Harvey Brownstone

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
Jump to: navigation, search
The Honourable Mr. Justice
Harvey Brownstone
Justice Harvey Brownstone on set.jpg
Judge of the Ontario Court of Justice
Assumed office
Personal details
Born (1956-07-24) July 24, 1956 (age 58)
Paris, France
Nationality Canadian
Alma mater Queen's University
Occupation Judge

Harvey Brownstone (born July 24, 1956) is a judge of the Ontario Court of Justice and the first openly gay judge in Canada.[1] He is also a bestselling author and host of a television talk show on matters involving family law.

Early life and education[edit]

Brownstone was born on July 24, 1956 in Paris, France, and was raised in Hamilton, Ontario.[2] He attended Adelaide Hoodless Elementary School and Scott Park Secondary School and received his LL.B. degree from Queen's University in Kingston, Ontario in 1980 and was called to the Bar of Ontario in 1983 after articling with criminal lawyer Leo Adler.


Brownstone worked as a Legal Aid duty counsel lawyer in the Toronto criminal courts from 1983 to 1985, and then practised criminal law with prominent criminal lawyers William A. Gorewich (now a judge of the Ontario Court of Justice) and Stephen Price.

In 1987 he joined the Research Facility of the Ontario Legal Aid Plan, where he became Head of the Family Law section. In 1989 he joined the Ministry of the Attorney General, Support and Custody Enforcement Branch, as counsel. The Support and Custody Enforcement Program was responsible for the enforcement of child and spousal support orders and custody orders. In 1991 he was appointed Legal Director of the Family Support Plan (which was the new name of the Support and Custody Enforcement Program) and in 1992 he was appointed Director of the entire Program while continuing to serve as Legal Director. He was instrumental in the creation and implementation of two important support enforcement tools: support deduction orders (commonly referred to as "automatic wage deduction") and the suspension of defaulting support payors' drivers licences, making Ontario the first jurisdiction in Canada to introduce these highly effective support enforcement mechanisms. The Program is now called the Family Responsibility Office, and is operated by the Ministry of Community and Social Services.

He was appointed a judge of the Ontario Court of Justice in 1995, making him the first openly gay judge in Canada. Brownstone has presided in both criminal court and family court. He served as Local Administrative Judge of the Toronto Metro West Family Court from 1999 to 2001 and then served as Local Administrative Judge of the Toronto North Family Court from 2001 to 2006. During his tenure as Local Administrative Judge, he coordinated the mergers of the Toronto Metro West (80 The East Mall) and Metro East (1911 Eglinton Avenue East) Family Courts with the Metro North Family Court at 47 Sheppard Avenue East, making the Metro North Court the biggest and busiest provincial Family Court in Ontario. In 2006 Justice Brownstone was instrumental in persuading the Court Services Division of the Ministry of the Attorney General to hire a full-time staff mediator at the newly merged Family Court. Since December 2013, Justice Brownstone has been presiding in criminal court in Toronto.[3]

Justice Brownstone was on the Board of Directors of the Ontario Family Law Judges Association from 1995 to 1999, and on the Board of Directors of the Ontario Conference of Judges from 1999 to 2002. He was a member of the Ontario Family Rules Committee from 1991 to 1994 and again from 1999 to 2011.

Having been born in France and raised by a French-speaking mother and an English-speaking father, Justice Brownstone is a Francophone. He is fully bilingual and is the only Provincial Judge in the Toronto Region who hears Family Court cases in both English and French.

In 1997 Justice Brownstone gave a groundbreaking speech at the University of Toronto Faculty of Law, decrying the plight of the thousands of self-represented litigants appearing in Family Court, and urging the Law School and legal community to provide services to these vulnerable clients. This speech inspired the creation of Pro Bono Students Canada's Family Law Project, which now provides invaluable assistance to self-represented litigants in Family Courts throughout Canada.[4][5]

In 2008 Justice Brownstone was awarded "Best Behind-the-Scenes Champion" by the readers of Xtra Magazine.[6]

On June 14, 2008, at New York City Hall, Justice Brownstone was presented with a Proclamation signed by New York State Senator Thomas Duane, in recognition of Brownstone's role in having officiated at hundreds of same-sex weddings for New York citizens who travelled to Toronto to get married. This event was held to commemorate the fifth anniversary of the legalization of same-sex marriage in Canada.[7]

In August 2010 Justice Brownstone received the prestigious "Colleague in the Spotlight" award from the Canadian Bar Association Judges' Forum.[8]

His commentary on the flaws in the family justice system have prompted reforms by the Attorney-General, who has enacted many of the changes suggested by Brownstone. [9][10]


