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Zooming Out on Administrative Law

December 20, 2023


Back in 2010, with almost a decade under her belt as litigation counsel at Justice Canada, Melanie Toolsie’s representation of multiple federal departments and officials had given her wide ranging hands-on experience in proceedings before the Federal Court, the Federal Court of Appeal, the provincial Superior and Appellate courts, as well as various tribunals where federal government decision-making or actions face legal challenge.

But there was never any chance of Toolsie resting on her laurels.

“I wanted to take that experience and build on it, by zooming out and to better appreciate the normative theoretical underpinnings and the ends and justifications of the work that I do at the Department of Justice, which straddles civil, constitutional and administrative law issues,” she explains. “I wanted to gain a fuller view of the larger landscape.”

Toolsie quickly found a fit for her needs in OsgoodePD’s part-time Professional LLM in Administrative Law, but the love of learning that spurred her search has deep roots.

“I grew up in a very intellectually curious family with lots of discussion over mealtimes. My dad was a first-generation lawyer who had moved here for post-secondary schooling from pre-independent Guyana, and so strongly held notions of the utter privilege of education, advocacy and engagement in civic life were ingrained in us from a young age,” she says.   

Toolsie’s administrative law LLM was not her first encounter with York University – she earned a bachelor’s degree in English Literature focused on post-colonial writing before attending the University of Windsor, where she completed the joint LL.B-J.D. program offered with the University of Detroit Mercy School of Law.

“That program gave me a wonderful opportunity to teach American Constitutional law at high school in Detroit, which made me think about how a legal education might be engaged differently from ordinary private practice,” she says.

After a brief period articling and practising at private law firms, Toolsie landed at the Department of Justice’s Toronto office in 2001 and began public law practice representing many different federal bodies and statutory decision makers. She is currently legal counsel in its National Litigation Sector.

Although there were other LLM options open, Toolsie says Osgoode’s Administrative law program stood out because of the esteemed faculty list, which included then-Federal Appeal Court Justice John Evans, future-Ontario Appeal Court Justice Lorne Sossin, and future-Supreme Court Justice Mahmud Jamal. The flexibility of the program was the other big attraction given her existing work and family responsibilities with then small children at home, and her community commitments.  

Long before the Covid-19 pandemic introduced the world to videoconferencing software, OsgoodePD was a remote-learning pioneer, leveraging technology to allow enrollees to attend some or all of their classes from home.

“Today we are all used to Zoom, Teams and any number of platforms, but that wasn’t the case 13 years ago. Without that level of accessibility, I’m not sure I could have fit post-graduate studies into my already very full life,” Toolsie says.

Since her 2013 LLM graduation, Toolsie says she has been able to share with younger colleagues her deeper understanding of how the legislative, executive and judicial bodies relate and the legal rules and principles that emerge to really animate our Canadian legal system, and which play out centrally in our work. 

“In mentoring newer counsel, I’m able to help them make some connections that might not be readily made early on if one is not thinking about their legal practice mindful of the larger architecture of our Canadian constitutional framework,” Toolsie says. “There is ever an exciting ongoing dialogue between all those entities that should be actively considered when making representations on behalf of Canada, as it finds real expression in the work we do. When one is more alive to this, one’s work takes on much deeper meaning and gives much greater satisfaction.”

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