First Indigenous Judge Nominated to Canada’s Top Court

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The prime minister of Canada has nominated the first ever Indigenous person to the country’s top court—a move being lauded as a historic moment for Canada.

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

“I’m confident that she’ll bring invaluable knowledge to our country’s highest court, which is why I’m announcing her nomination today,” said Prime Minister Justin Trudeau.

The process for Supreme Court of Canada judicial appointments involves an independent advisory board that identifies qualified candidates and submits a shortlist to the prime minister for consideration. On Aug. 24, O’Bonsawin will participate in a question-and-answer session with a committee of federal parliamentarians. Unlike in the United States, these sessions are more informational and her appointment does not require the confirmation of lawmakers.

“My heart is bursting 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.

This appointment is “a step in the direction of reconciliation,” finally bringing the perspective of an Indigenous person to the Supreme Court “that has not been 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 under some pressure to appoint an Indigenous person to the country’s top court.

In a statement, current Canadian Bar Association President Stephen Rotstein said: “The CBA is thrilled that our calls for the appointment of an Indigenous 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, Justice Mahmud Jamal became the first judge of color named to the court.

In her application questionnaire, O’Bonsawin (which means “pathfinder” in the Abenaki language) talked about how her life experiences have helped shape her career.

I believe my experience as a francophone First Nations woman, a parent, a lawyer, a scholar and a judge provide me with the lived understanding and insight into Canada’s diversity because I, and my life experience, are part of that diversity,” she wrote. “My experiences have taught me that while discrimination is an ongoing reality in Canada, my abilities allow me to contribute to our country and assist us to be a more inclusive society, not to mention one that is fair and just to all.”

O’Bonsawin is an accomplished jurist with expertise in the areas of mental health, Indigenous (Glaude) sentencing principles, labor and employment law, human rights, and privacy law. She completed her Ph.D. in law earlier this year at the University of Ottawa, according to her bio. 

Prior to her appointment as a judge in 2017, she was general counsel for the Royal Ottawa Health Care Group for eight years. In this role, she says she developed a thorough understanding of legal issues related to mental health.

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

On social media, the lawyer-verse was effusive about her appointment.

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

Her appointment will go a “long way to inspiring” future generations of Canadians and is an important step in ensuring the courts better reflect the country’s population, he told Law.com International.

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




This page was created programmatically, to read the article in its original location you can go to the link bellow:
https://www.law.com/international-edition/2022/08/19/first-indigenous-judge-appointed-to-canadas-top-court/
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Gail J. Cohen

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