Tuesday, May 12, 2015
Portrait of Alan Borovoy

By Lucianna Ciccocioppo

The Faculty of Law is saddened to hear of the passing of esteemed alumnus Alan Borovoy, LLB 1956, a long-time and vibrant defender of Canadian civil rights, equality and social justice, a prolific writer and witty raconteur.

“The law school has lost a wonderful alumnus in Alan Borovoy,” said Dean Ed Iacobucci.  “Alan was a champion of civil liberties and a great reflection of the breadth of legal thought that can be found at the University of Toronto. He will be fondly remembered and sorely missed.”

Borovoy was general counsel at the Canadian Civil Liberties Association (CCLA), in a colourful career that spanned from 1968 until his retirement in 2009. Prior to that he was director of the Labour Committee for Human Rights.

A regular columnist for the Toronto Star from 1992-1996, he also authored four books, most recently:  At The Barricades: A Memoir (2013), a revealing glimpse into his work on some of the country’s most intense and controversial public debates in this century and the last, including defending the free speech rights of Holocaust-denier and neo-Nazi, Ernst Zundel. Other books include: When Freedoms Collide (1988), Uncivil Obedience (1991), The New Anti-Liberals (1999), and Categorically Incorrect (2007).

“Alan and I became good friends in 1953, as classmates in first year at the then-fledgling U of T Faculty of Law,” said Lionel Schipper. “He was never boring, had a quirky sense of humour and very strong opinions (which he was not shy about expressing) on a variety of topics. He had the courage of his convictions as well as the wit, intelligence and irreverence to back them up—no matter how unpopular or controversial. Over the years he used these qualities very effectively to influence Canadian values, public opinion and way of life. He will be missed.”

Former U of T chancellor, the Hon. Hal Jackman, LLB 1956 was also a classmate. [Alan Borovoy appears in this tribute video for Hal Jackman.]

"In spite of his absurd political views, Alan was perhaps my closest friend during my law school days,” said Jackman. “We both sat at the back of Dean Wright's classes, hoping that we would not be asked about the cases that neither of us had read. We must have done something right as we both got our degrees. Alan was a great Canadian and will be well remembered."

Borovoy received four honorary Doctor of Laws Degrees, the Law Society Medal from the Law Society of Upper Canada in 1989 and an Award of Merit from the City of Toronto in 1982. His name was inscribed in the honour roll of the Aboriginal people of Treaty Number 3 in 1991 and he was made an Officer of the Order of Canada in 1982.  

Organizations such as the Law Foundation of Ontario, Canadian Journalists for Free Expression, the Writers’ Union of Canada and the Canadian Library Association have also recognized him for his many profound contributions to advancing Canadian civil rights.

In a statement, the CCLA said Borovoy’s four-decades of work made “seismic contributions towards protecting and promoting the rights of Canadians.”

“From the moment he took the helm, his unique perspective and insightful analysis of the complex and cutting legal issues of our time spurred critical debates in Canada,” said Sukanya Pillay, CCLA executive director and general counsel. “We will never forget him—his brilliance, his generosity, his irreverent humour, and the passion and dedication to equality and justice that was his life’s work.”

On Twitter, alumnus and former Ontario premier, Bob Rae, LLB 1977, said: “Sorry to hear the passing of Alan Borovoy, civil liberties champion, fighter for human rights, a man of principle and good humour.”

Alan Borovoy died on May 11, 2015. He was 83.