Ontario judge remembered for being down to earth

Marc Rosenberg

TORONTO — Marc Rosenberg, who served for nearly two decades on the Ontario Court of Appeal, was remembered as a towering intellect and a warm, down-to-earth person outside the courtroom. A past president of Temple Emanu-El, he delighted in serving as an usher on the High Holidays, arranging chairs and greeting congregants as they entered the sanctuary. Rosenberg died Aug. 27 at age 65 after a battle with brain cancer.

Hundreds turned out for his funeral at Benjamin’s Park Memorial Chapel, including many legal colleagues. The Ontario Court of Appeal issued a statement describing Rosenberg “as one of Canada’s finest jurists and criminal law experts. He was a judge of the Court of Appeal for Ontario for almost two decades, having been appointed to the court in December of 1995.”

His colleague on the bench, Justice John Laskin, remembered Rosenberg as possessing an “exceptional” knowledge of criminal law and criminal evidence.

“He had a first-class mind” and had the ability to simplify issues before the court. There were times when he would run cases by Rosenberg for his insights, Laskin said.

Even before he was appointed to the bench, Rosenberg “was widely regarded as the best appellate lawyer of the criminal [law] side,” he added.

Rosenberg was called to the bar in 1976 and during his career he worked in various aspects of the law. He practised criminal law with the firm of Greenspan, Rosenberg and Buhr until 1995, when he joined the Ministry of the Attorney General’s public law and policy, and civil law divisions. He was a director of the Criminal Lawyers’ Association from 1987 to 1991 and was actively involved in the association’s educational programs for many years. 

He was an editor of Martin’s Annual Criminal Code and was an associate editor of Canadian Criminal Cases and Dominion Law Reports from 1978 to 1995. He wrote many articles and papers mostly related to criminal law, evidence and the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms.

But it was his passion and gift for teaching that many remembered. Rabbi Debra Landsberg of Temple Emanu-El recalls as a new rabbi arriving from the United States, Rosenberg patiently explained the way the Canadian legal and political system worked. He did so graciously and in a way that made a complex system seem clear, she said.

Laskin credited Rosenberg with being one of the foremost educators of other lawyers and judges in Canada and around the world. He developed a course on the Charter for other judges, delivered through the National Judicial Institute, and another on wrongful convictions, he said.

He was also responsible for improving the system for appeals by inmates of provincial and federal institutions, in which for the first time capable lawyers acted pro bono as duty counsel for convicted criminals on appeals to the Court of Appeal. Before that innovation, inmates represented themselves.

On a personal level, “Marc was one of the most modest and unassuming people I’ve known in our business,” Laskin said. “He never sought the limelight. He was incredibly kind to all of us.”

Rabbi Landsberg echoed that view. Despite his high standing in law circles, he was always ready to help out at the temple, putting up signs, making sure events were properly organized. He would do the same whether for the broader congregation or the shul’s tots and family programs, she said.

“He was such a low key, calm presence. He was brilliant, so quick and funny, but really low key. There was no pretense. He was calm, warm and kind,” she said.

Lawyer Leo Adler recalls meeting Rosenberg when he practised law with noted defence attorney Eddie Greenspan. Where Greenspan was the courtroom barrister with the big personality, Rosenberg was “the legal brain” who “was always fascinated by legal concepts. He was always excellent at that. As a result, he argued many cases in the Court of Appeal. 

“It was always a pleasure to appear before him. He made you feel comfortable. He was always pleasant, even if you weren’t going to get what you wanted.”

Keith Landy, a lawyer in Toronto, said Rosenberg “was a giant in the legal field. He was an exceedingly understated and self-effacing guy, and extraordinarily bright. He was a highly regarded judicial persona.”

Rosenberg was predeceased by his wife of more than 40 years, Martha Rosenberg, and father Morris. He is survived by his mother, Ethel, partner Priscilla Platt, and two children, Debra and Daniel.