Ontario Court Justice Richard Lajoie died Wednesday morning following an illness. He was 62.
Judges, lawyers and court staff mourned. In the middle of another case, Justice Robert Fournier broke down in open court.
"We have suffered a big loss on our bench this morning," he said, wiping away tears. "I've been working with a heavy heart."
"He was a wonderful, congenial, calm presence, a very steady, compassionate man who was just a wonderful friend and person to share chambers with," said Justice Judith Beaman, the senior Ontario Court judge for the eastern region.
Beaman said Lajoie's death was sudden and unexpected, although he had been sick for some time.
Lajoie presided over thousands of cases in a long career, but it was the Stacy Bonds case that thrust him into the public spotlight last year.
Lajoie stayed a charge against Bonds of assaulting police after finding police arrested her unlawfully. In his decision, Lajoie called the 27-year-old woman's treatment at the hands of police in the cellblock a "travesty."
The case set off a public controversy about police treatment of prisoners and led to the disclosure of several other cases of alleged abuse. It also resulted in an investigation into the conduct of one of the officers, Sgt. Steven Desjourdy, that led to a charge of sexual assault being laid. It prompted Chief Vern White to reform the way the police handled prisoners in the cellblock.
However, Judge Lajoie's son, Stéphane Lajoie, said his father saw the Bonds case as no more important than any other he handled in his years on the bench.
"My father was an excellent judge. He is not to be defined by the Stacy Bonds (case)," Lajoie said. "My father was a wonderful man. He was generous, he cared about everyone around him. He loved life.
"To me, two words represent him: aequitas veritas," said Lajoie, citing the Latin phrase for truth and justice.
"It applied to all aspects of his life. Dealing with his children, dealing with his friends," he said.
Lajoie said his father didn't talk much about his work at home.
"He was very private. He had a professional career, and he had a family life," he said.
Judge Lajoie, who was married with two children, was called to the bar in 1974.
He was a lawyer and partner in the Ottawa law firm Paris and Associates before becoming a partner with the law firm Vincent, Dagenais and Choquette.
He was appointed to the bench in 1987, and served in Timmins for 16 years before being posted to Ottawa in 2003. During his time in Timmins, Lajoie served on the executive of the Ontario Judges' Association, representing Northern Ontario.
Friend and fellow Ontario Court Justice Paul Belanger said Lajoie was a conscientious and sensitive man who was a student of the law.
"He was not a pushover by any means," said Belanger, who knew Lajoie for 40 years. "He was certainly a quiet, reserved individual. He was not flamboyant. That wasn't his style."
Belanger also remembered his friend as a world traveller who loved a fine bottle of wine with a good meal.
"He was brave in his decisions," added lawyer Doug Baum, president of the Defence Counsel Association of Ottawa. "He served the community well over his time on the bench. He'll be missed."