Indigenous Judge Makes History by Being Nominated to the Supreme Court of Canada

In a historic first, the prime minister has nominated an Indigenous judge to the Supreme Court of Canada.

On August 19, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau announced he had nominated the Honourable Michelle O’Bonsawin to the Supreme Court of Canada to fill a vacancy created by the upcoming retirement of the Honourable Michael J. Moldave.

O’Bonsawin, an Abenaki member of the Odanak First Nation, has served as a judge for the Ontario Superior Court of Justice in Ottawa since 2017. She has wide-ranging experience in mental health, Gladue principles, labour and employment law, human rights and privacy law.

“I am pleased to announce the nomination of Justice Michelle O’Bonsawin to the Supreme Court of Canada, which is recognized worldwide for its strength, excellence and independence,” the prime minister said in a statement. “I am confident that Justice O’Bonsawin will bring invaluable knowledge and contributions to our country’s highest court.”

Before she was appointed a judge, O’Bonsawin was general counsel for the Royal Ottawa Health Care Group for eight years, and has also had roles with Canada Post and the Royal Canadian Mounted Police. She holds a Bachelor of Arts, Bachelor of Laws, Master of Laws and Doctorate of Law Degrees.

O’Bonsawin is a frequent speaker on Gladue principles, Indigenous issues and mental health – topics she highlighted in the questionnaire she submitted in her application to the Supreme Court.

“My most significant contribution to the law and pursuit of justice in Canada is my effort to assist all involved in the justice and mental health system with a particular emphasis on Indigenous Peoples,” O’Bonsawin wrote. “I strive for the judiciary to clarify the legal issues in order to have an inclusive and compassionate legal system for First Nations, Inuit and Métis.”

O’Bonsawin added that she would make these issues a priority if nominated to the Supreme Court.

“My goal is to continue to educate the judiciary and community stakeholders regarding various Indigenous and mental health legal issues to ensure that the stigma and misunderstanding are limited and hopefully one day eliminated,” she wrote. “Through these efforts, individuals appearing before judicial bodies will receive a fair process that recognizes their unique situation.”

Saskatoon lawyer Drew Lafond, who was recently quoted in a CBC story about mental health issues affecting Indigenous communities, is president of the Indigenous Bar Association.

“The nomination of Justice O’Bonsawin to the Supreme Court of Canada is a significant day not only for Indigenous lawyers, but Indigenous Peoples across the country,” Drew said. “History has been made for Indigenous Peoples today.”