Professional Profile

Julian H. Porter, Q.C. has practised litigation exclusively since his call to the bar and is recognized by the Law Society of Upper Canada as a specialist in civil litigation. He now practices as independent counsel. He has appeared before all levels of Court, in every kind of civil, commercial and criminal proceeding. He acts as defence counsel for professionals and he is fond of appearing before juries.

On February 9, 2015 he was the guest of honour at a luncheon given by the Judges of the Supreme Court of Canada who invited him to talk about his book and some of the paintings he wrote about, over lunch.

On June 23, 2015 the Law Society of Upper Canada conferred the degree of Doctor of Laws honoris causa upon Mr. Porter.

In his career he has done some interesting things. He has examined a member of the Milosovic cabinet in Moscow. He acted with two counsel in Canada’s last murder trial which resulted in a hanging. He was sent to make the final appeal to the Minister of Justice – it failed. He acted in numerous obscenity cases; he persuaded a Court to take the ribbons off Michael Snow’s geese in the Eaton Centre; he persuaded a Court that his wife’s publishing house had not breached L. Ron Hubbard’s copyright; he defended an accused in the dredging case – a two year criminal jury trial. On behalf of Peter Newman and Jack McClelland, he convinced a Judge to allow felt pens to be used by the publisher to eliminate an offending sentence in a book rather than withdraw the publication.

His litigation experience includes: the Dubin Inquiry into Ben Johnson; the Winnipeg police inquiry; the Toronto Sun’s official secret prosecution in respect to Peter Worthington; the Walker Brothers v. CTV libel case which led to huge damages; the Patti Starr inquiry; the Reichmann family v. Toronto Life libel case; Karlheinz Schreiber v. Luc Lavoie; Tony Clement v. Dalton McGuinty; Lee Kuan Yew v. The Globe and Mail; Randolph Fiennes v. Allan Fotheringham; St. John Shipbuiliding Ltd. v. CTV and Eric Malling et al; Sullivan Entertainment Group v. Kate MacDonald Butler et al; defended the Ontario Provincial Police in a 7 week libel jury trial in Ottawa; received the maximum amount possible in a slander case before a jury pursuant to Rule 76. He successfully represented Maclean’s Magazine in highly publicized Human Rights prosecutions federally and in the provinces of British Columbia and Ontario. In February 2014 he represented the accused in a rare criminal libel trial before a jury in St. John’s, Newfoundland (result not good!). At the end of November 2016, Mr. Porter concluded a five-day trial in Brampton representing a defendant who was alleged to have libelled the plaintiff while providing an employment reference. The defence was completely successful and the Court of Appeal and SCC upheld the trial decision in this case. On November 29, 2017 he appeared before the Supreme Court of Canada in the case of, et al v. Goldhar. You can watch Mr. Porter make his argument in the last ten minutes of this link (starting at 1:57):–37202&date=2017-11-29&audio=n.

Mr. Porter was recently involved in a case defending a party being sued for libel in a COVID-related matter. There were numerous defendants and a SLAPP motion was brought by each of them and argued in September 2021. On February 24, 2022 Justice Stewart released her decision – victory for all defendants! On February 28, 2022 Sean Fine of the Globe and Mail reported the victory. The article quoted as follows, “The lesson of the case, that Julian Porter, a lawyer for Nadia Alam, one of the doctors accused of defamation, is that if you make provocative comments in the public arena, ‘you’ve asked to have a bloody nose’.” A week later the case of Patrick Brown, who was the leader of the Progressive Conservative Party of Ontario and who sued CTV et al for libel, concluded. The matter was settled in March, 2022 to Mr. Brown’s satisfaction. Mr. Porter was one of counsel in this successful matter with Howard Winkler and Eryn Pond.

He has defended many of Canada’s leading writers, publishers and magazines in libel matters and has acted for a large number of plaintiffs suing newspapers and television stations. Lexpert has, for a number of years, recognized him as “most frequently recommended” in the law of defamation and he has been selected by his peers to be included in the The Best Lawyers in Canada in the speciality of defamation and media law. In their 2021 and 2022 publications Mr. Porter continues to be recognized by Lexpert and Best Lawyers. He is currently engaged in a number of libel cases.

Julian Porter has conducted prosecutions, was counsel to the College of Physicians and Surgeons of Ontario for 20 years and he has appeared as counsel in numerous Royal Commissions. His law practice is described in the books In Court and Judges by Jack Batten and Ontario.

Mr. Porter is co-author of the law text entitled Canadian Libel Practice (Butterworths – 1986). He has lectured on many occasions to the Canadian Bar Association and the Law Societies of Upper Canada, British Columbia and Prince Edward Island. His lecture on cross-examination is in video format for Canada Law Book. He has given a three-hour demonstration on cross-examination for Law Society lectures throughout Ontario. He occupied the Mulvain Chair of Advocacy, January 1992, University of Calgary. Mr. Porter has been a Bencher of the Law Society of Ontario since 1999 and is now a life Bencher. He is a Fellow of the American College of Trial Lawyers and was appointed to the Ontario Judicial Council and the Committee that reviews judicial appointments to the Superior Court of Justice. In October 2002 he was presented with the degree of Doctor of Laws, honoris causa, from Queen’s University. He was also appointed to the Interim Ad Hoc House of Commons Parliamentary Committee on the Appointment of Supreme Court Judges.

Julian Porter represented Canada at the UNESCO Copyright Convention in Paris (1971); was Secretary to the Canadian Conference of Arts and was Chairman of the Parcost Review Committee.