Although as a rule judges almost never speak publically about the work they do, or make themselves available to the media, Justice Brownstone is a notable exception.[11] His charisma and use of humour has made him one of the most recognizable faces of the Canadian justice system.[12] Brownstone’s public persona and frequent media appearances has led to him being described as "a maverick judge who is a pioneer that is unilaterally changing the public image of the judiciary."[13] He is one of the most sought-after speakers at legal conferences because he is "so funny, outspoken, innovative and always highly relevant".[14] He has been described as "an outspoken Judge who speaks passionately about divorce, families and the impact on society without hesitation. Educating the public about divorce, and other family matters seems to be his mission."[15]

Tug of War[edit]

In addition to his role in the court, Brownstone frequently comments on family law and divorce issues in the Canadian national media. Brownstone has published a best selling book, Tug of War, on family law and divorce.[16] The book was the first of its kind, written by a sitting judge on legal issues and intended for the general public. The book's proceeds are donated to the Children's Wish Foundation of Canada.[17]

Family Matters[edit]

In 2010, Brownstone hosted an online talk show entitled Family Matters with Justice Harvey Brownstone which was the first talk show ever hosted by a sitting Canadian judge[18] Eight episodes were produced for online viewing and made available for free through iTunes and on the show's website. Those episodes dealt with: child support; when do children need lawyers; collaborative law; elder abuse; mediation; how to manage your lawyer; child protection; and prenups. In 2011 Family Matters began broadcasting as a television show. 15 episodes of the show debuted on CHCH TV on September 13, 2011 and were also broadcast on a number of other independent Canadian TV stations in addition to being available free online. Those episodes dealt with the following topics: Parental Alienation; Marriage Confidential; Parenting Coordination; The Smart Divorce; Divorce with Dignity; Fairway Divorce; A View From the Bench (featuring retired Alberta Judge Michael Porter); Domestic Violence (featuring B.C. Judge Gary Cohen); Access (featuring B.C. Judge Jane Cartwright); Grandparents' Rights; Sexual Addictions; Men's Issues in Family Law; Pets and Divorce; Remarriage; and Online Security and Privacy. Family Matters was renewed for a second season which was filmed in February 2013 in Toronto, Ontario and Victoria, British Columbia. Season 2 made its debut on Canadian television on May 4, 2013 on CHEK TV and CHCH TV featuring 16 episodes addressing the following topics: gambling addictions (featuring Ontario Justice Victoria Starr when she was a lawyer before being appointed to the Bench); infidelity; online dating; bullying; same-sex parenting; the impact of high conflict on children's learning at school; high conflict divorce; child abduction; an introduction to family court (featuring Ontario Justice Robert Spence); spousal support (featuring Ontario Justice Stanley Sherr); anger management; raising teenagers; wills and estates; family financing; and breaking up. Season 2 also features a Question and Answer segment in which Vancouver lawyer Lorne MacLean, QC answers questions submitted by viewers to AdviceScene.com. All episodes of Family Matters continue to be available for viewing at no charge on the show's website: www.familymatterstv.com.

Media coverage of Family Matters has commented on the tension between maintaining proper decorum for a sitting judge and creating a television program that is compelling yet educational for the public.[19] [20] At least one journalist has expressed dismay that a public education program as important and informative as Family Matters has not been acquired for broadcast by a major television network.[21] It remains unclear at the present time whether Family Matters will continue to be broadcast on television or whether it will be solely available online.

Edie and Thea: A Very Long Engagement and Justice Brownstone's role in the same-sex marriage movement[edit]

Brownstone officiated at the marriage of Edith Windsor and Thea Spyer, whose marriage triggered the constitutional litigation at the United States Supreme Court regarding same-sex marriage (United States v. Windsor).[22][23][24] He has spoken publically about the role he played in officiating at this monumentally important wedding.[25][26][27] Justice Brownstone was featured in the critically acclaimed documentary "Edie and Thea: A Very Long Engagement" (Bless Bless Productions, 2010), and is the subject of a full-length interview on the special features on the DVD.[28] He has been recognized for playing an instrumental role in raising Canada's profile in the evolution of marriage equality law in the United States.[29][30] On August 9, 2013 he received the "Hero of the Week Award" from the Social Justice for All website.[31] In addition, Justice Brownstone was prominently featured in the globally distributed promotional video celebrating World Pride, held in Toronto from June 21 to 29, 2014.[32] Edith Windsor, at age 85, made a return trip to Toronto to celebrate World Pride, and was cited by Justice Brownstone as "the Rosa Parks of the gay rights movement".[33] Justice Brownstone and Edith Windsor made a much-anticipated and historic appearance together on CTV's Canada AM[34] and gave a joint presentation at the World Pride International Human Rights Conference on June 25, 2014.[35][36][37]

Published works[edit]

  • Tug of War: A Judge's Verdict on Separation, Custody Battles and the Bitter Realities of Family Court (ECW Press, 2009).


