Toronto Star

Friday, June 11, 1999

Arbour quits U.N. to join Supreme Court

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CP FILE PHOTO
JUSTICE FOR ALL: Louise Arbour fills vacancy left by Justice Peter Cory.

War crimes chief probed Rwanda and Yugoslavia

By Laura Eggertson
Toronto Star Ottawa Bureau

OTTAWA - Louise Arbour, the international war crimes prosecutor who indicted Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic, was named yesterday as Canada's new Supreme Court justice.

Arbour, 52, has spent the last 2 1/2 years as chief prosecutor at the United Nations war crimes tribunals for the former Yugoslavia and Rwanda, chasing some of the most notorious figures of the 1990s.

She will take up her new post Sept. 15, despite the year remaining in her term on the war crimes tribunal.

``Her record speaks for itself,'' Justice Minister Anne McLellan said in making public the long-rumoured appointment.

``It's an outstanding appointment. She is a woman of brilliance, integrity - she is a woman who has dealt with some of the most difficult and challenging issues of our modern time.''

Arbour, who is still at the tribunal in The Hague, fills a spot vacated by Mr. Justice Peter Cory's retirement.

The straight-talking francophone will be the third female justice sitting on the top court. She joins Justices Claire l'Heureux-Dubé and Beverly McLachlin. Former Justice Bertha Wilson in 1982 was the first woman to be appointed.

But she was appointed for her distinguished record as a judge and law professor, not her gender, the justice minister said.

``First and foremost, merit is the quality, merit is the characteristic that determines whether someone is recommended for the Supreme Court,'' said McLellan.

Earlier this year, Arbour indicated she would be receptive to the Supreme Court appointment because three years on the political hot-seat in the demanding international job was enough.

By charging the Yugoslav president with war crimes last week, Arbour made history and boosted the credibility of the tribunal.

Her predecessor, South Africa's Richard Goldstone, criticized the slowness of the tribunal's process and said Arbour was inheriting a tough job.

``Madame Justice Arbour, on behalf of the international community, sent the strongest signal anyone could have last week,'' the justice minister said.

McLellan denied the appointment it will harm efforts to bring Milosevic to trial.

``There will be continuity,'' said the minister, who appeared to suggest Canada will nominate another Canadian to the tribunal.

One lawyer touted as a replacement for Arbour was William Schabas, a professor of international human rights law and criminal law at the University of Quebec in Montreal.

Schabas said his name has been put forward as a candidate for the post, but he hasn't been officially approached.

Arbour's qualifications were praised even by the opposition, although the timing of the appointment was not.

``She's a very qualified judge,'' said Reform critic John Reynolds (West Vancouver-Sunshine Coast).

``My major concern would be what she's just done with Milosevic,'' Reynolds said. ``Taking her away from that I think is poor timing.''

Arbour first won public acclaim in 1996, when she ran an inquiry into human rights abuses at the Kingston Prison for Women while serving on the Ontario Court of Appeal.

Her conclusion that Canada's correctional service routinely denied inmates their human rights led to the resignation of the Corrections Canada commissioner.

Arbour has been dogged in her pursuit of war criminals and in publicizing Milosevic's lack of co-operation with the tribunal.

In January, she was turned away at the border in her attempt to reach the Kosovo village of Racak to investigate the murder of civilians.

Arbour also investigated atrocities in Rwanda and has spoken out against ethnic cleansing and the use of rape as a weapon of war.

She has called on Canada to push for the creation of a permanent international war crimes court.

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