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Justice Branch Reflects on 19 years of the OsgoodePD National Class Actions Symposium

May 8, 2023

Avnee Paranjape

This year marked the Hon. Justice Ward K. Branch’s nineteenth year on the planning committee for OsgoodePD’s Annual National Symposium on Class Actions, held April 27 and 28, 2023. After nearly two decades of helping develop the symposium into the foremost forum for class actions debate in Canada, Justice Branch is stepping back to make room for the next wave of class actions experts.

In a fireside chat as part of this year’s program, Justice Branch reflected on being one of the first lawyers in British Columbia to practice class actions. Shortly after the provincial Class Proceedings Act came into force in 1995, he co-authored a brief paper on the legislation. At a time when no one else in the province had written on this law, his firm immediately became the only known experts in the field, and was hired on nine of the first ten class actions cases filed in British Columbia. Although Justice Branch began on the defence side, before long, he and a colleague founded their own firm and took on plaintiff-side cases. “We thought this was going to be a walk in the park,” he said, “but we got beat up in the park, frequently, in those first years!”

Justice Branch credits Professor Emeritus Garry Watson, Osgoode Hall Law School, with recruiting him to the planning committee. Prof. Watson, who established the symposium and chaired the planning committee for several years, sought out committee members “with lots of energy if not a lot of experience,” Justice Branch remembers. “Although we were more than 30 years younger than he was, it was tough to keep up with Garry’s relentless enthusiasm!”

The symposium was an immediate success, with firms lining up to send speakers and representatives. The roster of exceptional faculty members and organizers included former Chief Justice of Ontario, the Hon. Warren Winkler. “We would always hold him in reserve for our last session,” Justice Branch explained, “as he would leave the audience going away more educated, but also with a smile on their face. When it was his turn to go up, he would happily and cheerily go way past his time allotment! But I could never begrudge him that, given how much people always enjoyed hearing about Pincher Creek and his dogs!”

Another feature of the symposium that Justice Branch credits for its success was adopting a truly national perspective from the start. He made a point of advocating for representation from lawyers and judges from across the country. Before long, “the ‘Cross Canada Checkup’ panel became a fixture, letting each province know what the others were up to.” Over the years, the symposium has become an annual gathering for lawyers from across Canada, fostering collegiality amongst the class actions bar. “Canadian class action lawyers have always been more friendly with their opponents than their U.S. counterpartes,” Justice Branch said. “I’d like to think the Osgoode conference had no small part in developing that tone.”

“I have truly enjoyed working with Osgoode Professional Development over these 19 years,” Justice Branch reflected. “Having worked with many different organizations, I can safely say that Osgoode is the cream of the crop.” As for the opportunity to guide the premier class actions conference in Canada for nearly two decades? “I wouldn’t have missed it for the world, and I will certainly miss it!”

Want to learn more about Class Actions? The 20th Anniversary of the National Symposium on Class Actions will be held April 25 and 26, 2024.

The Honourable. Justice Ward Branch – Supreme Court of British Columbia, Vancouver