Retired Supreme Court Justice Rosalie Abella is optimistic about Canada’s progress towards equality


The outgoing Supreme Court Justice Rosalie Abella (Rosalie Abella) said that during her decades in politics, Canada has made steady progress towards a fairer society, but she said she should do more Work to include groups that are still lagging behind.

“We are in a much better situation now than before,” Abella said in an interview with CBC Chief Political Correspondent Rosemary Barton.

“But we still have a long way to go.”

Abella provided this assessment a few weeks before she was about to retire-on July 1, she turned 75, which is the mandatory retirement age for Supreme Court judges.

You can watch her full interview Rosemary Button live broadcast, Available on CBC’s streaming service Gem.

Abella was nominated as a Supreme Court judge by Prime Minister Paul Martin in 2004. She was the first Jewish woman and the first former refugee to serve on the bench of the High Court.

Abella was born in a camp for displaced persons in Stuttgart, Germany in 1946, and then came to Canada in 1950.

Abella helped make laws on disability and equality in employment

In an interview with Barton, Abella reviewed her career, which has brought many landmark changes to Canadian law (especially for disadvantaged groups).

Before joining the Supreme Court, Abella led a study on the access to legal services for persons with disabilities in Ontario in 1983 and became the sole commissioner of the Royal Federal Employment Equality Commission in 1984.

As part of the Royal Commission, her legal theory of equality and discrimination was adopted by the Supreme Court in 1989.

Abella said these advancements reflect what she believes is a key legal principle – to protect people’s rights while considering what she calls the “context of the times.”

“There is a difference between stability and stagnation,” Abella said. “We cannot make decisions rooted in a century of tradition.”

Two-year-old Rosalie Abella took a photo with her parents in Germany, where they lived before moving to Canada. (Rosalie Abella)

She acknowledged that Canada does not always respond quickly to the needs of marginalized groups. Abella said the country paid little attention to the problems faced by indigenous communities in the 1970s, although the courts have since become more sensitive.

“[The court] We should be aware of the world we live in and keep pace with the times. When someone brings a case to us, it feels like the right place to make a change,” she said.

“So we don’t always do this. But we do this with indigenous rights,” she said.

“We have done what we have done in every field of rights, and I am proud of that.”

Abella will be replaced in court by another Ontario judge, Justice Mahmoud Jamal. Earlier this week, he was nominated by Prime Minister Justin Trudeau.

Jamal will also make history as the first person of color to join the country’s Supreme Court.



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