The nomination of the first-ever female Indigenous judge to Canada’s highest court was nothing short of “historic,” federal justice minister David Lametti said in the wake of the announcement that Ontario justice Michelle O’Bonsawin would be among the new appointees to the Supreme Court of Canada.
Justice O’Bonsawin, a bilingual Franco-Ontarian and Abenaki member of the Odanak First Nation, has served on the Ontario Superior Court of Justice in Ottawa since 2017, and was the first Indigenous woman to hold that position, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said in his nomination announcement on Friday.
She will be the first Indigenous person to sit on Canada’s top court.
During the application process, O’Bonsawin wrote about the prejudice she faced growing up, and how that affected her outlook on justice and the justice system.
“My experience is a clear example of the rich diversity that makes our country so special to me and my family,” she said in a questionnaire response as part of the application process. “My experiences have taught me that discrimination still occurs in Canada, but by being aware of these experiences and through my work in mental health, I believe that I can contribute to making our country a more inclusive society that is fair and just for all.”
The Congress of Aboriginal Peoples (CAP) also feted the announcement of O’Bonsawin’s nomination, saying an Indigenous perspective has long been missing from Canada’s top court.
“Canada’s top court has always been missing an individual to interpret Canadian laws through an Indigenous lens – but not anymore,” said CAP National Chief Elmer St. Pierre. “CAP is encouraged to know that Michelle O’Bonsawin will help balance Canada’s top bench, providing a vital viewpoint on the country’s most important legal matters.”
CAP is thrilled that there will be more Indigenous representation in the justice system, given the overrepresentation of Indigenous people in Canada’s prisons.
‘Indigenous people have long faced discrimination, racism and prejudice in Canada’s justice system leading to the over-representation of our people in courts and prisons,’ CAP wrote. ‘Governments must continue to ensure Indigenous voices help create laws, interpret and enforce them.’
Marc Lalonde, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Iori:wase