The Hon. Bill Graham '64 Receives 2008 Distinguished Alumnus Award

From the Spring/Summer 2008 issue of Nexus.


Hon. William (Bill) Graham '64
The Hon. William (Bill) Graham '64

On a blustery February evening, the Great Hall at the University of Toronto's Hart House was full of warmth and good wishes as the Hon. William (Bill) Graham '64 received the 2008 Distinguished Alumnus Award for his extraordinary public leadership, significant contributions to the legal profession, and lifelong commitment to community service.

Graham, who is currently the Chancellor of Trinity College and was on the law faculty for 14 years (from 1980 to 1994), has had an extraordinary career that has seamlessly woven together his academic and public lives. "In addition to being a well-loved teacher and mentor at the law school, Graham's notable career spanning more than 40 years exemplifies in a very tangible way the critical bridge between scholarly research and the broader world of public service," said Dean Mayo Moran.

First elected a Liberal MP for Toronto Centre-Rosedale in 1993, Graham served from 1995 to 2002 as chairman of the standing committee of the House of Commons on foreign affairs and international trade. He was appointed Minister of Foreign Affairs in January 2002 under former Prime Minister Jean Chrétien and Minister of National Defence in July 2004 in the government of Paul Martin. In February 2006, he was appointed Acting Leader of the Official Opposition, a position he held until last December.

Admirers, friends and past students of Graham, including Professor Karen Knop '99, the Hon. Bob Rae '77 and Ian Mallory '84, took the podium following dinner to speak about the magnitude of Graham's lifelong contributions to Canada and the world. Professor Knop, who began teaching at the faculty just as he was preparing to leave the academy for the next phase of his career in public service, recounted Graham's deep understanding and knowledge of international law and some of the memorable contributions he has made.

"When Bill went to Ottawa, he didn't leave his commitment to international law behind, and this is one of the many things about Bill that inspires so much respect and affection," said Professor Knop. "After having served as both foreign minister and minister of defence, Bill returned to U of T with a complex sense of the new challenges for international law, and as strong a commitment as ever."

Professor Knop also noted Graham's particular pride at ratifying the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS) on behalf of Canada, and his decision regarding Canada's non-participation in the Iraq war. These, she said, are among the highlights of his diplomatic career.

Dean Moran speaking in honour of Bill Graham
Dean Moran speaking in honour of Bill Graham at the 2008 Distinguished Alumnus Award Dinner

Throughout his illustrious and high profile career, Graham has also been an inspirational role model to students interested in international issues. "Bill's vision has influenced a generation of students, many of whom have gone on to teach and practice in the field, including Kris Astaphan and Ian Mallory who are sitting in front of me today," said Dean Moran.

While some aspects of legal education have remained the same over the past 40 years, Dean Moran noted that students today have a new appetite for international law courses and opportunities to work abroad.

"Bill helped to take the U of T curriculum beyond the basic courses in public international law and private international law," said Dean Moran. "In 1992, he wrote that Canadian legal education had a long way to go in teaching international trade law if it was going to catch up with the experience and sophistication of the US trade bar and equip Canadian lawyers to make the Canada-US Free Trade Agreement work for Canada. And he was an important part of that effort, writing on international commercial arbitration, the Free Trade Agreement, NAFTA, and the comparison with the EU. Those were heady days - the students had the feeling of being in on the start of something big," added Dean Moran.

Arif Virani '98
Arif Virani '98

The evening was also a moment to celebrate and honour Arif Virani, who graduated on the Dean's Honour List in 1998 and who was chosen this year to receive the Ann Wilson and Robert Prichard Award for Community and Professional Service, which was spearheaded by former Dean, Ron Daniels. With family and friends proudly looking on, Virani accepted his award for demonstrating the highest standards of professional integrity, excellence and leadership, and for important contributions to the legal profession and community. In a touching speech, Virani acknowledged the tremendous compliment paid to him by fellow law school alumni, many of whom he noted have distinguished records of pro bono and community service of their own. Pausing to thank the audience for 'indulging him' a moment to reflect upon the importance of community work for the legal community, Virani spoke with passion about the deep meaning he derives from his work, and how it has affected his own personal and career development.

A volunteer and board member with the South Asian Legal Clinic of Ontario (SALCO) for 6 years, Virani has also done pro bono work with the African Canadian community, the Lawyers Feed the Hungry program, and participated in mentorship schemes for minority and underprivileged youth administered by both the Law Society's Equity Initiatives Department and the Ministry of the Attorney General's Adopt-a-School program.

He is currently a Crown Attorney in the Constitutional Law Branch at the Ministry of the Attorney General for Ontario. This year, he is on leave, doing an 18-month contract with the Commonwealth Human Rights Initiative in New Delhi addressing the issues of police reform and police accountability in the Indian subcontinent.

The Faculty of Law was delighted to be able to recognize two such outstanding members of our legal community and to welcome back family, friends and alumni to share the important celebration of excellence and leadership in the legal profession.

"Bill and Arif represent the very best of what is possible to achieve for one's own career and for the community and country with a legal education. We are deeply honoured to be able to count them among our alumni," added Dean Moran.

Asif Virani '98 and the Hon. Bill Graham '64
Award winners Arif Virani '98 and the Hon. Bill Graham '64