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Meet Norman Douglas: retired Sault prosecutor, respected judge — and Elvis impersonator

Born in Hawk Junction and raised in Sault Ste. Marie, Douglas is returning to his hometown April 6 to sign copies of his new book 'You Be the Judge'

Norman Douglas, a well-known longtime Sault resident who served as a Crown Attorney in this community and later as a judge with the Ontario Court of Justice in southern Ontario, has authored a book titled You Be the Judge.

Released in December 2023, the book includes details of 24 cases in which Douglas served as the prosecutor or the judge, including several homicide cases.

You Be the Judge invites readers to take the bench, examine the cases for themselves and make their own judgments.

Apart from homicides, some of the cases included in You Be the Judge are lighter in nature, one such case involving the theft of a phone booth.

The book’s approach stems from the days in which Douglas served as a judge presiding in Brampton, Guelph and the London area from 1994 to 2021.

“I always took an interest in educating students who came to court to watch,” Douglas said in a phone interview with SooToday, from his home in Collingwood.

“I visited the high schools in Guelph. I had a mock court program with a Douglas Cup that was awarded to the winning team and they loved it. It made the students think about what they would do in a court case. I’d say ‘you would send this guy to jail, right?’ They would say ‘right’ and I would ask ‘why?’ This got them thinking and that was educational for them. That’s how You Be the Judge came about.”

Douglas’ book draws the reader into considering the many questions and challenges that a prosecutor or judge faces - based on his own experience - including cases involving homicide.

Those questions and challenges include whether a homicide is planned and deliberate, if the accused person’s sanity was in question when the crime was committed, finding and including eyewitness testimony to a crime and the admissibility of certain types of evidence.

“Two of my most difficult, emotional cases were in the Sault,” Douglas said.

One such case included in the book is the Oct. 14, 1987, stabbing death of 14-year-old Patrizia Mastroianni inside a Korah Collegiate bathroom.

That murder shook the community of Sault Ste. Marie.

“It was one of the most heart-wrenching cases I’ve ever done,” Douglas said.

Douglas’ work on that case as Crown Attorney led Russell Colwell, now in his mid-50s, to be convicted of first-degree murder.

As reported earlier by SooToday, Mastroianni’s family is fighting to keep Colwell behind bars as he has applied for escorted absences from prison.

Another case included in You Be the Judge concerns the April 5, 1975 slaying of Margaret Donovan, a 27-year-old mother of two in Sault Ste. Marie.

As Assistant Crown Attorney at the time, Douglas' work led to the conviction of Allan Sweeney, then 19, of murder.

“It was just a terrible case, but what made it more terrible is that 10 years later he was paroled,” Douglas said.

Douglas was shocked when he learned that Sweeney murdered 21-year-old Celia Ruygrok, an employee at an Ottawa group home where he was living in July 1985.

He went to Ottawa and prosecuted Sweeney a second time. 

Sweeney was convicted of first-degree murder and given a life sentence with no eligibility for parole for 25 years.

“Those two (Sweeney) cases still bother me today,” Douglas said.

Of his work as a prosecutor and then as a judge, Douglas said “you have to put a clamp on your emotions on the outside but that doesn’t mean you’re not emotional on the inside.”

“I don’t like to say it takes a special person to do it. It takes special training and a special education. I don’t want to be on a pedestal. My job is hard but it has its rewards. I enjoyed the process of the law. I firmly believe in law and order.”

Despite that belief in law and order and decades of work in bringing convicted criminals to justice, Douglas offered a self-deprecating answer when asked why he made law his career choice.

“I’ve got a funny answer for that. I was never any good in math or science. I was good at English and history. When I was in high school I loved to read. It came easy to me and that’s what law training is all about. It’s a lot of reading.”

“That’s one thing I could do and as Clint Eastwood says in one of his movies, ‘a man has to know his limitations.’ Law seemed like the natural thing to do, the right fit.”

Born in Hawk Junction in 1946, Douglas was raised in Sault Ste. Marie.

He attended Sault Collegiate and was a goaltender for the Soo Greyhounds.

