The name Andromache Karakatsanis was all over the news in Canada recently after the country’s Supreme Court ruled the state is entitled to peer into the criminal background of potential jurors before deciding to select them for a trial.
But as interesting as this ruling may be among Canada’s legal community, the country’s vibrant Greek community was a lot more interested in Karakatsanis, than the actual case. As the first ever Greek Canadian judge to serve on Canada’s top court, her achievements are a shining example of Canada’s Greek immigration success story.
The daughter of Greek immigrants from northern Greece (her mother is from Kastoria and her father from Thessaloniki), Karakatsanis’ appointment in October 2011 was no doubt a cause for celebration.
The 56-year-old justice, who grew up in Toronto where her parents owned a Greek restaurant, was raised in a traditional Greek home. And like many Greek immigrant children, Karakatsanis couldn’t speak English until Kindergarten. Today, she is fluent in Greek, English and French.
“I am so lucky to have both my parents here with with me today,” Karakatsanis told a special Supreme Court ceremony held in her honor last November. “They left their homes in Greece after the Second World War. They came without family and without language. They met and married here and built a successful restaurant business.
“I am very proud of my parents,” she added in Greek.
‘I love the Greek zest for life’
In an exclusive and rather rare interview, Karakatsanis spoke to the Jewish Tribune about her Greek heritage, her parents and how her strict upbringing made her an outcast in school, but also forced her to adopt a different perspective.
“My parents taught me and my sister and brother to love our Greek heritage. We visited Greece during summer vacation and went to Greek school to learn to read and write Greek…. I love the Greek culture, the classics and history. I love the Greek zest for life….
“My parents were stricter than those of most of my classmates. I was not permitted to wear makeup or even nylons or go to sleepovers until I was 16, and I was not allowed to date until university….
“As a result, I was never part of the popular crowd at school. My friends were often unique and often from different ethnic backgrounds. I was studious. I played the piano, volunteered for the drama productions and was very active with the art department. I still draw and paint canvasses today….
“My parents always encouraged us to reach for our dreams,” she added. “They told us we could do anything we wanted to do. They were wonderful role models. They had faced enormous challenges to come and build a life for themselves and exemplified a strong work ethic. They had very high expectations…very much believed in education.”
Karakatsanis recalled how teachers often tried to Anglicize her name, but her parents wouldn’t allow it.
“I remember, as a trial lawyer, I had to spell my name for the record with each appearance. It did become tedious at times. However, I love the fact that my name is unique and from Greek mythology. And once someone learns my name, they rarely forget it.”
Since being called to the bar in 1982, Karakatsanis has attained the highest provincial positions in the fields of law and public service, including, for example, chair and CEO of the Liquor License Board of Ontario, secretary of the Ontario Native Affairs Secretariat, deputy attorney general, secretary of the Cabinet and clerk of the Executive Council.
Awarded the SOAR medal for outstanding service to the administrative justice system of Ontario and having served for several years as a judge of the Ontario Superior Court of Justice, she was appointed in March 2010 as a judge of the Court of Appeal for Ontario. In her private life, she served on numerous boards and chaired the board of directors of the Toronto YMCA.