  1. ^ Burrell, James (September 12, 2008). "Courtly love XTRA BEST OF 2008 / Justice Harvey Brownstone: best behind-the-scenes champion". xtra.ca. 
  2. ^ Brownstone, Harvey (Fall 2013). "I Now Pronounce You Wife & Wife". Reform Judaism. 
  3. ^ http://www.thestar.com/news/crime/2014/10/30/excitizenship_judge_jailed_for_illegally_revealing_citizenship_exams.html
  4. ^ http://www.probonostudents.ca/about-pbsc/alumni-and-volunteer-profiles/justice-harvey-brownstone
  5. ^ http://www.law.utoronto.ca/utfl_file/count/documents/Nexus/NXUS_SS14_online.pdf
  6. ^ http://dailyxtra.com/toronto/arts-and-entertainment/courtly-love
  7. ^ http://www.brendanfay.com/CMTProjectSlideshow/index.html
  8. ^ Perron, Jean-Guy (June 2010). "Colleague in the spotlight". Ontario Bar Association. 
  9. ^ "Breaking up is tough enough". Toronto Star. July 26, 2011. 
  10. ^ "Keep divorce out of court". Ottawa Citizen. July 21, 2011. 
  11. ^ http://www.cbc.ca/maritimenoon/2010/01/15/phone-in-judge-harvey-brownstone---author-of-tug-of-war-a-judges-verdict-on-separation-custody-battl/
  12. ^ "Family Court and the Duty to Educate the Public: Justice Brownstone Speaks". Amicus Curiae. November 2009. 
  13. ^ Ha-Redeye, Omar (April 7, 2010). "The Making of "Family Matters with Justice Harvey Brownstone"". Law is Cool. 
  14. ^ http://www.riverdalemediation.com/2011/09/justice-harvey-brownstone-has-arrived-in-prime-time/
  15. ^ http://thesmartdivorce.com/deborah-talks-how-to-be-smart-about-divorce-with-justice-harvey-brownstone/
  16. ^ Brownstone, Harvey (April 24, 2009). "That toxic tug-of-war". Globe and Mail. 
  17. ^ Mandel, Michele (June 25, 2010). "Maverick magistrate's on a mission". Toronto Sun. 
  18. ^ Makin, Kirk (September 7, 2011). "Ontario judge’s showmanship leads to TV series". The Globe & Mail. 
  19. ^ Makin, Kirk (September 7, 2011). "Ontario judge’s showmanship leads to TV series". The Globe & Mail. 
  20. ^ Taddese, Yamir (April 8, 2013). "TV Judge sheds light on Ontario judiciary". Law Times. 
  21. ^ http://www.vancouversun.com/Mulgrew+Trail+blazing+judge+shut+networks/8284058/story.html
  22. ^ "Gay Canadian judge ‘proud’ of role in landmark U.S. case on same-sex marriage". PostMedia News. 
  23. ^ http://reformjudaismmag.org/fall_2013/issue/index.cfm?
  24. ^ http://www.thestar.com/news/pridetoronto/2014/06/24/rosa_parks_of_gay_rights_back_in_toronto_for_pride.html
  25. ^ https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=j9_OysiOzYE&list=PLha4wSq95ZwhHvWzAlsl4796qbnXAask7
  26. ^ http://www.cp24.com/video?clipId=237413
  27. ^ http://www.cp24.com/video?clipId=387625
  28. ^ "Edie & Thea: A Very Long Engagement". IMDB. 
  29. ^ http://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/hamilton/news/how-a-hamilton-judge-helped-change-u-s-same-sex-rights-law-1.2532033
  30. ^ http://www.mysask.com/portal/site/main/template.MAXIMIZE/?javax.portlet.tpst=f059e2ed0c0e3921802ac01060315ae8_ws_MX&javax.portlet.prp_f059e2ed0c0e3921802ac01060315ae8_viewID=story&javax.portlet.prp_f059e2ed0c0e3921802ac01060315ae8_topic_display_name=National%20News&javax.portlet.prp_f059e2ed0c0e3921802ac01060315ae8_topic_name=National&javax.portlet.prp_f059e2ed0c0e3921802ac01060315ae8_news_item_id_key=27154960&javax.portlet.begCacheTok=com.vignette.cachetoken&javax.portlet.endCacheTok=com.vignette.cachetoken
  31. ^ http://hulshofschmidt.wordpress.com/2013/08/09/hero-of-the-week-award-august-9-judge-harvey-brownstone/
  32. ^ https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=scclMN9WAnU
  33. ^ http://www.thestar.com/news/pridetoronto/2014/06/24/rosa_parks_of_gay_rights_back_in_toronto_for_pride.html
  34. ^ http://canadaam.ctvnews.ca/video?clipId=387382&playlistId=1.1885046&binId=1.815911&playlistPageNum=1
  35. ^ http://www.wphrc14.com/program/public-plenaries/
  36. ^ http://www.law.utoronto.ca/news/world-pride-human-rights-conference-plenary-celebrates-achievements-highlights-work-yet-be-done
  37. ^ http://thevarsity.ca/2014/07/01/a-party-with-a-purpose/

External links[edit]