Justice Rosalie Silberman Abella visits the UVic Faculty of Law

Justice Rosalie Silberman Abella visits the UVic Faculty of Law

Photo credit: UVic Photo Services

By John Bullock, third year law student

The University of Victoria Chapter of Pro Bono Students Canada (PBSC) hosted Madam Justice Rosalie Silberman Abella on Thursday, October 30, for an engaging, touching, and at times hilarious, discussion moderated by Dean Jeremy Webber of the Faculty of Law. After introductory speeches from UVic’s PBSC Program Coordinators, Kayleigh Harrison and Victoria Merritt, and Emily MacKinnon of McCarthy Tetrault's Vancouver office, Justice Abella entertained a packed lecture hall for over an hour with a range of inspirational anecdotes from her nearly 40 years as a jurist. An ardent proponent of human rights, Justice Abella spoke of narrowing the gap between the ideal and the reality of justice in Canada. Her take-home message to the hundreds of law students in attendance was that the legal profession is only as good as they will make it.

Justice Abella’s narrative began with a tale of Dean Webber’s apparent infinite youth, before shifting to the moving story of her decision to pursue a career in law. She told of her family settling in Canada after WWII, only for her father to be denied entry to the Law Society due to its Canadian citizenship requirement. In an interesting twist of fate, her own Royal Commission on Equality in Employment would first be cited in a judgment  that held a denial of admission to a provincial bar, on the basis of non-citizenship, was in violation of s. 15 of the Charter.

With regard to her extensive CV, Justice Abella commented that she had never been looking for experience; rather, she just “never said no when [she] had the opportunity to get it.” Then, touching on the legal profession's aversion to change, Justice Abella quipped that she had always seen the status quo as merely the “beginning of a conversation.”

Towards the end of the event, Justice Abella thanked McCarthy Tetrault for their work with PBSC. Reminiscing on the interesting twists and turns her life and career took, beginning with her birth in Germany, to her sitting as the most senior Puisne Justice of the Supreme Court by the end of this year, the Madam Justice concluded the event by commenting: “Canada – what a country, for that to happen.”

[1] Andrews v. Law Society of British Columbia, [1989] 1 SCR 143