Justice Julius IsaacBy Karen Gross / Photography by Paul Couvrette

From the Fall/Winter 2017 issue of Nexus

In the decades since Virginia Davies graduated with an LLB from U of T, she completed the Advanced Management Program at Harvard’s business school, two more graduate degrees from U of T’s law school, held high-powered positions at Goldman Sachs and BMO, and, along with her lawyer husband, established a life in New York City as a prolific fundraiser, political activist and philanthropist. But the working relationships and friendships she formed in Toronto remain central to her life. And one in particular—the late Justice Julius Isaac, LLB 1958—guides Davies to this day. “I articled with him at the federal justice department after I graduated law school. I worked for him for about seven years, as his junior on many cases,” she says.

Among those cases, the landmark Regina v Big M Drug Mart, which struck down the Lord’s Day Act and interpreted section 2 of the Charter for the first time. Barely five years out of law school and with a newborn baby in tow, Davies accompanied Isaac to Ottawa, where she appeared alongside him before the Supreme Court of Canada. “Think about that, what that says about the man,” she says. “This was the 1980s. I was a woman. I’d just had a baby. And he didn’t pull the case from me.”

Isaac, born in Grenada, went on to become the first black Chief Justice of the Federal Court of Canada in 1991. But Davies prefers to remember him in less splashy ways: as a meticulous mentor and an excellent barrister, who dedicated his life to public service. Living in the United States in these fraught times, Davies says honouring Isaac and his life feels even more urgent. “As I watch what’s happening in America, I want other Canadians to understand we have a different value system. We have a country that values the public good. Let’s protect it. Let’s champion a man who came from a modest background and went on to become chief justice. This was an immigrant.”