Ian Binnie

Ian Binnie bigraphy, stories - Canadian judge

Ian Binnie : biography

April 14, 1939 –

William Ian Corneil Binnie (born April 14, 1939) is a former puisne justice of the Supreme Court of Canada, serving from 1998 to 2011. Of the justices appointed to the Supreme Court in recent years, he is one of the few to have never sat as a judge prior to his appointment. He was described by the Toronto Star as "one of the strongest hands on the court."

Personal life and career as lawyer

Binnie was born in Montreal, Quebec. He graduated from McGill University in 1960, where he was a member of the Kappa Alpha Society and the Scarlet Key Honor Society, and went on the study law at Cambridge University (graduating with an LL.B in 1963 and an LL.M in 1988) and the University of Toronto (LL.B in 1965). He was called to the Ontario bar in 1967 and practiced private law at Wright & McTaggart and its successor firms until 1982, at which point he went to work as Associate Deputy Minister of Justice for the Government of Canada. In 1986, he went on to practice at McCarthy Tétrault, until he was appointed to the Supreme Court of Canada in 1998, replacing Justice John Sopinka. Just as with his predecessor, Binnie had never sat as a judge before his appointment to the Supreme Court.

Prior to his appointment, he had argued numerous cases in front of the Court. For example, he was lead counsel for the defendant in the notable case of R. v. Wholesale Travel Inc.

In May 2011, Binnie announced his plans to retire as early as August 30, 2011, unless there was a delay in the appointment of his replacement. He continued until Michael Moldaver and Andromache Karakatsanis were sworn in on October 27, 2011, replacing him and Louise Charron, who had left the court on August 30, 2011.

On November 16, 2011, the New Zealand Justice Minister Simon Power announced that Binnie had been selected to review the David Bain case and Bain’s request for compensation for wrongful conviction and imprisonment.http://www.scoop.co.nz/stories/PA1111/S00320/canadian-judge-to-assess-bains-claim-for-compensation.htm

In April 2012, Binnie joined Lenczner Slaght Royce Smith Griffin, a Toronto litigation boutique, as counsel. He also joined Arbitration Place as Resident Arbitrator, presiding over both Canadian and international arbitrations.http://business.financialpost.com/2012/04/10/ian-binnie-joins-lenczner-slaght-arbitration-place/

David Bain compensation claim scandal

In 2011, Binnie was asked by New Zealand Minister of Justice Simon Power to investigate a compensation claim made by David Bain, who spent 13 years in prison for murdering his family, but was eventually acquitted in a retrial. The case made frequent headlines in New Zealand and divided public opinion because of the drawn-out nature of the appeals process, which went all the way to the Privy Council in London.

After a 12-month investigation, Binnie concluded that original police investigation was incompetent, declared Bain to be innocent on the ‘balance of probabilities’ and recommended he should be paid compensation. The new Justice Minister Judith Collins rejected the findings of the report, saying it lacked robust reasoning and showed a misunderstanding New Zealand law. This led to a public spat between the New Zealand Minister of Justice and Justice Binnie, who accused Judith Collins of politicising the process. NZ Herald 12 December 2012 Collins said the government would be getting a second opinion on compensation without letting Bain’s legal team know what was in it, a decision Bain supporters slammed as a double standard. Binnie criticised Collins for refusing to give a copy of the report to Bain’s legal team and for leaking details of his report to the media.

Colleagues in Canada rallied to his defence. The President of the Canadian Bar Association, Robert Brun, QC, said Binnie "is held in the highest esteem by both the legal community and the judiciary for his integrity, skill, and experience. He is praised for his honesty and intellect, and his reputation extends well beyond Canada’s borders." NZ Herald


Due to Binnie’s background in business and corporate law, he has typically written many of the judgments in those areas of law. His style of judging in constitutional cases is said to lean towards giving deference to government. This can most clearly be seen in cases such as the recent Chaoulli v. Quebec (Attorney General) [2005].

Binnie nonetheless felt that a majority of the court was too favourable to the Crown against the rights of accused in R v Sinclair, a 2010 case regarding an accused’s right to counsel during police questioning.http://www.canlii.org/en/ca/scc/doc/2010/2010scc35/2010scc35.htmlKirk Makin The Globe and Mail October 8, 2010