(Originally written in March 2014).
This Sunday morning, I got up early in order to attend a morning funeral service at a local synagogue for a dear friend, Judge Robert Kopstein who passed away on Friday from lung cancer.
Bob was my assigned mentor when I was appointed a judge of the Provincial Court in 1988, and he had been retired for ten years or more. He and I became close friends and I often visited him and his wife Jean. Gazheek liked the fact that they had a swimming pool.
Bob liked to visit, and he could discuss any subject. He loved movies and he and Jean would regularly spend a week attending the Toronto International Film Festival, sometimes taking in three or four movies a day.
He also loved discussing what was going on in the news. While he always warned me against getting involved in political matters, he encouraged me to never stop participating in current events, because as judges, he would say, we have a responsibility to understand what’s going on around us and to educate the public in a non-partisan manner, about government, the law and the courts.
He was a fierce and independent thinker. He once asked me what my traditional name meant and we discussed how names influence us. Bob’s Hebrew name meant “Lion”, and he admitted that he always felt strongly about people trying to use the law or the courts for an unjust purpose. He once acquitted a woman charged with communicating for the purpose of prostitution, pointing out that prostitution itself was not illegal in Canada, and therefore it was unreasonable and illogical and unfair to charge and convict women for communicating about doing something that was not illegal. Higher, and differently thinking, courts, disagreed and overturned his decision. He still thought he was right.
He was the first colleague to admit to me that his education about the history of this country was lacking any proper information about Canada’s Indigenous people. He peppered me with questions for years about something he had read or heard about Indigenous people or issues, or about something he had seen in a movie, to see if it was historically accurate or fair.
He actually read the AJI Report in its entirety. I know, because he would come into my office with his well marked copy and ask me to explain what I meant on page 756 or why we didn’t recommend one thing or another. But he was never overbearing or rude. He was always kind and respectful and eager to learn. He remained that way until he became ill.
At a certain point in one’s life, you enter what I call the swamp years, when the water around you starts to deepen, and the ground beneath you begins to shift, and the earth becomes invisible and each step represents an unknown risk. You can become afraid to move, but you cannot stand still. Too much remains to be done. You cannot leave a life unfinished. Those who are wise, refocus on the things that are important and finish them.
In his latter years, Bob put everything else in his life aside and concentrated on his family and taking care of Jean. He became her eyes when she started to lose her sight, and the one she leaned on as she walked. He shared his thoughts and wisdom and love and time with his children and grandchildren. He knew what his legacy would be and he shaped it into the best he could. He loved to sing. He taught his children to love song too. I hope they will sing songs of him. He deserves it. He was a good human. God would be proud of him.