Rosalie Silberman Abella (b. 1946) was born to Jewish-Polish Holocaust survivors in a displaced persons camp in Germany. When she was a child, the family moved to Halifax, and then settled in Toronto. Abella followed in her father’s footsteps and became a lawyer, graduating from the University of Toronto. She was a civil and family lawyer for five years before being appointed to the Ontario Family Court, aged just 29. This made her the youngest judge in Canada’s history – and the first pregnant one! Sixteen years later, she moved up to the Ontario Court of Appeal. Abella also sat on Ontario’s Human Rights Commission, and became a renowned expert on human rights law. Abella coined the term “employment equity” while overseeing the Royal Commission on Equality in Employment in 1983. She pioneered a number of strategies to improve employment for women, minorities, and aboriginals, which have been implemented in countries around the world. In 2004, she was appointed to Canada’s Supreme Court, making her the first Jewish woman to sit on the nation’s highest judiciary. Recently, Abella was named the Global Jurist of the Year for her work with human rights and international criminal law. Among her many other awards, she has received 37 honourary degrees, including one from Yale University – the first Canadian woman to do so. One politician said of her: “I’ve never met any judge in my life, and I know a lot of them – I used to be a lawyer – who understands people better than Rosie, and the importance of people in the judicial process. I think the human quality she brings to the bench is unsurpassed in my experience.”
Words of the Week
My life started in a country where there had been no democracy, no rights, no justice and all because we were Jewish. No one with this history does not feel lucky to be alive and free. No one with this history takes anything for granted, and no one with this history does not feel that we have a particular duty to wear our identities with pride and to promise our children that we will do everything humanly possible to keep the world safer for them than it was for their grandparents, a world where all children – regardless of race, colour, religion, or gender – can wear their identities with dignity, with pride and in peace.
– Rosalie Abella