A photo of Clayton Ruby on a green background.
"Having such a fierce and brilliant advocate like Clayton Ruby in your corner truly made life a lot easier." - Friend of Clayton Ruby's, Amber Ellis Credit: Ruby-Shiller Law

Canadian civil rights lawyer and activist Clayton Ruby passed away on Tuesday, Aug. 2. He was 80-years-old.

Throughout his decades-long career, Ruby found himself defending those who were on the front lines of a range of activist and civil rights issues. Whether someone was arrested for peacefully protecting ancient pine forests of Owain Lake, Ontario; if someone was supporting the right to medical assistance in dying; or if someone was wrongfully convicted, Ruby was there.

His law firm, Ruby Shiller Enenajor DiGiuseppe, Barristers in Toronto mourned his passing.

“Clay was a dedicated advocate for human rights, a champion of the underdog and a loving friend. Our thoughts are with his family and our entire firm mourns the loss of our leader and mentor,” reads a tweet from his law firm.

In 1994, Ruby represented NDP MP Svend Robinson after he helped right-to-die activist Sue Rodriguez end her own life as she suffered from amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS). Robinson was criminally investigated for his involvement, but ultimately no charges were laid.

Robinson tweeted his own tribute to Ruby the day after his passing.

“Heartbroken to hear news of the death of my dear friend Clay Ruby. Giant in the legal profession, pillar of the progressive community, and a fine and decent man, a mensch. Condolences to Harriet, Emma and Kate and all who knew and loved him as did Max and I. Rest in Power,” Robinson’s tweet reads.

In 1996, the environmental activist group Earthroots was seeking to defend the pine forests in Owain Lake, Ontario from logging and had set up a peaceful blockade.

As a result of these actions Earthroots’ Campaign Director, Lea Ann Mallett, was jailed in North Bay. Ruby stepped up to represent Mallet and ultimately secured her release.

Ruby believed in the Earthroots cause and joined their Board of Directors for the next 20 years, even becoming Board Chair.

Former Earthroots member Amber Ellis remembers her friend Ruby in a statement for rabble.ca

“[I]t was an honour to ‘co-pilot’ the organization with him until his resignation – after two decades of service – in 2016 … Clay was a good friend and invaluable mentor. His children, Emma and Kate, volunteered at Earthroots when they were in high school, and he and his partner, Harriet, graciously let us use their beautiful home to host special fundraising events. Having such a fierce and brilliant advocate like Clayton Ruby in your corner truly made life a lot easier – and knowing that he was there helped give you the strength to carry on, even in the face of great adversity.”

Securing the freedom of those who had been wrongfully imprisoned became a hallmark of Ruby’s career as a lawyer.

In 1992, Guy Paul Morin was imprisoned for the murder of nine-year-old Christine Jessop and sentenced to life in prison after the longest trial for murder in Canadian history up to that point.

Morin was represented by Ruby and – thanks to new DNA evidence – in 1995, he was exonerated of the crime.

Despite a string of high profile cases, Ruby was never one for the spotlight.

“It’s hard to imagine that someone who was such an incredible force, did not operate from a place of ego – he was kind, compassionate and generous, and it was surprising to discover that he was not a fan of large social gatherings or being the centre of attention in public,” Ellis remembered.

Ellis says that she will always remember Ruby as someone who worked to make the world a better place.

“Knowing that Clayton is no longer here – just an email or a phone call away – has left me feeling like there is a big hole in my world, but definitely not in my heart… My heart will always be full of gratitude for having known such a wonderful and courageous person,” she said. 

“Rest in power my dear friend – what a life you lived! You were cherished in this world by so many, and have left us an incredible legacy to continue building on.”

Editor’s Note: This article has been corrected to reflect that Ruby stepped down from the Earthroots board in 2016 and not 2017.

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Nick Seebruch

Nick Seebruch has been the editor of rabble.ca since April 2022. He believes that fearless independent journalism is key for the survival of a healthy democracy. An OCNA award-winning journalist, for...