It’s not every day that one gets to rub shoulders with judges of the Supreme Court of Canada. In fact, the closest I had ever been to a Supreme Court judge prior to last week’s Gala dinner at the Ritz-Carlton in Toronto was back in 2007 when I visited Ottawa and signed up for a tour of the highest court in the land. While the judges were not sitting at the time, I still remember how exciting it was to be standing in the very court where cases that have shaped Canadian jurisprudence were argued, where landmark decisions were handed down, and where history continues to be made. So, you can imagine how thrilled I was to attend the OBA gala in honour of Justice Rosalie Abella and Justice Mahmud Jamal on May 26, 2022. And what a supreme evening it was, indeed!
As Justice Jamal noted during his keynote address, “Anyone who has attended one of the events honouring Rosie over the past year comes with the unmistakable sense of the tremendous respect and admiration that everybody inside and outside the legal community has for her.”
From a displaced person camp in Stuttgart where she was born in 1954 to the Supreme Court of Canada, Justice Rosalie Abella’s journey to the bench was far from easy or ordinary, yet she rose to every challenge with courage, integrity and unparalleled grace. She was appointed to the Ontario Family Court in 1976 at the age of 29—making her the youngest judge ever appointed in Canada—then to the Ontario Court of Appeal in 1996. In 2004, she was selected to serve as a judge of the Supreme Court of Canada, a position she held until she retired in 2021 at the age of 75, thus earning her the title of longest serving judge in Canadian history.
During her legal career, which spanned over 50 years, Justice Abella made invaluable contributions in administrative and constitutional law, human rights, labour law, family law and international law. In her jurisprudence, she has been a fervent champion of the least advantaged members of society, and she has advanced the rights of women, persons with disabilities and underrepresented groups.
According to Justice Jamal, Justice Abella is respected, admired and loved not just for her courage and compassionate towards others, but also for her authenticity.