New Indigenous Supreme Court judge a win for inclusivity: Napoleon

Court watchers are calling the top court appointment of Michelle O’Bonsawin a win for Indigeneity and inclusivity.

“I think the breadth of experience that she brings, the diversity and perspectives that she brings, will make the Supreme Court of Canada a stronger and better institution because it will be representative of multi-jurisdictional Canada,” said Val Napoleon, acting dean of law at the University of Victoria.

O’Bonsawin is the first Indigenous judge to sit on the Court. She was nominated by Prime Minister Justin Trudeau.

She comes to the court after spending five years as a judge at the Ontario Superior Court of Justice in Ottawa. She has also taught law at the University of Ottawa and served as the Royal Ottawa Health Care Group’s general counsel for eight years.

The legal faculty at the University of Ottawa is ecstatic about the Abenaki woman’s appointment.

Deep expertise

“She brings deep expertise and experience in Indigenous issues at a time when it’s very relevant to the Supreme Court of Canada,” said Kristin Boon, dean of law – common law section at the University of Ottawa.

“She is fluently bilingual. She was a mother with two teenage daughters while she was serving on the bench and she achieved her PhD. So, she has a really deep combination of academic expertise, as well as expertise in practice and judging.”

O’Bonsawin is a member of the Odanak First Nation in Ontario.

Chief Richard O’Bonsawin said his community is honoured.

“He has made her Nation very, very proud,” the chief said. “Education has always been a thing for our community.

“And for one of our people, to make it to that high of a level, is amazing. More than that, for her to be able to reach this thing is showing First Nations people there is no end to what First Nations people can do. We need to always strive, go forward and reach for the stars.”

Napoleon, a member of Salteaux First Nation in Sask., said it’s a major step in adding an Indigenous perspective to the justice system.

“It is a signal through government, through business, across this land that there’s potential, that there’s more to learn, that there’s more to do,” Napoleon said. “Communities are engaged in the hard work of rebuilding their Indigenous legal orders.”

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