Rocco Galati: the lawyer who lives to take on the government

Galati has many clients, but only one opponent — the government.





Rocco Galati is challenging the appointment of Marc Nadon to the Supreme Court, one of many times he has challenged the federal government, but one of few where he was the plaintiff


“In order to succeed Rocco must change his attitude,” the Grade 8 report card states.

“He is hostile toward any form of authority. This attitude comes out in his rudeness and indifference to teachers and peers. Rocco can be an excellent student but must direct his energy toward the positive rather than the negative.”

Forty years later, Rocco Galati is proud to say he hasn’t changed one bit.

His mistrust of authority is the backbone of his successful law practice, which only takes on cases against the government.

“The only effective balance to governments going wrong is an independent judiciary and the rule of law,” says the famously sharp and combative constitutional lawyer, known both for taking on the difficult cases that other lawyers won’t touch and his penchant for dramatic courtroom oration.

“If the judiciary is not itself following the dictates in the law and constitution, then you’ve got a real problem.”

Among the latest — and one of the rare times he has taken on a case as the plaintiff — is a challenge to the appointment of Justice Marc Nadon to the Supreme Court.

Nadon previously sat on the Federal Court of appeal. Galati is arguing that he shouldn’t be appointed to the new position because a section of the Supreme Court Act prohibits federal court judges from filling one of the three Quebec jurist positions. He says allowing the appointment would leave the door open for Ottawa to “stack’’ the nation’s top court with federal court justices.

The challenge, with which the province of Quebec has since concurred, persuaded Nadon to step aside for the time being.

In his office decorated with photos of his family, and a framed copy of the Charter of Rights and Freedoms, he says it was his duty not just as a lawyer, but as a citizen.

“As Canadians we prefer not to engage, and pretend that everything is OK,” he says, with the same indignation he brings to the courtroom. “And it’s not.”

He says that he does not seek out controversy.

But if no one else will call out the government when it’s wrong, rest assured that Rocco Galati will.

Why he fights

Galati’s cynical view of government comes from his study of history, his father’s terrible experiences in the Second World War and the discrimination he grew up with as an Italo-Canadian in Toronto.

He built his careerby taking on the “intellectually challenging cases” that other lawyers don’t.

“He’s a lawyer’s lawyer … he’s the kind of lawyer that we need so our rights are protected,” says his former associate, Roger Rodrigues.

And, he adds, “he is always right about the law.”

In recent years Galati has fought the federal government treatment of Roma refugees, challenged the appointment of deputy federal court judges who are over the legal retirement age, and decried the secrecy of reports on judicial misconduct ordered by the Canadian Judicial Council.

He represents the man accusing Manitoba Associate Chief Justice Lori Douglas of sexual harassment in an ongoing judicial inquiry.

Tax, immigration and constitutional cases that make up the bulk of Galati’s work. But it’s the handful of terrorism-related cases that first made him known to the public.

It began in 1999, with Mahmoud Jaballah, an Egyptian man who was detained indefinitely under a national security certificate over alleged links to Osama bin Laden. Galati was the first lawyer to ever get such an order terminated.

Jaballah was arrested on a second certificate two years later — and, in a shocking move, Galati walked out of the hearing, declaring that he was unable in good conscience and as an officer of the court to participate in a “sham” proceeding.

He echoed the same principles from that impassioned speech in his recent interview with the Star, crediting his Italian father, who brought his family from Calabria to Toronto in the mid-1960s.

“As my father would have said, I’d rather be controversial than complicit in ignoring the law, in spitting in the face of the Constitution.”

For that, he has paid a price.

The terrorism cases led, he claims, to finding dead cats on his doorstep and receiving death threats that got him to back off most national security-related cases for three years — until he represented one of the Toronto 18 in 2006.

He claimed for years that CSIS was listening in on his phone calls with clients, and found out last year through court documents that they were in fact doing it.

He believes they still are.

Winning isn’t everything

Only the “very, very difficult cases” are referred to Galati, says Francisco Rico-Martinez, co-director of the FCJ refugee centre in Toronto.

“You can define him as a crazy guy, but he takes battles that no one else is going to take,” says Rico-Martinez. “What you see is what you get with Rocco. If he understands what you are trying to fight for, he goes with you until the end of the tunnel.”

But clients occasionally say they begrudge the take-no-prisoners Galati approach, which can come at the expense of compromise or negotiation, he says.

“Clients sometimes just want their papers. Sometimes (they think) what he wants is to win this technical, legal battle,” says Rico-Martinez.

Paul Slansky, who has known Galati since he articled at the Department of Justice, disagrees.

Galati can be caustic — he “does not suffer fools easily or well,” says Slansky.

“I’ve never seen him take a position that is outrageous that wasn’t also legitimate and well-thought-out and always supportable. Even though he may not always win in the end.”

There is no sign on the door to Galati’s new offices in a house on College St. “It keeps the kooks away,” he says.

He renovated the house himself in preparation for a project that has been in the works for years: the Constitutional Rights Centre.

The Supreme Court appointment challenge is their first official case.

Often pro bono, the group of lawyers working for the centre, including Slansky and Galati’s wife, human rights lawyer Amina Sherazee, will launch constitutional challenges to “support, enhance and protect the rule of law,” he says.

Perhaps they will help shake Canadians out of their “smug complacency.”

He is not optimistic.




Again the Tononto Star excells at publishing stories that other media does not want to publish

and that speaks volume about government intimidation.

Rocco Galaati is an example of what is missing from the legal profession, ethics and guts.