Monday, April 30, 2007
Bertha Wilson (1923-2007)
Bertha Wilson, the first woman to be appointed to the Supreme Court of Canada, passed away on April 28:
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.
Chief Justice Beverley McLachlin, on behalf of the members of the Supreme Court of Canada, lamented Justice Wilson’s passing, “Bertha Wilson was known for her generosity of spirit and originality of thought. She was appointed to the Supreme Court of Canada the same year the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms was enacted. As a member of this Court, she was a pioneer in Charter jurisprudence and made an outstanding contribution to the administration of justice. She will be sorely missed by all who were privileged to know her.”
A memorial service will be held at 2:00 p.m. on Tuesday, May 8, 2007 at St. Andrew’s Presbyterian Church, Wellington and Kent Streets, Ottawa.
Wilson J.’s most famous opinions include R. v. Morgentaler,  1 S.C.R. 30, the decision that decriminalized abortion in Canada, and R. v. Lavallée,  1 S.C.R. 852, which allowed the defence of self-defence in a case where the accused, a young woman who had been abused by her partner for a number of years, was suffering from the “battered wife syndrome”.
Wilson J. was also criticized for a speech about the role and influence of women in legal professions and the judiciary, aptly titled “Will Women Judges Really Make a Difference?”
See also: “Bertha Wilson: Law as Large as Life” by Eileen Anderson.
Official Supreme Court bio
More on Wilson J.'s work and legacy: