Michelle O’Bonsawin becomes 1st Indigenous person nominated to Supreme Court of Canada

O’Bonsawin would be the first Indigenous person to serve as a Supreme Court justice

O’Bonsawin would be the 1st Indigenous person to serve as a Supreme Court justice

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau announced on Friday his nomination of Michelle O'Bonsawin to the Supreme Court of Canada.

She would become the first Indigenous person to serve on Canada's highest court.

O'Bonsawin is Abenaki from the Odanak First Nation. She is Franco-Ontarian and fluently bilingual, according to a news release announcing the nomination.

She has served as a judge at the Ontario Superior Court of Justice since 2017. O'Bonsawin also holds a PhD in law from the University of Ottawa.

In her application questionnaire made available by the Department of Justice, O'Bonsawin described how her experience as an Indigenous person in Canada has shaped her life and legal career.

"As an Abenaki woman, I have a deep appreciation of the situation of Indigenous peoples," she said.

"I have seen how the Indigenous perspective can be different from that of the rest of Canada's population, while recognizing that all our unique perspectives are at the heart of our country. Such experiences have also shown me that all Canadians are different and unique, while we all have common elements at the core of our points of view."

O'Bonsawin also highlighted her interest in mental health issues and spoke of a long-term mission to ensure the stigma surrounding mental health "is reduced and one day completely eliminated."

"My main fields of interest concern issues affecting Indigenous people and people suffering from mental illness. I am constantly meeting with these populations to better understand their needs," she said in the questionnaire.

"Her nomination is the result of an open, non-partisan selection process. I am confident that Justice O'Bonsawin will bring invaluable knowledge and contributions to our country's highest court," Trudeau said in a media statement.

O'Bonsawin's nomination marks the second consecutive history-making nomination to the Supreme Court. Last year, Mahmud Jamal became the first person of colour appointed to the court.

O'Bonsawin was previously the first Indigenous person to serve at the Ontario Superior Court of Justice. She was nominated for that position in 2017 by the former federal justice minister and attorney general Jody Wilson-Raybould.

She has also served as a member of numerous legal and advocacy groups, including the Aboriginal Legal Services of the University of Ottawa Legal Aid Clinic, 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.

O'Bonsawin was born in Hanmer, Ontario, a small francophone town north of Sudbury, Ont.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Nick Boisvert

Reporter

Nick Boisvert is a multimedia journalist at the CBC's Parliamentary Bureau in Ottawa. He previously covered municipal politics for CBC News in Toronto. You can reach him at nick.boisvert@cbc.ca.

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