National Post

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Tuesday, September 14, 1999

Arbour starts Supreme Court job early
Elena Cherney and Campbell Clark
National Post

(Louise) Arbour

Louise Arbour, Canada's newest Supreme Court justice, does not officially report for duty until tomorrow, but she has already started work.

Judge Arbour has been at her Supreme Court chambers "on and off" since arriving in Ottawa 10 days ago, and has already met her new staff of five and been shown around the court.

Judge Arbour returned to Canada earlier this month from The Hague, where she has served as chief prosecutor of the United Nations War Crimes Tribunal since 1996. Her new job will involve less running around and more "reflection," a change that Judge Arbour -- whose work on the War Crimes Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia led her to visit mass graves in Rwanda and Bosnia -- welcomes, she said yesterday.

"I think it will be an environment that is less focused on action and perhaps a little more focused on reflection, which suits me very well," Judge Arbour told reporters at a press conference in Montreal, where she was scheduled to give a speech last night on understanding different ethnic groups and the causes of genocide.

But Judge Arbour bristled when a reporter referred to the top court as an "ivory tower."

"I find it pretty surprising that people have a perception of life on the Supreme Court as either an early retirement or a sinecure," she said. "I never had that impression."

She appears determined to be a hard-working justice, coming to the office instead of using vacation time to settle in. She has arranged her things and chosen office furniture. Until it arrives, she will use some furniture left by Mr. Justice Peter Cory.

Judge Arbour refused yesterday to step into the debate over judicial activism and the role of Canadian judges. Asked whether she plans to speak on various issues outside the Supreme Court, Judge Arbour replied: "Judges have a lot of room to express themselves within the context of a question that they don't raise, that is raised before them. Should it expand to other forms? Well, I'll cross that bridge when I get there."

Judge Arbour will wrap up her mandate on the War Crimes Tribunals for Rwanda and the former Yugoslavia today by briefing the UN Security Council. Tomorrow morning, she will return for her official first day of work, which will include a short swearing-in ceremony in the chambers of Chief Justice Antonio Lamer.

Judge Lamer, a former professor and mentor of Judge Arbour's from her days as a law student at the Universite de Montreal, will administer the oath for Supreme Court justices. The brief ceremony is so low key that Judge Arbour is not expected to bring any family or friends.

Judge Arbour will make her public debut as a Supreme Court justice on Oct. 4, the eve of the new court session, when she is formally presented to the attorney-general of Ontario, the president of the Canadian Bar Association, and a representative of the federal government in the courtroom.

Members of the public are invited, although places may be limited due to invited guests. A brief reception and a black-tie dinner follow.


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