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Clare Lewis, Toronto Public Complaints Commissioner, is photographed on Nov. 27, 1987.

James Lewcun/The Globe and Mail

After training as a lawyer, Clare Lewis held a dozen positions over his long career, serving, among other things, as ombudsman of Ontario, the police complaints commissioner who created the Special Investigations Unit (SIU), and defence lawyer for one of the last men in Canada sentenced to hang.

“Sometimes, when he came home, I would wonder if he was still in the same job,” his wife, Sally Lewis, said. Mr. Lewis died last month at the age of 83.

Clare Elvet Lewis was born in Toronto on May 18, 1937. His father was a salesman named Elvet Lewis, but he preferred to be known as Lou. His mother, Doris, stayed at home. Mr. Lewis graduated from the University of Toronto in 1963 and practised general law in a firm that included Willard (Bud) Estey, who later served on the Supreme Court of Canada.

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Mr. Lewis’s second job was as a defence lawyer with his own firm, Proctor and Lewis, where he represented bank robber René Vaillancourt, who had murdered a police officer in front of more than 20 witnesses. In February, 1973, Mr. Vaillancourt was confronted by Constable Leslie Maitland after robbing a bank at Coxwell and Danforth avenues in Toronto. Mr. Vaillancourt shot the policeman twice, the second time in the back. Though there was little doubt that the accused had pulled the trigger, Mr. Lewis argued that his client should be found not guilty by reason of insanity. According to a Globe and Mail report on the trial, Mr. Lewis set out “to show that Vaillancourt’s rational mind had disintegrated and that he could not realize the nature of the act that he had committed.”

The death penalty was still on the books, however no one had been hanged in Canada since 1962. The worry was if the Progressive Conservatives won the next federal election, they would allow capital punishment in the killing of a police officer.

Mr. Vaillancourt was convicted and sentenced to death by hanging. The Supreme Court rejected his appeal and he was on death row on July 14, 1976, when the Pierre Trudeau government abolished capital punishment. Mr. Vaillancourt served almost 25 years before being released on parole.

Mr. Lewis worked as a defence lawyer for 10 years and part-time as a Crown prosecutor. One judge commented to him: “Mr. Lewis, who are you here for today, the prosecution or the defence?” Job No. 3 was when Mr. Lewis became a full-time Crown prosecutor.

“I defended my first murder case with Clare acting for the Crown in 1973, and he became a dear and valued friend thereafter for over 50 years,” said Justice Michael Moldaver, now a Supreme Court Justice, and the best man at Mr. Lewis’s wedding.

Justice Moldaver once joked of Mr. Lewis having so many jobs that he was tired of going to retirement parties. “When speaking about Clare, I used to quip that he was living an unstable life, couldn’t keep a job, and if he ever got in trouble with the law, he’d have ... very little chance of getting bail.”

In 1979 Mr. Lewis recorded job No. 4 when he was appointed a provincial court judge.

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He went on to his fifth job, becoming the second police complaints commissioner in Toronto. That post expanded to cover all of Ontario when Mr. Lewis become the first police complaints commissioner for Ontario for job No. 6.

“Clare worked to create the Special Investigations Unit (SIU) so that the police couldn’t investigate themselves,” Ms. Lewis said. “He felt quite strongly that the police shouldn’t be investigating themselves.”

Though Ms. Lewis describes herself as a staunch Liberal (her grandfather was the great wartime Liberal cabinet minister C.D. Howe), her husband insisted on being seen as apolitical. She points out he was appointed by all three governments: David Peterson (Liberal), Bob Rae (NDP) and Mike Harris (Progressive Conservative).

Job No. 7 was chair of the Liquor Licensing Board of Ontario (LLBO), the agency that regulates the sale, service and consumption of alcohol in the province. Mr. Lewis took on job No. 8, a similar post, when he became chair of the Alcohol and Gaming Commission of Ontario, which was in charge of casinos and other legalized gambling.

“Clare never gambled. He wasn’t allowed to by law in Ontario. We went to Las Vegas a few times for conventions, and he didn’t gamble there either. He didn’t care too much for it, but I loved it,” Ms. Lewis said.

On his watch, the province opened new casinos in Niagara Falls and Orillia. One of the delicate parts of the job was keeping an eye on who was running the casinos to keep out organized crime.

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No. 9 on his job list was an important role as the ombudsman for the province of Ontario.

“Clare took a different approach as ombudsman,” said John Fleming, who was a deputy minister of community and social services at the time. “He was definite in his opinions, but was not about ‘gotcha’ headlines, but rather working to find a solution.”

The two men got to know each other well during a long car ride together. They were both at a conference in Quebec City on Sept. 11, 2001, when all air traffic in North America was grounded after the attacks on the Twin Towers in New York. “It was the beginning of a unique friendship,” Mr. Fleming said.

Mr. Lewis went on to be president of the International Ombudsman Association, job No. 10, which involved a lot of travel. He and his wife went to South Africa, Tunisia and Azerbaijan, where they stayed in a Baku hotel room with a plaque that read: “Pope John Paul II slept here.”

Mr. Lewis started his 11th job as the first complaints resolution commissioner for the Law Society of Ontario, where lawyers make rules and police themselves. The complaints resolution commissioner was a court of last resort for citizens who had their complaint turned down by the Law Society. At the same time, he was on the Ontario Review Board, job No. 12. The body “annually reviews the status of every person who has been found to be not criminally responsible or unfit to stand trial for criminal offences on account of a mental disorder,” according to its website.

Mr. Lewis stopped working in 2010 when he had a stroke. Though confined to a wheelchair, he and his wife took three or four cruises a year.

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“We went lots of places. We took the QE II to Southampton and spent a day exploring there in a special taxi, got back on the ship and went up the coast of Norway, returned to Southampton and went to Stonehenge and then back to New York,” Ms. Lewis said.

The couple also spent weekends and time off at their farm in Grand Valley, an hour and half north of Toronto, where they raised beef cattle.

Mr. Lewis, who was suffering from dementia, died in Toronto on Oct. 24. He leaves his wife, Sally, along with two sons from his first marriage, three stepdaughters, nine grandchildren and one great-grandson.

Editor’s note: Willard (Bud) Estey served on the Supreme Court of Canada, but a previous version of this obituary stated incorrectly that he was its chief justice. This version has been corrected.

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