He was President of the Canadian National Exhibition in 1975 and 1976, and has served on the following boards: Harbourfront; Ontario Cancer Research Foundation; the Exhibition Stadium Corporation; the Hockey Hall of Fame; Key Publishers; and Gray Coach Lines. He was appointed to the Toronto Transit Commission in 1977 and served as Chairman from May 1979 to February 1987. He has served on the board of the Advocates’ Society and the Stratford Festival Foundation.

In 2013 Mr. Porter wrote a book, 149 Paintings You Really Need to See in Europe (So You Can Ignore the Others) which is now in its second printing. “Canada’s most famous libel lawyer is also a perfect guide to Europe’s museums.” is how Brian Bethune of Maclean’s described Mr. Porter in his review. In a Canadian Lawyer review by Yamri Taddese, Ian Binnie is quoted as saying: “An eclectic character” is how Binnie describes Porter. The retired judge went to Vienna with Porter as part of a tour organized by The Advocates’ Society. “We abandoned the official guides and went entirely with Julian, who is as eccentric as he is learned.” He says. “We had a tour like no other.” No doubt Porter is knowledgeable about European art, adds Binnie. “But he also has a Julian-esque perspective, which is actually in some cases as interesting as the painting itself.” The noted Canadian painter, Mary Pratt, said of Mr. Porter’s book, “I am loving it. Thanks for writing it.”

In 2017 Mr. Porter’s new book, 149 Paintings You Really Need to See in North America (So You Can Ignore the Others) was published, co-authored by his colleague, Stephen Grant. Paul Schabas, the Treasurer of the Law Society of Ontario, made the following remarks about the book at its launch in October 2017:

[I was] very touched when Julian called and asked me to speak at this reception to celebrate a book by two people I have known well for such a long time.

We all loved Julian’s first book, and of course many of us have enjoyed being led through a great art gallery by Julian, enjoying the drama of his descriptions, his effusiveness, his emotion and his humour as he chuckles over a ribald image or something just a little off colour. My wife, Alison, and I still talk of a wonderful morning, with Joey Slinger and Nora McCabe, dutifully following Julian through the Prado — stopping off at various points to hear him out on Hieronymus Bosch, El Greco and Goya.

So what to say about this new book, written by the two of them?

As I looked through it, it got me thinking both about art, and about them — which I think is really the beauty of this book for all of us.

If you’re like me, you love art, but don’t know enough about it. Who does? Even Julian writes in one of his descriptions, “What do I know”? But we all enjoy looking at a beautiful painting, or a great work of art for what it tells us — about an event, about history, about people, about human emotion, or, simply, about art and beauty.

And the descriptions of art in this book help us with that. They enlighten us, cause us to look at paintings in different ways, and through the lens of our friends, Julian and Stephen.

And in that way the book is a window into them, too. We see how they approach their art differently, not just because one talks about the old stuff — that would be Julian — and the other addresses the new, what we call modern art.

Julian, as many of you know, also loves opera — the grand tableau of colour, music and theatre — and we see it in his descriptions. Let me just read a couple — his opening comment on Tintoretto’s Tarquin and Lucretia, a wonderful evocative image of the two nude figures that is in the Art Institute of Chicago:

“How do you capture the crackle of Tintoretto? Painter of perhaps the greatest Last Judgment of all. Here a rape, the scattering bouncing pearls, white skin, flashing colour — a quick brutality.

Shimmers of lightning bathing the silks and satins. This elegance, cheek by jowl with ugly rape, her hand reaching out to you, for you to rescue her….”

Or, just as dramatic, his description of El Greco’s View of Toledo which hangs in the Metropolitan Museum in New York:

“This is a landscape to end all landscapes. ….

The view is of Toledo, a small Spanish city and, until 1561, the capital of the Spanish Empire. A flickering kaleidoscope blinking sky, a menacing storm, a great necklace of architecture, swishes of green billowing trees create an electric effect. You are commanded to halt dead still before it, as the black river speeds towards you. The thunder cracks. In the black, black sky, ink blots from God.”

One can just hear Julian, with dramatic flourish, going from stage whispers to shouts, standing in front of these paintings, saying those words. …

If he can’t get us to stop and think, who can? Wonderful.

Stephen, a great fan of the orchestra, is more symphonic, more disciplined, but also with his own sense of the music of art.

Commenting on an abstract Roy Liechtenstein titled Mirror #2 in San Francisco, he opens with a bang: “The fabulous, frenetic, energetic, troubled!

Yes, he can hold his own with Porter, but Grant has the difficult task with modern art of explaining the new.

He takes us a little more into the history of the work, the making of the painting, and its significance. Consider a bit of this about Paterson Ewen’s work Gibbous Moon — acrylic on gouged plywood, just to put it in context — in the National Gallery in Ottawa:

“There are times in viewing art when a piece or a show is overwhelming, cutting one’s perceptions into ribbons and changing one’s aesthetic landscape. For me this came with my discovery of Paterson Ewen’s Phenomena. But it wasn’t just the images, it was Ewen’s discovery of his “tool,” the router, that forge his brilliance and my appreciation of it. This was the perfect fit, Ewen’s router in Ewen’s hand….”

And then after telling us about his technique, Stephen says more:

“Ewen broke barriers in the art world by incorporating his science background into his luminous creations. His work moves me beyond reason, it speaks to something primitive yet reassuring. In a word, captivating.”

I know I will look at Paterson Ewen differently, and more carefully on my next visit to the AGO, just as I will look differently at Tintoretto and El Greco, and so many other works after having read this book.

And, I will also think, of course of the operatic Julian and the symphonic Stephen, and their love of art, so courageously given to us by them.

It’s a wonderful book, congratulations.

He is married to Anna Porter.