First Indigenous judge appointed to Canada’s highest court

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The Prime Minister of Canada has appointed the first-ever Indigenous person to the nation’s highest court, a decision hailed as a historic moment for Canada.

Justice Michelle O’Bonsawin is bilingual – fluent in English and French – and an Abenaki member of the Odanak First Nation. Since 2017, she has been a judge at the Ontario Superior Court of Justice in Ottawa, the capital of Canada. She is also the first Aboriginal woman to sit on the bench of this court.

“I am confident that she will bring invaluable knowledge to our nation’s highest court, which is why I am announcing her appointment today,” Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said.

The process for appointing judges to the Supreme Court of Canada involves an independent advisory committee that identifies qualified candidates and submits a shortlist to the Prime Minister for consideration. On August 24, O’Bonsawin will participate in a question-and-answer session with a panel of federal parliamentarians. Unlike in the United States, these sessions are more informative and his appointment does not require confirmation from lawmakers.

“My heart is overflowing with joy,” said Bradley Regehr, who in 2020 became the first Indigenous lawyer to lead the Canadian Bar Association and heard the news of O’Bonsawin’s appointment while on vacation. in a national park.

The appointment is “a step in the direction of reconciliation”, finally bringing to the Supreme Court the perspective of an Indigenous person “who was not there before”, he said.

Federal Justice Minister and Attorney General David Lametti called O’Bonsawin’s appointment “a historic moment for the [Supreme Court]and for all of Canada.

Trudeau had been pressured to appoint an Indigenous person to the nation’s highest court.

In a statement, the current president of the Canadian Bar Association, Stephen Rotstein, said: “The CBA is delighted that our requests for the appointment of an Aboriginal person to the Supreme Court of Canada have been answered.

O’Bonsawin replaces Justice Michael Moldaver, who was appointed to the nine-judge Supreme Court in 2011 and faces mandatory retirement this year at age 75. Last year, Judge Mahmud Jamal became the first colored judge appointed to the court.

In her application questionnaireO’Bonsawin (meaning “scout” in the Abenaki language) explained how his life experiences helped shape his career.

I believe that my experience as a First Nations Francophone woman, parent, lawyer, scholar and judge gives me a lived understanding and insight into the diversity of Canada because me and my life experience are part of that diversity,” said she writes. . “My experiences have taught me that although discrimination is a permanent reality in Canada, my abilities allow me to contribute to our country and help us to be a more inclusive society, not to mention a fair and equitable society for all .

O’Bonsawin is an accomplished jurist with expertise in mental health, Indigenous (Glaude) the principles of sentencing, labor and employment law, human rights and the right to privacy. She completed it doctorate in law earlier this year at the University of Ottawa, according to his biography.

Prior to her appointment as a judge in 2017, she was General Counsel for the Royal Ottawa Health Services for eight years. In this role, she says she developed an in-depth understanding of legal issues related to mental health.

She began her legal career in the legal department of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police and was a lawyer at Canada Post, specializing in labor and employment law, human rights and privacy law.

On social networks, the lawyer verse was quick to talk about his appointment.

“Justice O’Bonsawin’s expertise in mental health law will serve Canada’s domestic legal system well,” said Eugene Meehan, a partner at Supreme Advocacy, who specializes in Supreme Court appellate work. .

His appointment will go “greatly to inspire” future generations of Canadians and is an important step in ensuring the courts better reflect the people of the country, he told Law.com International.

“She’s obviously going to be a role model for young Indigenous people and people who decide to enter the legal profession,” Regehr said. “I think it’s really important to show people that yes, you can achieve these positions, that it is possible now.”

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