National Post

Page URL:

Friday, June 11, 1999

Arbour named to Supreme Court
Ontario judge to leave war crimes tribunal early

Janice Tibbetts and Marina Jimenez
Southam News; National Post

Shaun Best, Reuters / 52-year-old Louise Arbour has been praised for having a "strong, intellectual forcefulness."

Misa Savic, The Associated Press / Louise Arbour

Justice Louise Arbour, the head of the international war crimes tribunal, will step down from her duties to join the Supreme Court of Canada.

Her appointment to the country's highest court, on the day of the dramatic withdrawal of troops from Kosovo, was long anticipated by the legal community and court observers, who have touted the Ontario judge as the heir apparent to replace retired Justice Peter Cory.

Judge Arbour, who issued an indictment two weeks ago against Slobodan Milosevic, the Yugoslav president, for alleged atrocities, will officially join the Supreme Court on Sept. 15, leaving her post as chief prosecutor in The Hague three years into the four-year post. She will become the third woman on the nine-member Supreme Court.

Despite international pressure to allow her to finish her overseas post, Jean Chretien, the Prime Minister, faced a strong lobby at home to name the 52-year-old to the court.

She is also a criminal law expert, a credential that the court considers to be almost essential with the departure of Justice Cory, who had a similar background.

"I think her record speaks for itself," said Anne McLellan, the Justice Minister.

"She is a woman of brilliant integrity, she is a woman who has dealt with obviously some of the most difficult and challenging issues of our modern time. She has a breadth of knowledge and background and experience that is quite exceptional."

Ms. McLellan cited Judge Arbour's hard-hitting, 1996 report on human rights abuses at Kingston Penitentiary for Women as a highlight in a career that has spanned three decades.

Judge Arbour was born in Montreal and attended law school there before moving to Toronto in the 1970s, where she was a professor for 17 years at York University's Osgoode Hall Law School. She was named to the Ontario Supreme Court in 1987, and three years later was appointed to the Ontario Court of Appeal, which granted her a leave in 1996 to take the UN war crimes posting.

Judge Arbour, a mother of three who recently separated from her partner, has been cited as a potential candidate for the Supreme Court for almost a decade. She will be the fifth francophone on the bench.

Her seat will sit empty for the summer, giving her three months to finish her job in The Hague, said Ms. McLellan.

John Reynolds, a Reform MP and the party's justice critic, said Judge Arbour's departure from the UN assignment at a crucial time is an embarrassment for Canada.

"I think it's a serious problem," said Mr. Reynolds. "To take her away right now, for whatever reason, is just unacceptable. She's the one who laid the charges against Milosevic and she should carry that through to finality."

Mr. Reynolds also criticized the appointment process, and said potential candidates should be subject to public scrutiny, instead of named without debate by the prime minister.

A spokesman for the Foreign Affairs Department, which had earlier opposed the appointment because of international pressure, said the UN tribunal will cope without Judge Arbour.

"The tribunal is more than the chief prosecutor," said Stewart Wheeler.

"Given the task that it faces, the tribunal is sure to be around for quite some time and it's only a matter of time before people move on to new jobs."

The United Nations Security Council will select her successor, and there's no indication it will be a Canadian, he said.

Judge Arbour will not comment on her new posting until today, said Paul Risley, a spokesman for the tribunal in The Hague. "She's here, she's working and we have Kosovo on our minds right now," said Mr. Risley.

Judge Arbour's extensive roster of supporters defended her decision to accept the Supreme Court position, saying it would have been foolish to pass up an opportunity that is considered to be the pinnacle of a legal career. Another Ontario opening on the court is not expected for many years.

Peter Hogg, dean of Osgoode Hall Law School, praised the appointment as "splendid."

"Judge Arbour is a fine lawyer and person of integrity," said Prof. Hogg, who was her colleague for 17 years.

Errol Mendes, director of the human rights and education research centre at the University of Ottawa, called the appointment a huge victory for national unity.

"This shows the benefit of our multi-lingual, multi-judicial system that a French-speaking lawyer from Quebec can become bilingual and rise to a seat on the top court," he said.

Copyright Southam Inc.