Michelle O’Bonsawin says she wants young Indigenous women to dream big.
“At the end of the day, if you work hard and your heart’s in it you can do whatever you want,” the first Indigenous nominee to the Supreme Court of Canada told a group of parliamentarians in Ottawa on Tuesday.
“And I hope young Indigenous women will see that anything’s possible if you set your mind to it.”
O’Bonsawin said growing up in northern Ontario, she was discouraged in high school from seeking a career in law. But rather than giving up, she adopted an “I’ll show them” attitude.
The Ontario Superior Court judge now holds three degrees in law on top of a 20-year legal career that includes serving as counsel for the RCMP, Canada Post and Royal Ottawa Hospital.
Over the course of two hours, she fielded a number of questions from members of Parliament and senators on her background, experience and why she is a good fit for Canada’s top court.
O’Bonsawin was also asked about how the justice system can be more accessible to Indigenous peoples and incorporate traditional laws.
She said those working in the legal system as a whole need to be better versed on Gladue principles.
“That comes back to education of judges where it is important for everyone in the legal community, not just judges but lawyers also, to understand what it means to represent an Indigenous person and ask the questions,” she replied.
“Because, unfortunately, at times they’ll take the client as they come and they don’t ask more information other than the index offence and what happens.”
O’Bonsawin also spoke about the high number of women incarcerated in Canadian prisons.
“I think it was Dr. Zinger’s (Ivan, correctional investigator of Canada) last report that showed Indigenous women are close to 50 per cent of the incarceration rates and we’re less than five per cent of the population,” she said in response to a question from independent Sen. Kim Pate.
“And you and I have worked on this in the past when you were with the Elizabeth Fry Society and I was with general counsel at the Royal (Ottawa Hospital). Where we would deal with these issues where we had Indigenous people in the system. I think that education is the key.”
Earlier in the day, Justice Minister David Lametti answered questions on the nomination from members of the Justice and Human Rights Committee.
O’Bonsawin will replace Michael Moldaver who officially retires on Sept. 1.