Rosalie Silberman Abella
(1946 - )
ABELLA, ROSALIE SILBERMAN (1946– ), jurist, Canadian Supreme Court justice. Rosalie Abella was born in a *displaced persons camp in Stuttgart, Germany. She migrated to Toronto with her family in 1950. Her father, Jacob Silberman, had been a lawyer in Poland but was admitted to Canada as a garment worker as part of a government labor importation scheme. Many of her family, including an older sibling, were murdered in the Holocaust. She grew up "with a passion for justice," and, as she explains, "As a Jew, I feel that, through the Holocaust, I have lost the right to stand silent in the face of injustice."
She studied classical piano at the Royal Conservatory of Music, remaining an accomplished pianist, and attended the University of Toronto, where she earned a law degree in 1970. She practiced civil and criminal litigation until 1976, when she was appointed to the Ontario Family Court, becoming the youngest, the first female, and the first pregnant Jewish judge in Canadian history. While on the Family Court she served on the Ontario Human Rights Commission (1975–80) and the Premier's Advisory Committee on Confederation (1977–82), chaired the Ontario Labour Relations Board (1984–89), and was sole commissioner for the Royal Commission on Equality in Employment (1983–84) in which she made "employment equity" a strategy for reducing employment barriers unfairly imposed by "race, gender or disability." "Employment equity" was subsequently implemented by the governments of Canada, New Zealand, Northern Ireland, and South Africa.
Leaving the Family Court in 1987, Abella became Boulton Visiting Professor at the McGill Law School (1988–92) and Distinguished Visiting Lecturer at the University of Toronto Law School (1989–92), chaired the Ontario Law Reform Commission (1989–92), and was director of the Institute for Research on Pubic Policy (1987–92). In 1992 she was appointed to the Ontario Court of Appeal, where she gained a reputation as a reform-minded judge and an internationally recognized expert on human rights. Believing that democracy is enhanced by an activist judiciary, Abella championed the Charter of Rights and Freedoms and participated in rulings extending the rights of Metis, racialized minorities, and gays. Sometimes regarded as controversial, she nevertheless finds it "unforgivable" for judges, in her words, "to exchange their independence for state approval" as happened during the Third Reich.
Abella served as a director of the International Commission of Jurists, the Canadian Institute for the Administration of Justice, and the McGill Institute for the Study of Canada, and she was a member of the Hebrew University International Board of Governors and the Committee on Conscience, U.S. Holocaust Memorial Council. She is a frequent and highly engaging
speaker on equality issues and a committed promoter of Canadian culture. In 2004 she was elevated to the Supreme Court of Canada. The author or editor of four books and over 70 articles, Abella has received 20 honorary degrees, is a specially elected fellow of the Royal Society of Canada, and has been honored by the Canadian Bar Association, the International Commission of Jurists, and B'nai B'rith. She is married to the distinguished Canadian historian Irving Abella.
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