Last week we learnt the sad news of the death of Michael Mandel – amongst many other accomplishments, the author of How America Gets Away with Murder: Illegal Wars, Collateral Damage and Crimes Against Humanity, published by Pluto in 2004.
The following obituary was written by Stephanie MacLellan for thestar.com
Michael Mandel wanted to be remembered as an educator of lawyers, a proud father, a lifelong musician and “a radical left-wing activist.”
And just in case anyone wasn’t sure about that, he spelled it out in his own obituary.
“He had a sense of the things that were important to him,” explained his wife of 15 years, Karen Golden.
Mandel, Osgoode Hall’s longest-serving full-time professor and an outspoken anti-war activist, died Sunday night of cardiac amyloidosis, a rare heart disease. He was 65.
He began teaching law students in 1974, not long after he graduated from Osgoode Hall. Thirty-nine years later, he estimated he taught at least 4,000 lawyers.
“At first, a mere 26 years old, he found his students intimidating, but, gradually, he grew to love them and found real joy in teaching, a feeling most students seemed to reciprocate,” Mandel wrote of himself.
One of his students was Lorne Sossin, now dean of the law school. Mandel gave Sossin his first job as a law teacher, as a TA for his summer courses in the early 1990s.
“He’s been an extraordinary mentor, dedicated to so many students over the years,” Sossin said.
Mandel was teaching as recently as this spring, determined to finish the term even as his illness worsened, Golden said.
Mandel’s influence extended well beyond Osgoode Hall. He helped shape the early debates about the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms through his academic work, Sossin said, fearing the 1982 charter would “overly politicize the courts.”
His anti-war activism later became the focus of his career. He led an international legal effort to have NATO leaders indicted for war crimes at the international tribunal for the former Yugoslavia in 1999, and he was an outspoken opponent of the post-Sept. 11 wars in Afghanistan and Iraq.
“At an anti-Iraq war rally in 2002 he famously branded the Bush administration ‘a bunch of thugs in the White House’ and at the anti-Bush rally in Ottawa in 2004, he told the crowd that G. W. Bush was ‘not so much a President as a homicidal maniac,’ ” he wrote with evident pride.
“Michael’s irreplaceable because . . . there’s nobody in Canada that I can think of who is of Michael’s stature that is always willing to speak up on behalf of peace and against war and the illegal use of force,” said Vancouver lawyer Gail Davidson, who founded Lawyers Against the War with Mandel in 2001. “I think he mentored and inspired a lot of people in the peace movement in Canada.”
Mandel’s views, and the passionate way he expressed them, made him a provocative figure at Osgoode Hall — both in the classroom and at faculty meetings, Sossin said. Arguments with him could get heated, but they never got personal.
“As a student, I remember that energy in the classroom as he would provoke students to express views, to figure out what they were about, and he would be very honest about his (views),” he said. “But when it came to assessing your work, he measured it by how effective each student was, not by whether they agreed with him.”
Outside of law and justice, Mandel’s other passion was music. His father, Max, had his own Yiddish radio show in Toronto starting in the 1930s, and Mandel spent the last few years of his life researching and compiling a multimedia book about the show and Yiddish radio culture. While Mandel had trained as an opera tenor in Italy, he later learned his father’s Yiddish songs.
“It was really a labour of love,” Golden said.
Mandel passed his love of music to his children with Golden, Tevi and Orly, and from his first marriage, Giulia, Lucy and Max, an accomplished chamber violist. Helping his children with their music, he wrote, was “one of his greatest joys.”