Justice Rosalie Silberman Abella receives Honorary Doctor of Laws

ROSALIE SILBERMAN ABELLA (Honorary Doctor of Laws)

The first Jewish woman to serve on the Supreme Court of Canada (2004 to 2021), and the daughter of Holocaust survivors, Justice Rosalie Silberman Abella’s remarkable judicial career has been devoted to the advancement of justice, equity, and human dignity.

Among her many honours, Justice Abella was elected to the Royal Society of Canada in 1997, to the American Academy of Arts and Sciences in 2007, to the American Philosophical Society in 2018, and was awarded the Knight Commander’s Cross of the Order of Merit by the President of Germany in 2020. She will also be among this year’s inductees to Canada’s Walk of Fame. At the University of Saskatchewan, she served as guest speaker in the McKercher LLP Lecture Series in 2016, and also held a question-and-answer session for the College of Law with the dean in 2021.

Justice Abella earned a Bachelor of Arts in 1967 and a law degree in 1970 at the University of Toronto. She was called to the Ontario Bar in 1972 and practised civil and criminal litigation until 1976 when she was appointed to Ontario Family Court at the age of 29, becoming the first pregnant person appointed to the judiciary. Justice Abella was the sole commissioner of the 1984 federal Royal Commission on Equality in Employment, creating the term and concept “employment equity.” She was also appointed to the Ontario Court of Appeal in 1992, and has written more than 90 articles and written or co-edited four books.

Born in a Displaced Person’s Camp in Stuttgart, Germany on July 1, 1946, Abella’s family came to Canada in 1950, and she later became the first refugee appointed to the bench in Canada. She married Canadian historian Irving Abella in 1968 and they have two sons, Jacob and Zachary, both lawyers. After a remarkable career on the bench in Canada, inspiring generations of law students, lawyers, and human rights advocates, she retired on her 75th birthday on July 1, 2021.

On April 7, 2021, Harvard Law School announced her appointment as the Samuel and Judith Pisar Visiting Professor of Law effective July 1, 2022, for an initial three-year term that will run until 2025. She is the first Canadian jurist to be appointed to a Chair at Harvard Law School. She is also serving as a Senior Research Scholar at Yale Law School, the Distinguished Visiting Jurist at the University of Toronto Faculty of Law, and was the William Hughes Mulligan Distinguished Visiting Professor in International Studies at Fordham Law School in the spring of 2022.