The Honourable Justice Rosalie Silberman Abella
In this year of the Centennial of the Faculty of Law, and of the opening of the Canadian Museum for Human Rights, in this province with a long and deep history of human rights struggles, at this University with its commitment to human rights teaching and research, it is fitting that we are honouring Supreme Court of Canada Justice, Rosalie Silberman Abella.
She has devoted seemingly limitless passion, energy and intellect to all that she does but particularly to human rights. She has said that “one of the psychological legacies of having a Holocaust background like mine, is that you take nothing and no one for granted and you appreciate that it’s not just what you stand for, it’s what you stand up for….Without democracy, there are no rights; without rights there is no tolerance; without tolerance there is no justice; and without justice, there is no hope.”
Justice Abella was born in a displaced persons camp in Germany just after the end of the Second World War. She and her family came to Canada as Jewish refugees in 1950. Twenty years later she had earned both an arts degree and a law degree from the University of Toronto. She was called to the bar in Ontario in 1972 and was appointed a judge in the Ontario Family Court in 1976, the youngest judicial appointment in Canada; she was seven months pregnant with her younger son when she was appointed. She was the sole commissioner of the 1984 federal Royal Commission on Equality in Employment and the theories of equality and discrimination she developed became the foundation of the Supreme Court’s first decision about equality rights under the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms in 1989. In 1992, she was appointed to the Ontario Court of Appeal and in 2004 was appointed to the Supreme Court of Canada.
Justice Abella is known and loved in this city. She spoke last February at the retirement of Chief Justice Scott, in 2006 she visited and spoke at the Faculty of Law and met with members of the Jewish community, and in 2004 she came to receive the Tarnoplosky Award for Human Rights at the Annual Meeting of the Canadian Bar Association. While she has been a great champion for human rights, she is so much more. She is a champion for humanity. She is a lover of the arts, an accomplished pianist who graduated from the Royal Conservatory. She has served as a judge for the Giller literary prize, and has a remarkable collection of art hanging on the wall of her office. When she spoke to our law students, she reminded them that they must make time to read great literature and poetry, to play or listen to music and spend time with their loved ones. Law serves people, and law students and lawyers must never forget their own humanity.
The University of Manitoba is proud to recognize The Honourable Justice Rosalie Silberman Abella with an Honorary Doctor of Laws for enriching our society with her integrity, bold ideas and humane service.