Harvey Brownstone

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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 60)
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 lawyers Leo Adler and William A. Gorewich.


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.

Brownstone served on the Toronto Mayor's Committee on Community and Race Relations from 1990 to 1993, and chaired the first Subcommittee on Gay Issues. This appointment was featured as the cover story in the October 11, 1991 issue of Xtra Magazine.[3]

Brownstone 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.[4]

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 fluently 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.[5][6] Justice Brownstone is featured in a widely distributed promotional video celebrating the important work done by Pro Bono Students Canada.[7] Justice Brownstone is regularly called upon to speak at events organized by Pro Bono Students Canada[8] and is considered an important spokesperson and ally for Pro Bono Student programs at law schools throughout Canada.[9] Through his support of the Pro Bono Students Canada Family Law Project, Justice Brownstone is an "ambassador" in the Flip Your Wig campaign, which raises public awareness about the importance of enhancing access to justice.[10][11] On May 13, 2016 Justice Brownstone was presented with a Pro Bono Students Canada Supporter Award at the organization's 20th anniversary gala dinner held at the Law Society of Upper Canada's Convocation Hall.[12][13]

In 2008 Justice Brownstone was awarded "Best Behind-the-Scenes Champion" by the readers of Xtra Magazine.[14]

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.[15]

In August 2010 Justice Brownstone received the prestigious "Colleague in the Spotlight" award from the Canadian Bar Association Judges' Forum.[16][17][18]

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. [19][20] Despite this, in 2015 Justice Brownstone was overlooked for the position of Chief Justice of the Ontario Court of Justice[21] notwithstanding his reputation for being "an approachable innovator".[22][23]

Justice Brownstone is the recipient of a Distinguished Alumni Award from Queen's University Faculty of Law.[24][25][26]


Although as a rule judges almost never speak publicly about the work they do, or make themselves available to the media, Justice Brownstone is a notable exception.[27][28] His charisma and use of humour has made him one of the most recognizable faces of the Canadian justice system.[29] Brownstone’s public persona and frequent media appearances has led to him being described as "a pioneer that is unilaterally changing the public image of the judiciary."[30] He is one of the most sought-after speakers at legal conferences[31] because he is "innovative and always highly relevant".[32] He has been described as "a 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."[33] His most recent interview on CBC's "Out in the Open" went viral on the internet.[34]

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.[35] The book was the first of its kind, written by a sitting judge on legal issues and intended for the general public. The book received widespread support from leading members of Canada's legal and judicial community. Madame Justice Claire L'Heureux-Dube (retired) of the Supreme Court of Canada provided an endorsement on the book's cover, stating "This is a thoughtful, heartfelt book with a generous touch of wisdom, providing tremendous insight into the impact and consequences of family court litigation." The book contains forwards by Chief Justice Tedford G. Andrews (retired) of the Ontario Provincial Court (Family Division) [now the Ontario Court of Justice], and by Justice James D. Karswick of the Ontario Court of Justice, and by Judge Paula J. Hepner, Supervising Judge of the New York State Family Court.

The impact of "Tug of War" has extended far beyond the boundaries of Canada. Justice Brownstone's message - that high conflict parents need not only legal advice, but counselling to overcome the emotional trauma of separation - has resonated with lawyers, jurists and academics in other countries. Many law school academics in other countries, such as the United Kingdom, now advocate for multidisciplinary training in social work and mediation in addition to law degrees, and cite "Tug of War" in support of this approach.[36]

Justice Brownstone's royalties from the book go directly to the Children's Wish Foundation of Canada.[37]

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[38] 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; parenting of 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. Justice Brownstone donates all of his time for free, pays for his own travel and hotel accommodations, and earns no remuneration for his participation in this program.[39]

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).[40][41][42] He has spoken publicly and written[43] about the role he played in officiating at this monumentally important wedding.[44][45][46] 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.[47] 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.[48][49] On August 9, 2013 he received the "Hero of the Week Award" from the Social Justice for All website.[50] 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.[51] 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".[42] Justice Brownstone and Edith Windsor made a much-anticipated and historic appearance together on CTV's Canada AM[52] and gave a joint presentation at the World Pride International Human Rights Conference on June 25, 2014.[53][54][55]


2008: Best Behind the Scenes Champion, Xtra Magazine[14]

June 14, 2008: Proclamation from New York State Senate in recognition of having officiated at the weddings of hundreds of same-sex weddings for citizens of New York[15]

2010: Colleague in the Spotlight Award, Canadian Bar Association Judges' Forum[16][17][18]

August 9, 2013: Hero of the Week Award from Social Justice for All[50]

May 13, 2016: Pro Bono Students Canada Supporter Award[56][57]

May 31, 2016: Recipient of the "Justice Thomas Cromwell Distinguished Public Service Award" from Queen's University Faculty of Law[24][58][59]

