Toronto Star

Friday, June 11, 1999

Judge Arbour

Toronto Star

Louise Arbour is the kind of judge Canada needs on its Supreme Court.

No only does she have impressive legal credentials, a quick mind and an innate sense of fairness. She has life experience that few judges can match.

As chief war crimes prosecutor for the United Nations, Arbour has seen the horrors of ethnic cleansing and tribal slaughter with her own eyes. She has stood up to war criminals and meddlesome diplomats. She has taken international law to the worst places in the world.

Arbour's appointment yesterday was neither surprising nor controversial. Quite simply, no one could think of a better candidate.

The only uncertainty was whether she would leave her high-profile job in The Hague a year before her mandate expired. But the indictment of Yugoslav President Solobodan Milosevic, last month, and the signing of a agreement to end the 11-week war in Kosovo made it a natural time for Arbour to wind up her term. She joins the Supreme Court on Sept. 15.

Arbour, 52, will become the third woman on the court's nine-member bench. She is Prime Minister Jean's Chrétien's first female Supreme Court appointment.

She is fluently bilingual, a criminal law specialist trained in civil law, who has worked in both academia and the judiciary. After teaching for 17 years at Osgoode Hall, she was appointed to the Supreme Court of Ontario, then the Court of Appeal for Ontario.

Athough she is a passionate defender of human rights, Arbour has clashed on occasion with feminists and social activists. Colleagues say she will not sacrifice her legal principles, to keep fair-weather friends.

But she has spoken out eloquently in the courts for prisoners, the disabled and youthful first offenders. She headed a federal inquiry into conditions at the Kingston Prison for Women, which she described as a ``dysfunctional labyrinth of of claustrophobic and inadequate spaces.'' Her report led to a major shakeup of Canada's corrections system.

Arbour does not fit the stereotype of a dour, bookish judge. She has a lively sense of humour and a wide circle of friends.

She has not always lived a life of privilege. She was raised by a single mother who ran a small shop in Montreal. She is a mother, a legal scholar, a teacher and a judge.

A generation ago, the Supreme Court's job was simply to interpret the law. Today, the role of judges has changed, thanks to the 1982 Charter of Rights. The court now strikes down discriminatory laws and forces legislators to deliver rights and freedoms guaranteed in the charter.

Arbour is ideally suited for the task.

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