Members of Canada’s media industry are remembering a prominent lawyer for his dedication to journalism and storytelling.
Stuart Robertson, a Toronto-based lawyer specializing in media law, died Sunday. He was 74.
Robertson helped found ORP Law in 1994. He spent his career working with some of the country’s biggest publications and broadcasters, including the National Post, The Canadian Press, CBC, the Globe and Mail, the Toronto Star, said Doug Richardson, a partner at the law firm.
“His passion and dedication to good journalism was always forefront with Stuart. He strongly believed in how important it was in a democracy,” Richardson said Monday.
Robertson was called to the Ontario bar in 1974. He started his career with CBC around the same time.
He helped lawyers at CBC when a Halifax provincial court office refused to hand over search warrants tied to an RCMP investigation into allegations of political corruption. The broadcaster challenged the decision and, after some appeals, the case made it to the Supreme Court of Canada. The top court eventually sided with CBC.
Richardson called the 1982 case — MacIntyre v. Attorney General of Nova Scotia — “groundbreaking” and said lawyers still rely on it today.
Richardson was in his late 20s when he started working with Robertson in 1996. He said Robertson was an “incredible mentor,” which was something the elder lawyer took seriously.
“He saw that there was a responsibility to bring up other lawyers behind him,” said Richardson.
He was a very wise counsel. He had a very calming demeanour
While a lot of his work was with national news organizations, Richardson said Robertson loved working with smaller outlets as well.
“He really enjoyed assisting these smaller newspapers with these local issues and he really thought journalism at that level was so important. He loved getting to know those newsrooms and those little towns.”
Robertson spent the last three decades working with The Canadian Press.
Gerry Arnold was Ottawa bureau chief for the national newswire service when he first had dealings with Robertson in 1995.
Arnold remembers the longtime lawyer having a “towering presence,” but being nothing but a gentleman.
“He was a very wise counsel. He had a very calming demeanour. He didn’t get excited. He didn’t get wound up. He would just analyze something and slowly pinpoint the way through a problem,” said Arnold, now executive editor at The Canadian Press.
The two worked closely together when the wire service transitioned from a co-operative to a privately held company in the late 2000s.
He had a deep corporate knowledge of The Canadian Press and also had a good grounding in corporate and media law, said Arnold.
Scott White, former editor-in-chief of the news service, said organizations could count on Robertson to provide top-tier legal advice, always with the intent of getting the story published.
White said he appreciated Robertson’s dry sense of humour, which often defused tense situations.
Later, when White decided to start The Conversation Canada, a publication focusing on news and views from the academic and research community, he asked Robertson and Richardson to provide legal counsel, and for the first year they did so pro-bono.
“He was a brilliant lawyer and (The Canadian Press) and other media outlets owe him so much because he always fought to make sure the truth could be told,” said White.
Robertson authored several books on newsroom legal crisis management, editing and news gathering, including “Media law handbook: A guide for Canadian journalists, broadcasters, photographers, and writers.”
He received The Governors Award from the National Newspaper Awards in 2019 in recognition for his “tireless service in upholding and defending the integrity of journalism across the country.”
Robertson is predeceased by his wife and is survived by two children.