November 23, 2021
“The Most Important Judicial Virtue” with Supreme Court of Canada Justice, the Honourable Russell Brown
What is the most important judicial virtue? For decades, lawyers, judges and academics have debated this. The leading views focus on competing virtues of sympathy and detachment, but can they be reconciled? And if so, how?
A virtual Christmas celebration to inspire and connect diplomats, parliamentarians and business leaders from across Canada and the world.
“We were truly blessed and inspired by Justice Russell Brown’s insightful message on humility as the most important judicial virtue. It was enlightening how well he articulated the conflicting role humility plays in the exercise of justice and mercy. In the process, he did justice to the counsel of the Prophet Micah, urging us to act justly, to love mercy and to walk humbly before our God.”
What is the most important judicial virtue? How can judges work toward a fair and just judgement that provides a deterrent and adequate denunciation, yet at the same time recognizes the desire and hope for reformation and rehabilitation? There has been a general understanding that balance must exist between showing sympathy and demonstrating detachment.
Supreme Court of Canada Justice Russell Brown, in pursuing Aristotle’s call for the need for “practical wisdom” in adjudication, explored how it may be possible to err on one side of the “sympathy–detachment” equation. Is it possible to arrive at a point where these two apparently competing perspectives may, in fact, intersect?
Certainly, the virtue of sympathy, coupled with the ability to maintain an open mind, is key in the adjudication process in the legal system. One could rightly be faulted for not considering the perspective of the individual facing a legal sentence. On the other hand, the need for detachment is obvious, as one cannot sympathize to the point of identification without regard for justice.
Justice Brown turned to the words of the prophet Micah, found in the Jewish-Christian Scriptures given by God, for guidance:
“What does the Lord require of you, but to do justice, love mercy and walk humbly before your God?” Micah 6:8
Justice Brown likened justice to “detachment” and mercy to “sympathy.” He suggested that a potential intersecting point between justice and mercy is in fact found in humility.
Our greatest example of humility is demonstrated by God himself, who humbled Himself and became human in the Person of Jesus. While none of us can follow this example of humility in a perfect sense, we should all aspire to adopt a humble attitude in our interactions with others.
In seeking to find a balance between sympathy and detachment in our lives, Justice Brown points us to the humility of God and encourages all of us, regardless of our profession or career, to a life modeled on the life of Jesus.
“I appreciated Justice Brown’s perceptive commentary about justice and mercy. The music was excellent. Thanks for your outreach to elected officials and diplomatic corps.”
“I very much enjoyed the description of a Supreme Court judge’s challenges in decision making and the values that help. The important role of humility, wise answers, declaration of faith and that we have hope even if everything seems to be desperate. Thank you so much to the entire team for organizing and to Judge Brown for the blessed evening where wisdom, faith and hope were at the table.”
A Message of Hope and Freedom
Mr. Marc Dalton, MP for Pitt Meadows-Maple Ridge, reflected on how the message of Christmas is a message of eternal hope, freedom, salvation and an opportunity for a restored relationship with our loving Father.
Joycelin’s music was first heard on Parliament Hill when she was just 9 years old. In her teens she performed at Carnegie Hall, the Bolshoi theatre, in Australia and the Netherlands. She has 20 years of piano performance and teaching experience. She and Jean-Marie and Hanne performed in the 2021 National Prayer Breakfast.
Justice Russell Brown was born in Vancouver on September 15, 1965 and raised in Burns Lake, British Columbia. He received a Bachelor of Arts from the University of British Columbia in 1987 and a Bachelor of Laws from the University of Victoria in 1994. He also received a Master of Laws in 2003 and a Doctor of Juridical Science in 2006, both from the University of Toronto. He has been married since 1994 to Heidi Brown and they are the parents of two sons.
Justice Brown was admitted to the Bar of British Columbia in 1995 and to the Bar of Alberta in 2008. He was an associate at Davis & Company (now DLA Piper LLP) in Vancouver from 1995 to 1996 and at Carfra & Lawton (now Carfra Lawton LLP) in Victoria from 1996 to 2004. From 2008 to 2013, he was associate counsel to Miller Thomson LLP. From 2004 to 2013, Justice Brown was a member of the Faculty of Law at the University of Alberta, both as a professor (tenured from 2009) and for the last two years as an associate dean. His main areas of practice were commercial law, medical negligence, public authority liability, insurance law and trusts and estates.
Justice Brown is the author of a treatise on claims under negligence law for economic loss, a contributing author to a textbook on public authority liability, as well as the author or co-author of over 40 published law review articles, book chapters, review essays and foreword essays on tort law, property law and civil justice. He is a regular contributor to academic and professional conference proceedings in Canada and internationally and in Canadian judicial education seminars. Justice Brown presently serves on the editorial board of the University of Toronto Law Journal and the advisory board of the Legal Writing Academy at the University of Ottawa. Prior to his judicial career, he served on various committees of the Law Society of Alberta, including those on credentials and education and civil practice and was a member of the governing board of the Canadian Forum on Civil Justice. He also served as chair of the Health Law Institute of the University of Alberta, chair of the University Appeals Board and Professional Review Board at the University of Alberta and served on the Advisory Board to the Salvation Army in Victoria and in Edmonton, including as chair in Edmonton.
On February 8, 2013, he was appointed to the Court of Queen's Bench of Alberta. He was then appointed to the Court of Appeal of Alberta on March 7, 2014. As a Court of Appeal judge sitting in Edmonton, Justice Brown also served as a Judge of the Court of Appeal for the Northwest Territories and a Judge of the Court of Appeal of Nunavut. He was appointed to the Supreme Court of Canada on August 31, 2015.