The University of Western Ontario gave honorary degrees to several notable people last week, including the chief justice of Ontario, Warren Winkler.
Winkler has honorary degrees from Assumption University in Windsor, Ont., and Brandon University, but he said that receiving one from UWO has a special significance for him.
“Both my daughters went to Western,” Winkler said. “The school means a lot to me.”
He said that UWO was very kind in describing him as “Canada’s mediator,” which he thought referred to some of what he’s done in his career including heading the inquiry into the Walkerton water crisis and the restructuring of Air Canada.
“I thought it was a nice compliment to me, and it was a good way to put it,” Winkler said.
He was born in Virden, Man., grew up in Pincher Creek, Alta., and decided he would be a lawyer after his education at Brandon U in Manitoba.
Winkler then attended Osgoode Hall Law School, and was called to the bar of Ontario in 1965. He said that there’s a significant difference between law school now and when he attended.
“It seemed we had a more structured education,” Winkler said.
He added that because of the ease of electronic communication, the world is much smaller now. He said this has allowed lawyers to work globally and not have difficulties with communication.
He said the biggest difference between receiving an honorary degree and studying for one is that graduating students are at the beginning of their career and they can’t know what to expect.
“It’s a time when the world is full of mystery,” Winkler said. “It’s an adventure that you’re just starting out on.”
An honorary degree, he said, is more of a reward for things you’ve done throughout your career. When he was beginning his career, Winkler said he couldn’t have anticipated how successful he’d be. His biggest and best surprise was being made chief justice of Ontario in 2007.
“It’s the best job I’ve ever had,” Winkler said. “It’s an opportunity to make a contribution to law reform, which is something I’m really passionate about.”
He specializes in labour and class-action law, which is another thing he’s passionate about. He advises young lawyers to find something they’re particularly passionate about and pursue it in their careers.
Winkler is involved in organizations such as the Advocate’s Society and the Law Society of Upper Canada. Getting involved with different organizations related to law is something he recommends all young lawyers do. As part of the Law Society, Winkler attends many calls to the bar ceremonies during which he gives advice. He said the advice he received when he was called to the bar helped him in his career.
“Law is a helping profession,” Winkler said. “You need to help people at every opportunity and not expect anything in return.”
He also advises new lawyers to involve themselves in things other than law because being well-rounded is now expected. An avid birdwatcher, he is involved with Bird Studies Canada, and he enjoys jazz, fly fishing and spending time with his children and grandchildren. He said that well-rounded people make better lawyers.
“It helps you understand the world better and relate to your clients better,” Winkler said.
One of the things Winkler said contributed to his success was having access to mentors throughout his career and serving as a mentor to others. He said that people are usually generous with help, adding that loyalty is another very important quality.
“We need mentors because we can’t learn everything by ourselves,” Winkler said. “In law, many people in the profession are trying to help others in the profession.”
Others who received honorary awards at the ceremony last week include journalist Kevin Newman; the president of the University of Toronto, David Naylor, and activists Craig and Marc Kielburger.