National Post

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Saturday, June 12, 1999

Arbour glad to be back on main career path
Tribunal will manage

Janice Tibbetts
Southam News

OTTAWA - Justice Louise Arbour yesterday defended her decision to resign as head of the international war crimes tribunal at a crucial time in its history, saying she always viewed the prestigious posting as a "parenthesis" in her judicial career.

Judge Arbour, who will cut short her four-year appointment to join the Supreme Court of Canada, said she is leaving behind a tribunal that is politically and operationally healthy, and it should manage fine without her.

"What I'm leaving behind is work that is never anchored in a particular person; it is very much teamwork," she said in an interview from Brussels with CBC TV.

"It was certainly the most challenging thing I had done in my career, but I always viewed it as a parenthesis in which I preferred to believe my main career line is judicial work."

Judge Arbour, who assumes her position on the Supreme Court on Sept. 15, appeared to have few misgivings about leaving the fast-paced world of international justice just as it prepares to possibly prosecute Slobodan Milosevic, the Yugoslav president, for crimes against humanity in Kosovo.

She has been considered the heir apparent since Justice Peter Cory announced his retirement earlier this year.

"I don't think I have regrets, but I may feel nostalgia now and again for a life where the intensity of action is remarkable," said Judge Arbour. "This is an environment where we often live on adrenaline."

The 52-year-old francophone, who has spent recent months trying to investigate the slaughter of ethnic Albanians, rejects the proposition that wading through cases dealing with such things as fishing rights will pale in comparison.

"The Supreme Court of Canada is not exactly a small stage, and I don't think that any of the issues that come before the Supreme Court are trivial."

Her quick appointment only a week after Judge Cory's retirement was a relief to Chief Justice Antonio Lamer, who had been worried that Jean Chretien, the Prime Minister, would leave the ninth seat on the court empty for several months, giving Judge Arbour more time to wrap up her tribunal duties.

"I'm very pleased that the prime minister made the appointment quickly," Judge Lamer said in a statement yesterday. He had called Judge Arbour earlier in the day to congratulate her.

Judge Arbour, 52, was born and educated in Montreal, but spent most of her legal career in Toronto, where she taught at Osgoode Hall Law School and served on the Ontario Supreme Court for three years before she was appointed to the Ontario Court of Appeal in 1990.

She left in 1996 to take the prestigious war crimes posting, which was to expire in August, 2000. Yesterday, she said that an early departure makes no difference because she would have left unfinished files even if she finished out her stint.

There was no word yesterday on her successor and Foreign Affairs officials said it could take months for the United Nations Security Council to make its decision.

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