‘Nice Jewish boy’ had blue-collar be­gin­nings


“Never be­lieve that he has a ba­sic po­si­tion that is in­ca­pable of shift­ing.” ED­WARD GREENSPAN,


Mon­day was Michael Moldaver’s first op­por­tu­nity to greet the pub­lic as a newly ap­pointed Jus­tice of the Supreme Court of Canada, a role that will al­low him to cal­i­brate the re­la­tion­ship be­tween pri­vate cit­i­zens and the state for gen­er­a­tions to come. He took that chance to make fun of his out­fit.

“The last time I wore a robe like this was in Grade 12. I was in the drama club and we were per­form­ing A Man for All Sea­sons,” he told the as­sem­bled crowd, shift­ing in his furred, bright red robes. He wanted the lead role in the play, he said. He didn’t get it. “My drama teacher thought I would make a much bet­ter Car­di­nal Wolsey. A per­fect role for a nice Jewish boy from Peter­bor­ough,” he joked. The year be­fore, he con­tin­ued, his school had staged Cae­sar and Cleopa­tra. Then, too, he had failed to win the lead part.

“I ended up playing the role of the palace eu­nuch,” he told the as­sem­bled dig­ni­taries.

Speak to Moldaver’s col­leagues, or even his de­trac­tors, and the same de­scrip­tor comes up again and again: ge­nial. At Mon­day’s cer­e­mony, he also thanked his long­time sec­re­tary, and asked the crowd to ap­plaud his aunt on the oc­ca­sion of her 82nd birth­day (“Could you stand up, Aunt Bev?”)

His self-ef­fac­ing com­ments are no ruse. Walk through the halls of Peter­bor­ough Col­le­giate and Vo­ca­tional School, the pub­lic high school Moldaver at­tended, and his name shows up nowhere. Not on the plaques com­mem­o­rat­ing those who grad­u­ated as On­tario schol­ars, not on the board nam­ing the school’s head boys and girls.

That Moldaver by all ac­counts mud­dled along un­til he dis­cov­ered his life’s work, the law, and then climbed to the high­est court in Canada may help ex­plain what friends de­scribe as his fun­da­men­tal be­lief in the sys­tem — and what crit­ics call his es­sen­tial con­ser­vatism.

Moldaver was born in Peter­bor­ough on Dec. 23, 1947, to a bluecol­lar fam­ily. His fa­ther, Irv­ing Moldaver, the son of Rus­sian-jewish im­mi­grants, moved to Peter­bor­ough as a young man to es­tab­lish a scrap metal busi­ness. His mother, Ruth Black, came from a fam­ily that owned a suc­cess­ful clothes shop. Her fa­ther had been Peter­bor­ough’s first rabbi. Moldaver was the youngest of three boys.

Ed­u­ca­tion was the spine of the Moldaver house­hold. “There were no ex­cuses for not achiev­ing,” says Joel Moldaver, Michael’s eldest brother. The boys at­tended Peter­bor­ough Col­le­giate — their par­ents couldn’t af­ford to send them to pri­vate school, and were con­tent with the pub­lic sys­tem.

Joel Moldaver, now a real es­tate lawyer in Peter­bor­ough (the mid­dle brother, Pe­sach, is a teacher in Toronto), says that he and his brother were solid B stu­dents. They played hockey on their back­yard rink with kids from the neigh­bour­hood. They went to syn­a­gogue ev­ery week­end. “We were av­er­age kids,” he says.

Moldaver fol­lowed his old­est brother to the Univer­sity of Toronto. The boys spent their sum­mers work­ing long hours in their fa­ther’s scrap­yard to earn money. But as Michael and Joel’s post-sec­ondary ed­u­ca­tion wore on, both had trou­ble ad­just­ing. At one point, the brothers in­formed their fa­ther they would like to come back and join the fam­ily busi­ness.

“He told both Michael and I, ‘You’re not com­ing back,’ ” Joel re­mem­bers.

Moldaver had a dif­fi­cult first se­mes­ter at U of T Law School — he flunked his Christ­mas ex­ams. But by sec­ond se­mes­ter, some­thing caught, and when he grad­u­ated in 1971, Moldaver won the gold medal, given to the stu­dent with the high­est fi­nal-year marks.

By then mar­ried with a young daugh­ter, Shan­non, Moldaver spent a year ar­ti­cling for G. Arthur Martin, who many de­scribe as the great­est crim­i­nal lawyer in mod­ern Canadian his­tory, and was hired af­ter­wards by the crim­i­nal de­fence firm Pomer­ant, Pomer­ant and Greenspan, where Ed­ward Greenspan was part­ner. “He had a very high, al­most ro­man­tic no­tion of a crim­i­nal de­fence lawyer,” Greenspan re­mem­bers, con­firm­ing some­thing Moldaver him­self has said — that Moldaver only ac­cepted clients he be­lieved were in­no­cent, a very un­ortho­dox prac­tice in crim­i­nal law.

Moldaver was ex­cep­tion­ally in­tel­li­gent, Greenspan says, and a fe­ro­cious cross-examiner. “He didn’t par­tic­u­larly like be­ing in­volved in cases of what we would call street crime,” pre­fer­ring de­mand­ing, com­plex fraud cases, Greenspan says.

Over the next 17 years, Moldaver built a prac­tice in crim­i­nal law. He and his first wife, Mary, di­vorced, and a sec­ond brief mar­riage ended, too. In1988, he mar­ried a third time, and in 1991, a year after Moldaver was called to the bench, his daugh­ter Jes­sica was born. (The cou­ple split in the late 1990s; on Mon­day, Moldaver thanked his cur­rent wife, Ricky, for her sup­port.)

As a trial judge, Moldaver was known for his stiff sen­tenc­ing, but the bulk of his rep­u­ta­tion was earned on the On­tario Court of Ap­peal, where he was ap­pointed in 1995. Some court watch­ers say he is par­tic­u­larly tough on de­fence lawyers. He has, for ex­am­ple, over­turned ac­quit­tals where trial judges had re­jected ev­i­dence be­cause the ac­cused’s rights un­der the Char­ter of Rights and Free­doms were breached.

For many de­fence lawyers, those per­cep­tions were re­in­forced by a con­tro­ver­sial speech he gave to the Crim­i­nal Lawyers’ As­so­ci­a­tion in 2005. “The Char­ter is not your per­sonal ‘ge­nie in a bot­tle,’ ” he said then, blam­ing the ex­pand­ing length of crim­i­nal tri­als on friv­o­lous Char­ter claims.

“She hides her light un­der a bushel. In a world full of Type-a lawyer per­son­al­i­ties, she just isn’t one.” MARTIN TEPLITSKY,



Newly ap­pointed jus­tices, Michael Moldaver and An­dro­mache Karakat­sa­nis, take part in a Supreme Court of Canada cer­e­mony in Ot­tawa Mon­day.

Michael Moldaver in the early years of his ca­reer. He spent years build­ing a prac­tice in crim­i­nal law.

An­dro­mache Karakat­sa­nis is also an ac­com­plished land­scape artist.

Karakat­sa­nis, who has been de­scribed as a dreamer, en­joyed writ­ing — such as this poem called “What the Bird Sang.”

Karakat­sa­nis’s high school year­book photo from 1970.

Karakat­sa­nis was the first woman to lead the Liquour Li­cence Board of On­tario. As a child, she lived in Cab­bage­town across the road from Pro­hi­bi­tion Lane.

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