Both sides of the courtroom are praising Toronto’s new Crown Attorney Christine McGoey, who becomes the first female to assume the position and has been credited with outstanding legal talents, fair-mindedness, and strong decision-making abilities.
In an interview with Law Times at 361 University Ave., McGoey spoke enthusiastically about her return to the office she left in 2000 to prosecute cases in the Muskoka area. She is now in charge of what is believed to be the busiest Crown’s office in Canada, prosecuting about 60,000 criminal charges each year.
“I love the office. Some of my colleagues from nine years ago are still here, of course,” says McGoey, who replaces the highly respected Paul Culver, who retired after nearly 20 years as Toronto’s top Crown.
“It’s always an exciting place to me, and there’s always a great deal going on,” says McGoey. “At this phase of my life, it’s just an exciting part of life to be involved in.”
Attorney General Chris Bentley says, “Everybody is very pleased, very much looking forward to her work. She has distinguished herself throughout her career - she has been a pioneer in many ways.”
He adds, “We’re very happy and very pleased that she’s assuming this extremely important role for what may well be the largest Crown attorneys’ office in Canada.”
Toronto lawyer Earl Levy describes McGoey’s style as “a velvet club over an iron hand.”
“Her reputation is of someone who is extremely fair, but tenacious,” says Levy. “She was an excellent cross-examiner.”
Criminal Lawyers’ Association president Frank Addario says, “Her reputation for fairness is going to set a good example in the Crown system. She’s also highly professional and I think that will rub off on people.”
Brian Greenspan, a partner at criminal law firm Greenspan Humphrey Lavine, says McGoey “is both articulate and has a real presence. She is someone who walks into a room and she certainly has a presence that is consistent with the leadership role that she is receiving.”
McGoey, 54, is the third youngest of 11 children. Both her parents were doctors, and when McGoey was born they lived in Toronto. The family later moved to Scarborough, where she attended Agincourt Collegiate Institute for high school. She then received her undergraduate science degree from the University of Toronto, where she also received her law degree.
For her first year after law school, McGoey clerked for what was then called the County Court, and in 1983 joined the downtown Toronto Crown attorneys’ office. She remained at that office until 1999, before moving on in 2000 to the Muskoka Crowns’ office.
In her first stint with the downtown prosecutors’ office, McGoey spent time at Old City Hall, with the victims’ assistance program as an acting co-ordinator, and helped train Crowns on child abuse issues.
She also was among a group that started the child abuse prosecution team at Old City Hall in 1983. That initiative, now called J Court, involved a specialized team of prosecutors to assist children.
McGoey then worked with a small group that set up Toronto’s first domestic violence court, also at Old City Hall.
In 1997, she received the Ontario Crown Attorneys’ Association’s Frank M. Hoffman Award, which is awarded each year to a member who has shown extraordinary dedication, diligence, and enthusiasm in their work.
She also spent nine months in 1999 arguing cases at the Ontario Court of Appeal.
McGoey says she enjoyed life at her parent’s cottage in Muskoka, and had long dreamed of spending more time in the area. She followed that urge in 2000, moving she and her two children there to work as an assistant Crown. She spent her final two years as the office’s acting Crown Attorney.
“The bar up there is quite a collegial one,” she says. “It was a wonderful experience being in Muskoka. You get to do all aspects, all cases. So it was a really positive part of my career.”
But memories of her time spent at Old City Hall pulled McGoey back to her hometown to replace Culver, her former boss. She recalls the influence Culver had on her development as a prosecutor, and the platform Toronto provided for growth.
“Paul was terrific at letting us develop the child abuse team, the domestic abuse team,” she says. “Old City Hall, they’ve gone on with the Mental Health Court, the Gladue Court, the Drug Court. So it’s a big enough scale that you can be responsive to different areas, and develop expertise. And as a Crown attorney you can vary your experience and learn a lot about different things.”
McGoey admits, however, that the bustling office presents its fair share of challenges.
The question is, “How can we be responsive to the caseload, the seriousness of many of the cases, and still be efficient as we go about our business? So, we’ve got those kinds of pressures.”
Luckily, she notes, the office attracts talented Crown attorneys, but they require mentorship early in their careers.
“I guess what I’m looking forward to is figuring out the best structure to respond to the volume and the types of cases that we have, and still be able to service, as we have with the specialized courts, specific populations and really do appropriate responses to people with those kinds of challenges,” she says.
As the Crown attorney, McGoey will assign murder prosecutions, and may make decisions on funding for expert witnesses, consulting on more serious cases, and supervising staff, looking into education opportunities for staff, and liaising with judges to consider areas for improvement.
McGoey joins lawyers such as current Etobicoke Crown Attorney Sarah Welch, former
Etobicoke Crown attorneys Cathy Mocha and Donna Armstrong, and former Scarborough Crown attorney Mary Hall in a select list of women who have led a Toronto area Crown office.
Hours before her interview with Law Times, McGoey had lunch with Barboura Ferns, Ontario’s first woman assistant Crown, who has provided over 35 years of service and plans to retire this year. McGoey says Ferns paved the way for she and other women Crowns.
“By now, we have a huge number of female women Crown attorneys throughout the province and in this office,” she says. “So it’s exciting, and the downtown office I have a real affinity for. I guess I would say it’s about time when you see all of them out there. But it is also just a wonderful thing, and I’m excited by it.”
McGoey says the job as a Crown prosecutor attracts women because of the nature of the work, and the flexibility and benefits offered by the Ministry of the Attorney General. She notes that there likely are more female than male assistant Crowns currently in the downtown office.
“The work is interesting and challenging, and I think that the ministry is very good at offering opportunities to women, and there is an ability to have a maternity leave and a paternity leave, so you can balance it,” she says. “You are able to have a year with your child if that’s what you do, and balance that.”
Bentley says that McGoey becoming the first woman in the role “is an important, historic event.” But he adds, “I would want to emphasize that she was appointed as the Crown attorney because of her ability.”