Ted Giesbrecht of the Kitchener, Ont., law firm Giesbrecht, Griffin, Funk and Irvine has been honoured by the Waterloo Region Law Association with the 2016 Coulter A. Osborne Award, given to lawyers who practise law “with integrity, courtesy and beneficence.”
There have been three time periods in Giesbrecht’s legal work.
In his younger years, he worked primarily in real estate and some criminal law. His work as a defence counsel allowed him to use “alternate dispute resolution,” diverting young offenders from jail into repayment of damages and community service.
This exciting time was followed by a long period during which he became an expert on adoption law and anti-child trafficking. In some ways, it began when he and his wife, Karen, adopted their children Matthew and Amy. He became an adoption licensee with authority to place children for adoptions. Working through that gave him a handle on the law, and he was asked to help formulate the Standards and Guidelines for Ontario Adoptions in 1995.
Four years later, he was appointed to a quasi-judicial position allowing him to adjudicate appeals brought by prospective adoptive parents who were challenging adoption decisions of Children’s Aid societies. Of all his written decisions, only two were appealed to a panel of three Supreme Court judges two times, and on both occasions his decisions were upheld.
When a new text, Canadian Child Welfare Law, was in the works, Giesbrecht was asked to write the chapter on adoption law.
It was this knowledge that led BDO, a trustee in bankruptcy, to approach him when Imagine Adoption, an international adoption agency in Cambridge, Ont., was restructuring its debt, leaving 46 children in Ethiopia who were to be adopted by Canadian families in dire straits.
Giesbrecht flew to Addis Ababa to first get the children food and drink, and then to get them connected with their families. Fifteen families were there awaiting the final paperwork and were on their way in a week, through the work of his office in Kitchener and the Canadian high commissioner in Kenya.
Of the other 31 children, all but one eventually made it to Canada. The last child had serious health problems and, through the help of Canadian sponsors, was placed in an educational institution with medical support.
The 2010 earthquake in Haiti took Giesbrecht there to interview birth parents in an effort to locate birth certificates and obtain new consent forms lost in the devastation. He also helped in Guatemala, Ukraine, South Africa, Kenya and South Sudan, where he helped those drafting legislation on adoption and anti-child trafficking.
But as Giesbrecht has passed into his 60s, his focus is changing more to estate planning, wills and a continued work on elder abuse. The latter includes working with social services and religious groups to protect elders from physical, mental/emotional and financial abuse, on some occasions working to get back what someone charged with protecting an elder had stolen.
Through it all, Giesbrecht has remembered Jesus’ words in Matthew 25:40: “If you have done it to the least of those who are members of my family, you have done it to me.” His “Rejoice” devotional guide and Bible are in the top drawer of his desk, there to remind him of his Christian commitment and roots.