Liz Greaves is a self-described ‘court junkie’ who can be found at some of the city’s biggest criminal trials. Here’s what drives this retiree’s obsession
Meet the ‘court junkie’ who’s front and centre at city’s biggest trials
Every morning, Liz Greaves wakes up at 6, prepares her lunch and takes the TTC to the provincial courthouse downtown.
When she arrives at security, Greaves usually greets the guards with the same line, invoking a classic phrase from “Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood”: “It’s a beautiful day in the neighbourhood.” The guards always chuckle.
Then Greaves moves through security with procedural efficiency, placing her purse in the bin, nothing in her pockets, never wearing metal bracelets or belt buckles. She’s a pro at this point, having done this dance at least a thousand times.
But Greaves is not a judge or a lawyer. Instead, the 71-year-old retiree is a self-described “court junkie,” spending her days on a bench in the courtroom gallery, watching the highest-profile criminal cases in Toronto.
This is her life. She’s there every day court is in session, from when trials typically begin at 10 a.m. until they adjourn at 4:30 p.m. While the average person watches three hours of TV each day, or can view “Law & Order” reruns on a 24-hour loop, Greaves prefers to bingewatch a real-life legal marathon.
“I’ve never enjoyed watching any of those cops-and-robbers shows. To me, that’s like watching pro wrestling,” she said. “Wrestling is fake. This is real.”
With some exceptions, the public can attend court proceedings. There’s no wait list. It’s all about arriving early enough to line up at the front doors of the courtroom.
Recently Greaves sat in on the trial of Peter Nygard, the disgraced fashion designer who faced five counts of sexual assault and one count of forcible confinement. (A jury convicted him on Nov. 12 of four counts of sexual assault.) Greaves always positions herself in the same spot, as close to the action as possible, wearing a bright red scarf.
“I always sit front-row centre, right in front of the judge. It’s the best view because I can see both sides,” said Greaves. “And my scarf, it stands out. I get a lot of compliments on it.”
Nearly everyone involved in the Nygard trial knew Greaves: the lawyers, the court staff, the journalists, the other spectators. If she didn’t know someone, she always introduced herself. Even Brian Greenspan — perhaps the most prominent defence attorney in Canada, who represented Nygard in the case — acknowledged Greaves when they crossed paths.
“This is my happy place,” said Greaves. “It’s a social event. I just love meeting new people.”
Greaves recently introduced herself to Leanne Johnston, a consultant who attended the Nygard trial out of personal interest. The two of them immediately got to talking about the case, getting each other up to date, discussing how a new witness might impact things.
“She’s a lovely person, very friendly,” said Johnston. “As someone coming to court for the first time, meeting Liz made the experience a lot more comfortable for me.”
At lunchtime, instead of going to the cafeteria in the basement of the building, Greaves takes the elevator up to a secret spot up on the seventh floor, which has a sunny, south-facing view of downtown. She eats her lunch — usually a bagel with ham and cheese — and looks out over the city. It’s quiet up there, an insiders’ retreat, where the lawyers go to get away from the craziness of trials. Greaves is one of the few members of the public who
‘‘ I’m always learning something, like gun ballistics or how they train drug-sniffing dogs. LIZ GREAVES
knows about it.
Greaves’ interest in the courts dates back to 1995. While working downtown at RBC, she noticed a long lineup outside of the trial of Paul Bernardo, who was ultimately sentenced to life in prison for firstdegree murder and sexual assault, among other charges.
“I thought, ‘This looks interesting,’ ” she said. After that, on her days off, instead of “sleeping in or getting a manicure,” Greaves went to court. “That way, I could look back on the day and say, ‘Well, at least I did something.’ ”
When Greaves retired from RBC in 2018, the courts became a fulltime obsession. Since then, she’s witnessed some of the most notorious cases in Toronto history. In 2019, when Bruce McArthur stood trial for murdering eight men, Greaves watched the victim impact statements. During lockdown in 2021, when Alek Minassian was tried on Zoom for the van attack that killed 10 people, Greaves watched a live feed of the proceedings at the Metro Toronto Convention Centre.
Greaves is frightfully good at recalling dates and morbid details, a walking encyclopedia of Toronto crime. She often refers to murders in shorthand, like “the guy who was put in the hockey bag” or “the UHaul murder” or “the teen girls who stabbed the man.” She attributes this ability to a photographic memory.
“My husband thinks I’m crazy, but I look forward to the courts every day, because it’s not work,” she said. “I’m always learning something, like gun ballistics or how they train drug-sniffing dogs.”
When she’s not at the courthouse, Greaves volunteers at Good Shepherd, a faith-based charity, and hangs out with her friends from a happy retiree Facebook group. After the Nygard trial, Greaves already knows what she wants to attend next. In a different courtroom, two men are being tried for their alleged roles in a 2021 Summerhill shooting that left a man dead and a woman injured.
“You need to keep your mind going as you get older. Otherwise, it gets dry and stagnant, shrivels up,” said Greaves. “They say the key to living to 100 is volunteering and socializing. Giving back is a good feeling, but coming here, to the courthouse, is really a good feeling.”
Toronto Star Newspapers Limited