Michelle O'Bonsawin confirmed as Canada's new Supreme Court justice

·2 min read
Justice Michelle O'Bonsawin will take her seat as Canada's newest Supreme Court justice on Sept. 1.  (The Canadian Press/Justin Tang - image credit)
Justice Michelle O'Bonsawin will take her seat as Canada's newest Supreme Court justice on Sept. 1. (The Canadian Press/Justin Tang - image credit)

Justice Michelle O'Bonsawin's appointment to the top court has been formally confirmed by the Prime Minister's Office. Canada's first Indigenous Supreme Court justice is set to take her seat on the bench on Sept. 1.

The appointment is the fifth under Prime Minister Justin Trudeau's government. O'Bonsawin is filling the seat left vacant by the upcoming retirement of Justice Michael J. Moldaver.

"Justice O'Bonsawin is an accomplished jurist with expertise in the areas of mental health, Gladue principles, labour and employment law, human rights and privacy law," the PMO said in a media statement.

O'Bonsawin has experience in labour law and mental health law as it relates to criminal law and Indigenous law. Her PhD work focused on Gladue principles, which allow judges to consider unique Indigenous circumstances when trying a case.

During Wednesday's Q&A session with MPs and senators, O'Bonsawin said that while she will be informed by her experience and her cultural background, she will remain objective in her work.

"I'm a judge first and an Indigenous person and a mother and a Franco-Ontarian afterwards," O'Bonsawin, a fluently bilingual Franco-Ontarian Abenaki from Odanak, told parliamentarians.

"I think what's important for me to remember is my roots and the voice that I bring, my life experience but also my background as someone who's worked in mental health law, Indigenous issues and also in labour and employment and human rights."

Speaking to MPs on the Commons justice and human rights committee Wednesday morning, Justice Minister David Lametti said O'Bonsawin's appointment is important for Indigenous people and predicted she will improve "the substance of legal decisions" from the top court.

"It is extremely important that Indigenous peoples be able to see themselves in what are, quite frankly, colonial institutions," he said.

"It's incredibly important to have that diversity reflected in the deliberations of those nine justices of the Supreme Court but it's also critically important for everyone else throughout the system to know that this is possible."

WATCH:  Michelle O'Bonsawin discusses Indigenous law