FACL is extremely pleased to announce that our key founder and long-time friend, the Honourable Madam Justice Maryka Omatsu, was appointed to the Order of Ontario on February 3, 2015! The Order of Ontario is the Province’s highest official honour, conferred by the Lieutenant Governor, the Hon. Elizabeth Dowdeswell.
Maryka Omatsu’s long career in the law has been characterized by many ground-breaking achievements. Judge Omatsu was appointed to the Ontario Court of Justice in 1993, at a time when the Canadian judiciary was composed of few women and even fewer minorities. She was the first woman of East Asian heritage to have been appointed to any Canadian court.
Prior to her appointment, Judge Omatsu practised law in Toronto for 16 years working in criminal, human rights, and environmental law, at times representing Aboriginal peoples. In addition to her legal practice, she also demonstrated a commitment to advocacy and legal education. During those years, she worked for all three levels of government (municipal, provincial and federal), taught in Lanzhou, China and Ryerson University in Toronto, and lectured in Tokyo and Kyoto, Japan. Prior to her judicial appointment, Judge Omatsu served as the Chair of the Ontario Human Rights Appeals’ Tribunal; as a referee for the Law Society of Upper Canada (the regulatory body that regulates the legal profession in Ontario) on client disputes; and as a member of the Ontario Government’s Fair Tax Commission, on women’s issues.
It is impossible to describe Judge Omatsu’s many achievements without also emphasizing her role in bringing about redress for Japanese Canadians for their internment during the Second World War. Like many third generation Japanese Canadians, Judge Omatsu’s parents and other family members had been interned during the war. Early in her legal career, Judge Omatsu was a founding member of Sodan-kai, an organization whose goal was to educate Japanese Canadians in Toronto about redress for wartime wrongs. Judge Omatsu was a key member of the negotiation team for the National Association of Japanese Canadians.
In 1992, Judge Omatsu wrote Bittersweet Passage: Redress and the Japanese Canadian Experience, which documented the redress campaign. The Book won the Prime Minister’s Award for Publishing and the Laura Jamieson Prize for the “best feminist book” in 1992. Bittersweet Passage was translated into Japanese and published in Japan in 1994, earning Judge Omatsu international recognition.
During Judge Omatsu’s career, she has received numerous awards and other forms of recognition. She received Canada Council, Ontario Arts Council and Toronto Arts Council grants to publish Bittersweet Passage, as well as grants from the federal Department of Foreign Affairs to travel to Japan to publicize her book and to give lectures (1994, 1997). She was a Lansdowne Lecturer at Victoria University, British Columbia (1995), and she also received the Queen’s Golden Jubilee Medal (2002). That year, she also became a William Timbers Lecturer at Dartmouth College (2002). Judge Omatsu was inducted to the Delta S.S. (her high school) Wall of Excellence (2008). FACL was also honoured to present to Judge Omatsu its first Life Time Achievement Award (2010).
On November 8th, 2013 Judge Maryka Omatsu also became the first Canadian to receive the prestigious Senator Daniel K. Inouye NAPABA Trailblazer Award presented by the National Asian Pacific American Bar Association (NAPABA).
With respect to FACL, Judge Omatsu continues to be involved in its national expansion to regional chapters in Vancouver, Calgary and Halifax, and currently sits on the board of FACL BC.
Congratulations Judge Omatsu on all of your outstanding achievements to date!