of Cambridge, articled at Osler, Hosken and Harcourt, and then spent two years working in legal aid, before joining the federal public service in 1983 as a policy analyst in the Department of the Solicitor General.

In 1989, Latimer began working in that same capacity in the Privy Council Office and subsequently served in various other senior advisory roles, all the while tirelessly championing progressive initiatives in criminal law, youth justice, sentencing, and victims’ interests. In April 2011, with a “tough-on-crime” Conservative majority government in power, she concluded it was time for a career change. “I realized that I was more interested in pursuing justice than in being a public servant,” she explains.

Since joining the JHSC, Latimer has devoted herself to the agency’s goals of pursuing “effective, just, and humane responses to the causes and consequences of crime.” She says she is “particularly pleased” to contribute to the JHSC’s position on curbing abusive administrative segregation by joining with the British Columbia Civil Liberties Association to challenge the Charter compliance of the federal government’s laws and practice. “I find it fulfilling, both professionally and personally, to bring fairness and opportunities for transformation to marginalized Canadians who often are misunderstood, feared, and disliked,” says Latimer.

-- Ken Cuthbertson