“Being from Sault Ste. Marie, you'd better be a hockey player. It’s a long winter,” he said, estimating he played approximately 10 games for the Greyhounds.

“I can officially say I was a goaltender for the Greyhounds but it wasn’t like I was the first-string goalie for them. But I enjoyed it. I got to travel a little bit.” 

He attended Queen's University from 1965 to 1971, earning his B.A. and law degree.

He played as a goaltender for six years for the Queen's Gaels hockey team. 

“I made the team as the first-string goalie. That was one of the highlights of my life.”

“I loved law school,” he said.

“I loved the human drama. I was reading about cases and they were fascinating to me.”

Douglas was appointed Assistant Crown Attorney in the Sault in 1973 and later as Crown Attorney in 1980. He left the Sault and was appointed Regional Director of Crown Attorneys in Ottawa and Director of Ontario Crown Prosecutions in Toronto, serving in those roles from 1989 to 1994.

He was appointed to the Ontario Court of Justice in 1994, presiding in Brampton, Guelph and the London area from 1994 until his retirement in 2021.

“I felt like I was contributing. I felt like I was doing something worthwhile,” he said, reflecting on his law career.

Apart from family, law and hockey, Douglas has had a love for music.

That includes being an Elvis Presley impersonator.

While living in Georgetown from 1993 to 2009, he was the lead singer in a rock and roll band known as The Boomerangs.

“The Boomerangs did three sets. For one whole set, I would get into an Elvis jumpsuit and an Elvis wig and do 12 or 13 Elvis songs. It was fun. I loved every second of it,” Douglas said. 

He competed in the Collingwood Elvis Festival, one of the biggest such events outside Memphis.

The last such festival took place in 2019.

“We’re all human and judges need outlets as well,” Douglas said.

“We need to take our jobs seriously but we don’t need to take ourselves too seriously. Some judges thought it was wrong and unseemly for me to be in a band, doing Elvis, doing stuff that was non-judicial but most of the judges said ‘good for you.’ You have to have an outlet particularly if you have a job with a lot of pressure in it.”

“One of my outlets was singing and it started in a wartime house in Sault Ste. Marie when my dad played the piano and my mom would harmonize. We didn’t have a TV, we didn’t have a car but we had a piano and music was instilled in me as a child. I love music and I’ve always loved to sing.”

In addition to being involved in a serious yet enjoyable career in law, Douglas has faced a serious difficulty regarding his health.

In July 2016 he was diagnosed with bone marrow cancer and took time off from being a judge to undergo treatment.

He went through five months of chemotherapy and a stem-cell transplant.

He returned to the bench in February 2017 as a part-time judge in the London area before his retirement in 2021.

“I’m feeling good. I’m still active. I’m still cycling. I’m still lifting weights. I’m so grateful for the fact that I still have my health. That’s a blessing,” Douglas said.

Douglas will be heading back to northern Ontario in early April for chats and book signings for You Be the Judge

Places and times include:

  • 1 p.m. to 3 p.m. on Friday, April 5 at the Wawa Public Library
  • 10 a.m. to 12 p.m. on Saturday, April 6 at Scripture Gift & Book Shop at 492 Queen St. E.
  • 2:30 p.m. to 3:30 p.m. on Saturday, April 6 at the James L. McIntyre Centennial Library

You Be the Judge is available for purchase at Coles, Scripture Gift & Book Shop and online at Irwin Law and Douglas’ website.

Readers are encouraged to purchase a copy of You Be the Judge at Scripture Gift & Book Shop or Coles prior to the book signings as a limited number of copies will be available.

“I’ve had such a blessed life,” said Douglas, a father of three and grandfather of 11 who still has many friends and family members in the Sault.

“I can't tell you how much I am looking forward to this homecoming. Once you grow up in Sault Ste. Marie, it's a hard place to leave. When you leave it physically a little bit of your heart is always there. Yes, the Sault will always be my home.”

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Darren Taylor

About the Author: Darren Taylor

Darren Taylor is a news reporter and photographer in Sault Ste Marie. He regularly covers community events, political announcements and numerous board meetings. With a background in broadcast journalism, Darren has worked in the media since 1996.
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