Justice Rosalie Silberman Abella was appointed to the Supreme Court of Canada in 2004. She is the first Jewish woman appointed to the Court and the first refugee appointed to the bench in Canada. She was born in a Displaced Persons’ Camp in Stuttgart, Germany, on July 1, 1946. Her family came to Canada as refugees in 1950. She was called to the Ontario Bar in 1972 and practised civil and criminal litigation until 1976 when she was appointed to the Ontario Family Court at the age of 29, the youngest and first pregnant person appointed to the judiciary in Canada. She was appointed to the Ontario Court of Appeal in 1992.
Justice Abella was the sole Commissioner of the 1984 federal Royal Commission on Equality in Employment, creating the term and concept of “employment equity.” The theories of “equality” and “discrimination” developed in her report were adopted by the Supreme Court of Canada in its first decision dealing with equality rights under the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms in 1989. The report has been implemented by the governments of Canada, New Zealand, Northern Ireland, and South Africa.
She subsequently served as Chair of the Ontario Labour Relations Board (1984–1989), Chair of the Ontario Law Reform Commission (1989–1992), and Boulton Visiting Professor at the Faculty of Law of McGill University (1988–1992). She also served as a commissioner on the Ontario Human Rights Commission, member of the Ontario Public Service Labour Relations Tribunal, co-chair of the University of Toronto Academic Discipline Tribunal, member of the Premier’s Advisory Committee on Confederation, and Chair of the Study on Access to Legal Services by the Disabled.
She has written over 90 articles, written or co-edited four books, and has 38 honorary degrees.
Photo: Philippe Landreville
See Justice Abella at the ICC citizenship ceremony.