Monday, December 11, 2017

Access to Justice is one of six sculptures making up the McMurtry Gardens of Justice at the Toronto courthouse

By Andrew Stobo Sniderman, JD 2014. Photos: Jessica Donne, courtesy of the Law Society of Ontario

When Justice Gloria Epstein, LLB 1977, used to look out her office window between the courthouse and Osgoode Hall in downtown Toronto, she had a perfectly clear view of, well, not much. She decided to change that. What was once a rundown walkway has become an inspiring art garden. Any passerby can now hear the soothing gurgle of a fountain and marvel at six magnificent sculptures. It only took 23 years, Epstein’s iron persistence, and many, many helping hands.

Justice Gloria Epstein, with Hon. Roy McMurtry, left, at the official opening of the completed gardens

The first sculpture arrived in 2007. Four years later, long dormant fountains came back to life, and five more statues followed over time. The garden was deemed complete with the arrival of two final sculptures in October 2017. The McMurtry Gardens of Justice are dedicated to the life and work of the Honourable Roy McMurtry, a former Chief Justice of Ontario.

Each work of art celebrates a value in the justice system. The “Pillars of Justice” is a ten-ton dedication to jurors: eleven towering figures stand dutifully, awaiting a twelfth who could be anyone (unless, of course, you attended law school). “Equal Before the Law” features two animals counterpoised on an evenly-balanced scale: a regal lion and a timid lamb. Implausible and it is meant to look implausible, the rule of law depends on making it true. Nearby, a dignified bronze female figure, holding forth with book in hand, celebrates the freedom of expression. And other works are dedicated to the freedom of religion and to access to justice.

Justice Epstein, now a judge at the Ontario Court of Appeal, is justifiably proud to have helped create “a unique place of repose, education and inspiration.” Epstein conceives of the garden as a “public space that encourages people to stop and reflect, even in the face pace of today’s world.” She also hopes visitors will draw inspiration from “the important values in our legal system and the contribution of these values to our society, communicated through artistic expression.” And the garden and sculptures will also soon be made even more accessible online with a website and smartphone app, in collaboration with the Ontario Justice Education Network.   

One of the last two statues installed in October features massive slabs of marble, which are shiny enough to act as a kind of mirror for any passerby. It reads: “The rule of law is a reflection of us all.” 

Pillars of Justice
Pillars of Justice. Photo: Mark Stegel

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(L) Alumnus Paul Schabas, Mayor John Tory, Seymour Epstein, Justice Gloria Epstein, with the Hon. Roy McMurtry, centre.