Mark Sandler will be this year’s recipient of the G. Arthur Martin Criminal Justice Medal for outstanding contributions to criminal justice. Richard Peck was last year’s recipient. The Award will be presented to Sandler at the Ontario Criminal Lawyers’ Association Convention on Halloween, October 31, 2015 between 1pm-3pm at the Toronto Marriot Downtown Eaton Centre Hotel. Sandler and Peck are most famous as the defence attorneys chosen to act as prosecutors in the Michael Bryant road rage case that involved his killing of Darcy Allan Sheppard.
The Ontario Criminal Lawyers Association (CLA) presents the G. Arthur Martin Criminal Justice Medal annually. Past recipients include famed defence attorneys such as John Robinette, Eddie Greenspan (Marie Henein’s mentor) and James Lockyer who founded the Association in Defence of the Wrongly Convicted.
In his book “28 Seconds”, Michael Bryant wrote about the closeness of the Toronto criminal defence bar. He said:
“But I learned something about the criminal defence bar in Toronto. They stick together and work together to help each other, even if they’re not retained on the case. This doesn’t apply to every lawyer, but amongst those who reciprocate, there is a small group of colleagues who advance the interests of the accused, at large.”
“Advance the interests of the accused, at large,” is a phrase that could best describe the Ontario Criminal Lawyers Association (CLA). In fact the CLA promotes itself as “the voice of the criminal defence bar and its newsletter is entitled “For the Defence.” The CLA was founded on November 1st, 1971 by ten leading criminal counsel in Ontario. One of the founders, Hugh Locke said the CLA was started so the criminal defence lawyers would get some “respect.”
This is an elite group of lawyers with a clear focus, representing the criminal defence bar. It’s a group that “stick together and work together to help each other.”
This is also largely the same group that Marie Heinen could be referring to in her essay, “Spilt-Seconds Matter,” when she said:
“I couldn’t get away from the legal community’s oft-expressed sentiment. The truth is that Michael Bryant was well-loved by the legal community. Many identified with him, many knew him personally, and many were utterly grief-stricken over his situation. The pressure to get the right result was, to be honest, overwhelming at times. Nothing in law school gets one ready for this amount of scrutiny. One’s failure will be as notorious as one’s success, and the legal community, just like the public, loves both stories equally voraciously.”
Both Bryant and Henein claim that the criminal defence bar, whose voice is the Ontario Criminal Lawyers Association, exerted an overwhelming and enormous amount of pressure and influence in Bryant’s case. It’s not known if Richard Peck and Mark Sandler faced similar pressure but what is known is that both Peck and Sandler are prominent members of the criminal defence bar. What is also known is that Bryant’s case was one of the most prominent in Canadian history.
Henein referred to its prominence in “Split Seconds Matter”:
“I was informed that the Bryant case had generated more national media stories than any other criminal case before it. I don’t know if that is true, but it certainly felt like it. Having been involved in a number of high-profile cases previously, nothing came quite close to this.”
It is very troubling that a powerful group whose members played such an important role in the defence of such a prominent case would in turn, reward both of the prosecutors with such a prestigious award. Richard Peck has a long history. He has defended some very notable cases, most famously, he was successful in the case of the bombing of Air India flight 182 from 1985. However virtually all of his defence work has taken place in British Columbia. His only work in Ontario seems to be as a special prosecutor who has chosen to drop the charges against the accused in at least three cases.
Even his law firm emphasized that his award was from an Ontario focused group rather than a national one. Peck is not the first recipient outside of Ontario. He is the fifth in the twenty-seven year history of the award. The other four are from Quebec. Louise Arbour and Morris Fish were Justices on the Supreme Court of Canada and Antonio Lamer was the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court. The other non-Ontarian was Fred Kaufman but he played a major role in Ontario cases as he headed up both commissions on the wrongfully convicted Stephen Truscott and Guy Paul Morin.
Mark Sandler is clearly not in the same league as these lawyers. He has worked as Kaufman’s counsel and Peck’s assistant but has not led on anything of prominence. He has no famous defendants or important cases. In fact he often represents the police departments’ interests. Sandler’s main claim to fame is the Michael Bryant case.
Now both Peck and Sandler have received an award for their work in support of advancing the interests of the accused in our justice system. The timing, purpose and order of these awards raise some questions.
Did Peck and Sandler receive the G. Arthur Martin Criminal Justice Medal in part for their work on the Michael Bryant case? Critics have accused Peck and Sandler of sounding more like Michael Bryant’s defence team than the crown prosecutors.
The media continues to emphasize that in the Bryant case, Peck was an independent special prosecutor but this award further emphasizes that he is first and foremost a criminal defence lawyer with ties to the Ontario criminal defence bar. It’s almost as if Bryant was awarded two teams of defence attorneys so it’s actually not surprising that in his remarks to the court, Justice Paul Bentley would say
“one thing that has surprised me, perhaps, but now has given me such great respect for all counsel that are before the court today, is how everybody worked as best they could to produce the situation that brings us here today.”
It’s almost as if both teams of lawyers worked together to get what Henein described as “the right decision” for Bryant and the criminal defence bar. By choosing Peck and Sandler as recipients of this award it appears as though the Ontario Criminal Lawyers Association is recognizing that Peck and Sandler were more important to the defence of Michael Bryant than was Marie Henein.