Historic appointment of Common Law Alumna to the Supreme Court of Canada

Faculty of Law - Common Law Section
Supreme Court
Alumni (6821
Faculty of Law - Common Law Section
Indigenous (6791
Justice Michelle O'Bonsawin
Supreme Court of Canada Collection
The Faculty of Law (Common Law Section) is thrilled that one of its alumnae, Honorable Michelle O’Bonsawin, LLB ’98 and PhD ’22, has been appointed as the first Indigenous person on the Supreme Court of Canada.

 “We are so thrilled Justice O'Bonsawin has been appointed to the Supreme Court of Canada,” Dean Kristen Boon, the Susan & Perry Dellelce Dean stated.

She represents so much about what uOttawa stands for. Fluently bilingual in French and English, Justice O'Bonsawin combines academic accomplishment with deep practice and judicial experience in Indigenous issues.  In addition, she is someone who believes in giving back to the community, including mentoring female law students.”

Prime Minister, Justin Trudeau, announced the historic appointment of O’Bonsawin on August 26, 2022. Justice O’Bonsawin, an Abenaki member of the Odanak First Nation, is a widely respected member of Canada’s legal community, with a distinguished career spanning over 20 years.

The official appointment was the result of a months-long process of review and consultation.

Following the nomination, a special hearing was held on August 24 to provide an opportunity for Parliamentarians and members of the public to get acquainted with the future justice of the Supreme Court of Canada. The special televised hearing, which was moderated by Alain Roussy, Vice-Dean of the French Common Law Program and Associate Professor, included a question-and-answer period with Justice O’Bonsawin.

When asked, by Senator Mobina Jaffer, how Canada’s most vulnerable populations will benefit from feeling seen and heard through the Supreme Court’s decisions, Justice O’Bonsawin focussed on inclusivity and equity, particularly for those affected by mental illness, stating:

“I think that in order for [people who have issues with mental illness] to be part of society and to feel involved, it's important for them to be seen and heard. That is all part of inclusivity, and it's part of our charter values…. People who are affected by mental illness need to be supported throughout our community, because at the end of the day, everybody is value added. We can never forget that.”

Lori Idlout, JD ’18, Member of Parliament for Nunavut, asked how Justice O’Bonsawin will work with the Supreme Court of Canada towards a more pluralistic legal system, that reconciles with Indigenous laws and ensures that Indigenous laws are seen and heard. In her response, Justice O’Bonsawin pointed out the importance of being a “voice at the table”:

“I bring my background as an Indigenous mother of two sons and everything that comes with all my background….I live my traditions. I bring these traditions and my heritage to the table, in addition to my own experiences and also my work experience, especially my research into principles and how they apply to sentencing. I hope that will be helpful to the courts.”

Justice O’Bonsawin’s roots with the Faculty run deep.

She graduated from the French Common Law Program (PCLF) in 1998 and completed her doctorate in law, earlier this year, when she successfully defended her PhD thesis titled: “A Principled Approach: The Mandatory Application of the Gladue Principles at Review Board Hearings”.

Justice O’Bonsawin is a fluently bilingual Franco-Ontarian. She is a sought-after speaker and thought leader with expertise in Gladue principles, Indigenous issues, as well as mental health, labour, and privacy law. She has served on the Ontario Superior Court of Justice since 2017. She also has served as a member of numerous legal and advocacy groups, including the Aboriginal Legal Services of the University of Ottawa Legal Aid Clinic and the Canadian Institute for the Administration of Justice, and as a partner judge with the Afghanistan Women Judges with the International Association of Women Judges.

She has taught Indigenous law in Common Law Program, and previously served on the Board of Governors of the University. She was also inducted to the Common Law Honour Society in 2018.

Visit the Prime Minister’s news release to read more about this appointment.

We salute and celebrate Justice O’Bonsawin on her momentous appointment to the Supreme Court of Canada and wish her great success in this new role.