Justin Trudeau has nominated an Aboriginal woman to the Supreme Court of Canada, in a landmark appointment after decades of criticism over the lack of Aboriginal representation in the country’s highest court.
On Friday, the Prime Minister announced that Michel Obonswain had been selected to fill a vacant position on the Court.
A member of the Abenaki congregation at the Odanak First Nation, Obonswain has been a Justice of the Ontario Supreme Court of Justice in Ottawa since 2017. She has also taught law at the University of Ottawa, and previously worked for the legal services of the RCMP and Canada Mail.
Franco-Ontario was hired after the upcoming retirement of Judge Michael Moldavier.
“I am confident Judge Obonsauen will bring invaluable knowledge and contributions to our nation’s highest court,” Trudeau said in a statement, adding that she was selected through an “open and nonpartisan” process.
Unlike scorched earth hearings in the United States, where a judge’s opinions are heavily scrutinized and senators often use the process to launch their political ambitions, the Canadian process is less controversial.
Parliament’s Justice Committee will meet next week to hear from the Minister of Justice and the chair of the Independent Advisory Board on Judicial Appointments to the Supreme Court of Canada. Then Obonsauen will answer questions from the Committee and the Senate.
In which Application surveyObonswain described how her indigenous identity in Canada shaped her professional and legal life, including being discriminated against and ridiculed as a young Aboriginal girl who grew up outside the reserve.
“I believe my experience as a French-speaking First Nations woman, parent, lawyer, researcher, and judge provides me with a vivid understanding and insight into Canada’s diversity because I, and my life experience, is a part of that diversity,” he said.
It also highlighted the importance of de-stigmatizing mental health issues and the need for an “inclusive” and “merciful” legal system for First Nations, Inuit, and Métis.
On Friday, Justice Minister David Lamty described the nomination as a “historic moment” for the Supreme Court.
For decades, Indigenous groups have advocated for justice which is a different way of understanding the law.
“The Supreme Court of Canada has always missed anyone to interpret Canadian laws from an Aboriginal perspective – but not anymore,” Elmer St-Pierre, national president of the Council of Aboriginal Peoples, said in a statement.
Indigenous peoples have long faced discrimination, racism and prejudice in the Canadian justice system, which has led to increased representation of our people in courts and prisons. Governments must continue to ensure that indigenous voices help set, interpret and enforce laws.”
Obonswein’s nomination is the court’s second historic date. In 2021, Trudeau chose Mahmoud Gamal on the bench, This made him the first person of color to serve as a justice of the Supreme Court.
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