Odanak Justice Michelle O’Bonsawin officially welcomed to the supreme court


Justice Michelle O’Bonsawin was officially welcomed to the Supreme Court of Canada on Monday making her the first Indigenous judge to sit on the high court.

O’Bonsawin is a member of the Abenaki community of Odanak in Quebec.

“I’ve fallen down, I’ve made mistakes, however, mistakes have been my teachers and I have learned from those mistakes,” she said. “I have always gotten up and continued, at times with trepidation, but always moving forward.

“Our actions are reflections of ourselves, we must be proud of who we are and of our uniqueness. I have a lot of people to thank, I did not get this court on my own.”

After the signing of the ceremonial rule book, she took her seat.

Chief Justice Richard Wagner made the opening remarks saying the appointment is an important step to reconciliation.

“You mentioned during the Parliamentary committee’s question and answer session, that a high school teacher once told you that a legal career would be out of your reach and you responded, ‘just watch me.’  I hope your story of persisting in the face of doubts will encourage students listening to today’s ceremony to follow their dreams,” he said.

“And like you, I hope they put their talent towards helping others in making this great country even better.”

The hour long ceremony brought together members of the court, family and friends.

The Treasurer of the Law Society of Ontario, Jacqueline Horvat said O’Bonsawin’s lived experiences will enhance the quality of justice and public confidence.

“As a francophone, a woman and an Indigenous person, it is the depth of these diverse lived experiences that make your appointment so meaningful and so meaningful to many,” she said. “The spectrum of experience on the bench of our highest court is deeply important.”

O’Bonsawin had many to thank in her journey along the way.  She held back tears as she thanked her biggest supporter, her husband Pierre.

“I’m, for those who don’t know, I’m very emotional. I was champed by him from the very first moment.  He’s always my biggest fan and my strongest force.”

According to the supreme court’s website O’Bonsawin has served in a number of functions including sitting on the board of governors at the University of Ottawa and “has taught Indigenous law at the University of Ottawa’s Common Law Program and was previously responsible for the Indigenous Relations Program at the Royal Ottawa Health Care Group.

“She is a frequent guest speaker on Gladue principles, Indigenous issues, as well as mental health, labour, and privacy law.”