Sidney Bernard Simons

Birth: August 20, 1931 in Edmonton, Alberta

Death: June 23, 2018 in Victoria, B.C.

Burial: Congregation Emanu-El Cemetery, Victoria, Capital Regional District, British Columbia, Canada

Biography: His second wife gave me some info and will be writing something comprehensive

Also known by his Yiddish name Zalmon Ber Ben Shimon

FROM VOL. 77 PART 2 MARCH 2019THE ADVOCATE 267

Sidney Bernard Simons
A young boy sits surrounded by five older (one by only a few minutes) siblings, his arms draped lovingly around the family mutt. He grins in joyful appreciation of the day’s promise, this moment captured by his mother’s camera.

If you look closely at the faded black and white photo you can see a twinkle in his eye: it’s the five-year-old who climbed to the top of a grain silo to run around the top as his family pleaded with him to stay still until he could be rescued by the local firemen; the same boy who ran into his mother’s kitchen holding his hand high shouting, “I chopped my finger off” (he had been playing with the cigar cutter in the family general store in Round Hill, Alberta); the same little fellow who tried to learn to swim in a flooded mining pit and had to be rescued by someone who could swim.

He and his twin brother, both born on August 20, 1931, were the only brothers “bar mitzvahed” because the family didn’t move to the Big City (Edmonton) until 1944. A moment during this event is indicative of his life-long ability to steal the limelight with his humour: beginning his “drash”, instead of proclaiming, “Today, I am a man” he said mischievously, “Today I am a fountain pen.”

Sid’s life did not get less exciting or harrowing as he advanced through adolescence and young adulthood. Leaving university in 1950 due to his parents’ need of support, his dream of becoming an architect ended. He barely got through law school due to his full-time night job at a bottling factory which caused him to lose hearing in his left ear. This did not detract from his ability to hear something once and be able to recall and repeat verbatim what he had heard several weeks or even months earlier!

His adventurous, carefree spirit was expanded by a two-year sojourn in Israel, France and Britain following law school. No articling position held the glamour of, or enticed him as much as, his stay in a kibbutz, his exploration of all aspects of culture in Paris and a stint teaching a gaggle of 14-year-old boys in Cockney London. He used the accent he acquired there and his ability to speak French among other languages often in his trial work.

Returning to Vancouver, he sought out and was immediately welcomed to Harry Rankin’s law firm, becoming partner, and later opening a solo office in Gastown which reflected his exquisite taste in architectural design: brickwork, cedar and trees in an open-concept layout.

Sid was gifted in all areas of language as well. He enjoyed recounting an episode with Mr. Justice Bull, who sat on the B.C. Court of “Apples” (his favourite wordplay was using puns): Sid had successfully defended a literary gem, Last Exit to Brooklyn, saving Duthie Books from being convicted of selling obscene material. Upon leaving the courtroom after his final sub-mission, Sid encountered the judge waiting in the hallway outside his chambers. Beckoning Sid over, “Mr. Simons! Mr. Simons! … Please tell me what is the meaning of this term, ‘fellatio’?”, this word appearing frequently in the book Sid had just defended.

Giving his all to his six children as well as to his clients, Sid often went without, in order for them to “have”. As but one example, in the summer of 1986, he gave everyone in his family and his office a season’s pass to Vancouver’s Expo. Realizing he was short one, he had to buy himself a less prestigious day pass. He was generous, perhaps to a fault. During the trial of more than one of his impecunious clients he would say, “They are paying on the Never-Never Plan.”

He championed unpopular causes in the pursuit of his idealistic belief that “the little guy” should have a voice, advocating the decriminalization of personal use of marijuana, even though he was not fond of the substance himself.

He married his first love after a three-week courtship and was always proud that his marriage lasted a quarter of a century. His second marriage lasted considerably longer! It was a measure of the man that, despite one marriage ending in divorce and the second in a mutually devastating separation from his Roxana due to his admission to an assisted living home, he had only kind and respectful words to say about both women to the end of his days.

