Bertha Wilson, the first woman to serve on Canada’s Supreme Court, has died.
OTTAWA, April 30, 2007 – The Supreme Court of Canada issued the following press release today:
The Honourable Bertha Wilson, formerly a justice of the Supreme Court of Canada, passed away in Ottawa on April 28, 2007 after a prolonged illness. Justice Wilson attended the University of Aberdeen, Scotland, and graduated with an M.A. in 1944. She continued her education at the Training College for Teachers in Aberdeen, obtaining her diploma in 1945. She married the Reverend John Wilson in December 1945 and they emigrated to Canada in 1949. In 1955, Bertha Wilson enrolled at Dalhousie University to study law, and in 1957 she completed her LL.B. and was called to the bar of Nova Scotia. In 1959 she was called to the bar of Ontario. She practised law in Toronto with Osler, Hoskin & Harcourt for 17 years.
Bertha Wilson broke ground in 1975 as the first woman appointed to the Court of Appeal for Ontario, and again in 1982 when she became the first woman appointed to the Supreme Court of Canada. She retired from the Court in 1991.
One of Wilson’s most significant opinions was her concurrence in 1988’s* R. v. Morgantaler, which decriminalized abortion in Canada. Calgary native Le Mew has written several posts about the influence that R. v. Morgantaler has had on his pro-choice thinking (not to mention his academic specialty, countermobilization, in particular relating to abortion politics):
My direct interest in the abortion issue is easily traced. The first court decision I remember hearing about and discussing was R. v. Morgentaler, the 1988 decision of the Supreme Court of Canada that ruled Canada’s federal abortion legislation unconstitutional. I gave a speech defending it at that year’s persuasive speech at my high school, and my interest in the subject has never really waned. (One can probably also trace my eventual decision to become a scholar of law and courts back to that decision too, although I would have never dreamed it at the time.) Morgentaler is worthy of examination by American supporters of reproductive freedom, because it addresses some issues that its American counterpart (with the partial exception of William O. Douglas’s short, brilliant concurrence in Doe v. Bolton) doesn’t. While I strongly believe that Roe v. Wade was correctly decided (1, 2, 3), like almost everybody I find Blackmun’s opinion for the Court deficient in many respects. Morgentaler is not the perfect opinion, but is does a much better job with similar legal materials.
Scott’s tribute is here.
* I continue to be surprised that it took Canada until 1988 to decriminalize abortion, particularly in light of the liberality of its current law, which not only allows abortion on demand, but has the government pay for it.
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