Andromache Karakatsanis, justice of the Supreme Court of Canada, judge of the Ontario Superior Court of Justice, justice of the Court of Appeal for Ontario, public servant, lawyer (born 3 October 1955 in Toronto, ON). Andromache Karakatsanis practiced criminal, civil and family litigation in Toronto before becoming the first woman to head the Liquor Licence Board of Ontario (LLBO). She then served as assistant deputy attorney general and deputy attorney general of Ontario before being appointed head of Ontario’s public service. She was then named to the bench of the Ontario Superior Court of Justice and the Court of Appeal for Ontario. In 2011, she became the first Greek Canadian to be appointed to the Supreme Court of Canada. Karakatsanis is known as an apolitical pragmatist who is dedicated to making the justice system more accessible. She is currently the longest-serving justice on the Court.
Early Life and Family
Andromache Karakatsanis was born and raised in the Don Mills area of Toronto. She is the daughter of immigrants from the Macedonia region of northern Greece. She spoke Greek exclusively until she started kindergarten and began learning English. She has described her parents as having been very strict, but credits them with instilling in her a deep love of her Greek ancestry. She was also sent to Greek school so she would become proficient in the Greek language. (She is also fluent in French.) The family often took trips to Greece in the summer during her childhood. Her parents ran a restaurant called Top O’ the Mall, where Karakatsanis worked as a waitress.
She received a Bachelor of Arts in English Literature from Victoria College of the University of Toronto in 1977. She earned her Bachelor of Laws from York University’s Osgoode Hall Law School in 1980. She completed her articling with B. Clive Bynoe. While in law school, Karakatsanis was awarded both the Harry R. Rose Criminal Law Prize and the Richard Haliburton Greer Prize. She was called to the Ontario Bar in 1982 and served as a law clerk to the Court of Appeal for Ontario.
Early Legal Career
Andromache Karakatsanis began her career in private practice in 1983. During this time, she practiced criminal, civil and family litigation in Toronto. She also clerked for Justice E. Patrick Hartt of the Supreme Court of Ontario (now the Ontario Superior Court of Justice) during two long criminal trials.
Public Service Career
In 1987, Karakatsanis began her career in public service. She was appointed to the position of vice-chair of the Liquor Licence Board of Ontario (LLBO). She then became the first woman to head the LLBO, serving as chair and CEO until 1995.
Between 1995 and 1997, Karakatsanis served as assistant deputy attorney general of Ontario as well as secretary of the Ontario Native Affairs Secretariat. She became well known for her involvement and expertise in education and reform issues in administrative justice. In 1997, she became Ontario’s deputy attorney general. She was primarily responsible for the oversight of court administration and some key justice initiatives.
In 2000, she was chosen by Premier Mike Harris to be secretary of the Cabinet and clerk of the Executive Council of the Government of Ontario. She held the role until 21 November 2002. In this capacity, she oversaw 62,000 public servants. She also provided guidance to both the senior public service and deputy ministers.
Career as Justice
In December 2002, Karakatsanis was named a judge of the Ontario Superior Court of Justice. In March 2010, she was appointed to the Court of Appeal for Ontario. She held the position for roughly 18 months before being nominated to the Supreme Court of Canada by Prime Minister Stephen Harper on 17 October 2011. When she was appointed on 14 November, the Toronto Star declared, “Her intelligence, compassion and public policy experience make her ideal for the court.”
As a jurist, Karakatsanis is best known as a strong advocate for access to justice as much as constitutional rights. She is well known for using plain, straightforward language in her legal decisions, as part of her personal effort to make justice more accessible. As the current bench’s longest-serving member, she has been involved in many notable decisions. According to Canadian Lawyer magazine, her rulings “include decisions designed to streamline civil litigation, protect the privacy rights of sexual assault victims, and remove a potential obstacle for individuals who are suing police over alleged misconduct.” She has also written “strong dissents in areas as diverse as competition law to warning against allowing the state broad powers that might infringe the privacy rights of people under police investigation.”
From 2018 to 2022, Karakatsanis was responsible for judicial education in her role as vice-president of the National Judicial Institute. More recently, she has served as the Chair of the Action Committee on Access to Justice in Civil and Family Matters.
Outside of her legal and public service careers, Karakatsanis has chaired the board of directors of the Toronto YMCA, with which she volunteered from 1990 to 2002. She also served on the boards of the Public Policy Forum, the Canadian Policy Research Networks, and the Canadian Superior Court Judges Association, among others.
Karakatsanis married fellow Greek Canadian and Osgoode Hall Law School classmate Tom Karvanis in 1979. He co-founded the Hellenic Canadian Lawyers’ Association but was forced to retire from the law in 1998 after being diagnosed with multiple sclerosis. He and Karakatsanis have two children together, Paul and Rhea, who are both lawyers.
In 1996, Karakatsanis received the Society of Ontario Adjudicators and Regulators (SOAR) Medal for outstanding service to the administrative justice system of Ontario. In 2012, the Hellenic Canadian Lawyers’ Association renamed its annual scholarship in her honour. In 2022, the Law Society of Ontario awarded her an honorary Doctor of Laws in recognition of her advocacy and legal career.