Many articles have been written about and commendations received by Sid over the course of his 50-year career as a gladiator in the arena of B.C. and Alberta courtrooms, but two of them are particularly illustrative of the man.

The following poem is from a roast by Dale Bonsall-Jevning delivered in 1992:

“His name is Sidney Simons, Slippery Sid, Sidney B He’s a criminal lawyer of the first degree In his robes of silk he makes quite a sight If you’re up against Sid, be prepared for a fight For his little black book does not contain names But a list, oh so lengthy, of barrister’s games He postures, he gestures, he begs and he pleads For the judge to be lenient, the jury to agree He flaps all about, then he strokes his beard He raises his voice, a man to be feared He tries learned or smug, aggressive or humble And when the dust settles, “What happened?” they mumble “Delay!” “Abuse!” “Effect of the drugs!” “He wasn’t himself!” Sidney B. shrugs He’s the master of argument, his timing exact Are his glasses to see or part of the act? His clients are loyal and though there are many There are more than a few who paid not a penny Sid’s practice has flourished, but when money is tight The phone will ring, “Thank goodness for Dwight!” A license to print money and Sid’s made his share But one has to pay taxes, Sid says that’s not fair The tax men come, they yell and they holler Tell me how you get away with ten cents on the dollar For 30 years he’s been at the bar Sid’s left his mark, some say more like a scar So slippery’s what he’s called by Vancouver Drug Squad And Homicide and Vice and Sex Crimes and Fraud But most of us know, Sidney does what’s best For the good of his client and be damned all the rest Well, it’s all been in fun, roasts bring out the worst Should I plead insanity or have I been coerced? “

The following words are a quote from Theodore Roosevelt (The Man in the Arena) inscribed, framed and given to Sid by one of his grateful clients in 2005. The words capture the essence of this rarely daunted man:

“It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who neither know victory nor defeat. “

Sid’s thinking was ahead of his time: he championed the doctrine of “abuse of process” in defense of clients. In Rourke v. The Queen, [1978] 1 S.C.R. 1021, Sid had convinced a trial court to stay a proceeding on the basis that an unconscionable delay in bringing the case to trial constituted an abuse of process. On appeal, the Supreme Court of Canada did not agree. However, the framers of the Charter did, ultimately enshrining in our Constitution the right to be tried within a reasonable time. As another example, he challenged under the Canadian Bill of Rights a law that made it a crime for anyone who, being a common prostitute or night-walker, failed to give a good account of herself to the police. The case was R. v. Lavoie (1970), 16 D.L.R. (3d) 647 (B.C. Co. Ct.), aff’d (1971), 23 D.L.R. (3d) 364 (B.C.C.A.), and the courts found the law applied only to women but that it did not discriminate based on sex. In Amato v. The Queen, [1982] 2 S.C.R. 418, Sid split the Supreme Court of Canada down the middle in his quest to establish the defense of entrapment. Just over five years later, his persistence was rewarded in R. v. Mack, [1988] 2 S.C.R. 903 and the defense of entrapment became entrenched in Canada’s criminal law.

These cases and many others illustrate the wonderful agility of Sid’s creative mind. That, combined with his unmatched powers of persuasion and his irreverent humour, made him an advocate to be reckoned with. His life’s work and his beloved children are his legacy.

We miss him.
Roxana McKenzie Simons

Gravesite Details: Row G – Plot 26

Inscription:
SIMONS
Sidney Bernard
Hebrew Name: Shimon, Zalmon Ber Ben
Beloved
Husband and Father
A Man of Tender Heart
And Generous Spirit
ת נ צ ב ה
abbreviation for Biblical quote: “May his soul be bound up in the bond of eternal life.”

Family Members:

  • Parents
    • Rose Hardin Simons (1892–1984)
    • Shimon A. Simons (1892–1974)
  • Spouse
    • Roxana McKenzie Simons
  • Siblings
    • Alfred Simons (1918–2003)
    • Morris Simons (1920–2010)
    • Norman Wolfe Simons (1931–2019)
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