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. ^ [1]
  4. ^ http://www.thestar.com/news/crime/2014/10/30/excitizenship_judge_jailed_for_illegally_revealing_citizenship_exams.html
  5. ^ http://www.probonostudents.ca/about-pbsc/alumni-and-volunteer-profiles/justice-harvey-brownstone
  6. ^ http://www.law.utoronto.ca/utfl_file/count/documents/Nexus/NXUS_SS14_online.pdf
  7. ^ https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zb2GuLGLxFQ
  8. ^ http://www.probonostudents.ca/news-announcements/justice-harvey-brownstone-inspires-pbsc-students-at-osgoode-and-u-of-t-event
  9. ^ http://www.pbscqueens.com/
  10. ^ https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2a-F2e9XlLg
  11. ^ http://www.flipyourwigforjustice.ca/partners/ambassadors/
  12. ^ https://twitter.com/DeanSossin/status/731274360091201537
  13. ^ http://www.probonostudents.ca/news-announcements/pbsc-is-20-highlights-from-our-anniversary-dinner-at-the-law-society-of-upper-canada
  14. ^ a b http://dailyxtra.com/toronto/arts-and-entertainment/courtly-love
  15. ^ a b [2] Archived August 9, 2014, at the Wayback Machine.
  16. ^ a b Perron, Jean-Guy (June 2010). "Colleague in the spotlight". Ontario Bar Association. 
  17. ^ a b http://www.omarha-redeye.com/blog/justice-brownstone-awarded-distinction-by-cba/
  18. ^ a b http://www.familymatterstv.com/family-matters-with-justice-harvey-brownstone?page=7
  19. ^ "Breaking up is tough enough". Toronto Star. July 26, 2011. 
  20. ^ "Keep divorce out of court". Ottawa Citizen. July 21, 2011. Archived from the original on July 2, 2016. 
  21. ^ http://news.ontario.ca/mag/en/2015/04/a-new-chief-justice-for-ontario.html
  22. ^ http://www.nationalpost.com/m/wp/blog.html?b=news.nationalpost.com/2015/02/24/christie-blatchford-ontario-court-judge-harvey-brownstone-smear-campaign
  23. ^ Justice Brownstone's sentencing decision which was the subject of Christie Blatchford's National Post article referenced in the preceding footnote was ultimately dealt with by the Ontario Court of Appeal on September 24, 2015: R. v. Shi, 2015 ONCA 646. The Court of Appeal sentenced the offender to 12 months incarceration, and then permanently stayed the execution of the sentence.
  24. ^ a b http://law.queensu.ca/The-2016-Queens-Law-Alumni-Awards-winners
  25. ^ https://issuu.com/queensulaw/docs/queens_law_reports_online_july2016_/26
  26. ^ https://issuu.com/queensulaw/docs/queens_law_reports_online_july2016_/c/smw8rcx
  27. ^ 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/
  28. ^ http://www.queensu.ca/gazette/alumnireview/stories/going-where-no-judge-has-gone
  29. ^ "Family Court and the Duty to Educate the Public: Justice Brownstone Speaks" (PDF). Amicus Curiae. November 2009. [dead link]
  30. ^ Ha-Redeye, Omar (April 7, 2010). "The Making of "Family Matters with Justice Harvey Brownstone"". Law is Cool. [dead link]
  31. ^ http://www.law.utoronto.ca/news/jdmsw-program-celebrates-20th-anniversary
  32. ^ http://www.riverdalemediation.com/2011/09/justice-harvey-brownstone-has-arrived-in-prime-time/
  33. ^ http://thesmartdivorce.com/deborah-talks-how-to-be-smart-about-divorce-with-justice-harvey-brownstone/
  34. ^ http://www.cbc.ca/radio/outintheopen/conquering-divide-1.3836322/a-family-court-judge-calls-divorce-a-public-health-crisis-that-doesn-t-belong-in-the-courts-1.3836542
  35. ^ Brownstone, Harvey (April 24, 2009). "That toxic tug-of-war". Globe and Mail. Archived from the original on July 2, 2016. 
  36. ^ http://www.gostudy.ca/study-overseas/united-kingdom/the-uk-law-school-advantage.html
  37. ^ Mandel, Michele (June 25, 2010). "Maverick magistrate's on a mission". Toronto Sun. 
  38. ^ Makin, Kirk (September 7, 2011). "Ontario judge’s showmanship leads to TV series". The Globe & Mail. 
  39. ^ http://www.familymatterstv.com/about
  40. ^ "Gay Canadian judge ‘proud’ of role in landmark U.S. case on same-sex marriage". PostMedia News. 
  41. ^ http://www.reformjudaism.org/i-now-pronounce-you-wife-wife
  42. ^ a b http://www.thestar.com/news/pridetoronto/2014/06/24/rosa_parks_of_gay_rights_back_in_toronto_for_pride.html
  43. ^ http://www.reformjudaism.org/i-now-pronounce-you-wife-wife
  44. ^ Video on YouTube
  45. ^ http://www.cp24.com/video?clipId=237413
  46. ^ http://www.cp24.com/video?clipId=387625
  47. ^ "Edie & Thea: A Very Long Engagement". IMDB. 
  48. ^ http://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/hamilton/news/how-a-hamilton-judge-helped-change-u-s-same-sex-rights-law-1.2532033
  49. ^ 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
  50. ^ a b http://hulshofschmidt.wordpress.com/2013/08/09/hero-of-the-week-award-august-9-judge-harvey-brownstone/
  51. ^ Video on YouTube
  52. ^ http://canadaam.ctvnews.ca/video?clipId=387382&playlistId=1.1885046&binId=1.815911&playlistPageNum=1
  53. ^ http://www.wphrc14.com/program/public-plenaries/
  54. ^ http://www.law.utoronto.ca/news/world-pride-human-rights-conference-plenary-celebrates-achievements-highlights-work-yet-be-done
  55. ^ http://thevarsity.ca/2014/07/01/a-party-with-a-purpose/
  56. ^ https://twitter.com/DeanSossin/status/731274360091201537
  57. ^ http://www.probonostudents.ca/news-announcements/pbsc-is-20-highlights-from-our-anniversary-dinner-at-the-law-society-of-upper-canada
  58. ^ https://issuu.com/queensulaw/docs/queens_law_reports_online_july2016_/26
  59. ^ https://issuu.com/queensulaw/docs/queens_law_reports_online_july2016_/c/smw8rcx

External links[edit]