Friday 29 June 2007

Alan Shanoff exits


Who knows how many legal actions might have been taken against the Toronto Sun without Alan Shanoff, an in-house lawyer who was called upon night and day.

Gung-ho reporters in the 1970s and 1980 often thought Alan got in the way of a good story when he advised against publishing legally questionable content in their stories.

But Alan, who retires from the Sun today after 30 years of legal duties and was given a sendoff last night at the former Crooks bar around the corner from the Sun, was saving reporters their reputations and management big bucks.

And he was always only a phone call away.

Lorrie Goldstein
, a veteran Toronto Sun staffer and associate editor/op-ed columnist, was one of the many guests at Al's sendoff Thursday night. He told TSF:

"For my money, Alan Shanoff is the best media libel lawyer in Canada. I'm sorry to see him leave the Sun after 30 years, but delighted he's leaving happily and on his own terms, in part to spend more time with his family, although he won't be disappearing from the legal scene.

"The greatest thing about Alan is his moral compass - his profound and instinctive sense of right and wrong and that you should go to the mats when you are right about something, but also admit you are wrong, apologize and move on when you are not.

"He saved Sun Media tens of millions of dollars over the years with his knowledge, courtroom skill and talent, won the big cases we had to win and demanded only of editors, columnists and reporters that they did their homework before putting stories into the paper. In other words, he demanded that people do their jobs properly, just as he always did his job.

"To any editor, columnist or reporter who did that, Alan was the best ally you had at the Sun, when it came to getting stories into the paper, instead of keeping them out.

"Speaking personally, Alan was and is a mentor and friend and a constant source of wise advice, both professional and personal. I'll miss him."

Les Pyette, who started at the Toronto Sun as city editor in 1975 and retired as publisher and CEO in 2002, told TSF:

"Al was the voice of reason for many, many years. He was always calm, right down the middle and gave me and many others great advice during the glory years of the Toronto Sun.

"He had a terrific sense of values and knew the legal aspect of newspapering inside-out."

And veteran columnist Mark Bonokoski gave Alan this fitting sendoff in his column today:

"The man who became a verb at this newspaper - in-house lawyer Alan Shanoff - retires today after almost three decades of dealing with egotistical columnists, irreverent reporters, libel-conscious editors, thin-skinned readers, and all the various lawsuits that come with the daily miracle of putting out a newspaper.

"Has that story been Shanoffed?" an editor will ask. And, If not, why not?

Shanoff's departure, without question, leaves a huge void. When a story passed his muster, it was virtually bullet proof. If not bullet proof, it was at least defendable.

Few know libel like Alan Shanoff knows libel.

We personally go back to the early mid-'70s when Shanoff was an articling student at Goodman & Goodman under Ed Eberle, who went on to the Supreme Court of Ontario. The Church of Scientology was suing me, and this newspaper, and Shanoff was brought in to assist in our defence. We ended up fighting Scientology to a draw.

From the day he was called to the bar in 1978, Shanoff had the Toronto Sun file. In 1991, he joined the newspaper as its full-time, in-house counsel, and has been steering the Sun's legal ship ever since - a ship that is now virtually ark-sized since it also includes the scores of English-language newspapers owned by Sun Media.

He will now do some mediation work, and some teaching - as is lecturing on media law to graduate students attending Humber College's journalism program. That, and volunteer work.

Alan Shanoff is an intensely private man. He is also a devoted family man. The licence plate on his car reads CHAJ. The letters stand for his two daughters, Chelsea and Haley, both now in post-graduate studies at the University of Toronto, himself, and his wife, Joanie.

He is also one of the nicest human beings one could ever know. This, I believe, is universally accepted at this newspaper as beyond argument.

He wanted nothing written about him, of course. He simply wanted to pack up his boxes and leave the building.

Tough. Let him sue."

TSF hasn't heard how Sun Media will fill Al's shoes, but like Mark says, not being "Shanoffed" will be an experience most reporters will miss.

Being "Shanoffed" and having him clear your story word for word was an incredibly uplifting experience.

A badge of honour.


  1. Sorry I didn't get a chance to wish Alan my best wishes on the occasion of his retirement.
    I worked for 30 years at the SUN and more than once Alan helped me through difficult times with staff and management that simply refused to see and do things my way!

    We also talked a lot about, and encouraged each other, in our running.

    Training for a marathon was helped by having Alan there on the 6th floor - with his door always open -who understood my goals
    and difficulties, both in running, and in my career.

    Best wishes Alan.
    Stephen Drury

  2. Fortunately, for Sun readers, Alan quickly found a new calling as a Sun columnist. You can catch up to his keyboard skills at