Mediation offers good life lessons: Winkler

The ability to be a mediator is a skill that will not only help in law, but can also be used to enrich global culture and the value of a university education, says Ontario Chief Justice Warren Winkler.

A principal mediator himself, Winkler spoke to about 500 graduates from Faculty of Social Science and the School of Graduate & Postdoctoral Studies at the June 15 morning session of Western’s 297th Convocation.

The University of Western Ontario conferred an honorary Doctor of Law upon Winkler, renowned for his judicial mediation skills and alternative dispute methods, which are saluted by many in the legal community.

“Steeped in the law though I may be, I do not consider it a great leap of logic to think of mediation more ecumenically as the general art and action of bridge-building, of overcoming variances, and of ultimately privileging agreements over differences,” he says.

A native of Pincher Creek, Alta., Winkler received his BA at the University of Manitoba, and his Bachelor and Master of Law degrees at the Osgoode Hall Law School. He was admitted to the Bar in 1965 and in 1977 was appointed Queen’s Counsel.

Before going to the bench, Winkler practiced law for almost 30 years and was a leader of the labour and employment bar. Since the early days of Western’s law school Winkler has maintained an ongoing relationship with the university.

Winkler was appointed to the Superior Court of Ontario in 1993, in 2004 as Regional Senior Justice of the Court for the Toronto region, and in 2007 as Chief Justice.

The interdisciplinary nature of the university fosters an atmosphere for imagination, understanding, empathy and wisdom – all key aspects to the creation of a good mediator.

“My earnest hope and request is that you will make room in the helter-skelter of your busy lives to engage with people and think about matters outside your area of expertise,” says Winkler. “If you accomplish this task, you will forever retain your ability to see things from multiple perspectives, and you will begin to build bridges across differences. In other words, you will have all that it takes to be a good mediator.”

In his citation, Western Law dean Ian Holloway During spoke of Winkler’s period of service in the Superior Court, where he acquired a reputation as ‘Canada’s mediator.’

“To some he was an iconoclast, in that he did everything in his power to facilitate settlement negotiations among the parties, rather than – as convention would have it – funneling disputants into an adversarial forum,” says Holloway. “Warren Winkler is someone who typifies the very best of the judicial character. His is a stream of fairness and integrity, mixed with a current of selflessness and humour. Truly, his career exemplifies the old motto, non sibi sed omnibus – not for oneself, but for all.”

As part of the ceremony, the status of professor emeritus was conferred upon Rod Beaujot and professor emerita status upon Gail Perry.

The Edward G. Pleva Award for Excellence in Teaching was presented to Graham Smith. The Angela Armit Award for Excellence in Teaching was given to Marla Wolf. Benjamin Lester was awarded the Marilyn Robinson Award for Excellence in Teaching.