The unique perspective of Michelle O'Bonsawin, the first Indigenous person on the Supreme Court

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The Unique Perspective of Michelle O’Bonsawin, the First Indigenous to the Supreme Court

< p class="styled__StyledLegend-sc-v64krj-0 cfqhYM">Justice Michelle O'Bonsawin is the first Indigenous person to serve on the Supreme Court of Canada.

It took a long time for the Supreme Court of Canada to make room for a member of the first peoples. On September 1, Michelle O'Bonsawin made history by becoming the first Indigenous person to hold one of nine seats on the 147-year-old highest court in the country.

We were here thousands of years ago. It's really important that we have a voice in Canada, said Justice O'Bonsawin in an interview with Behind the scenes. The jurist also brings the unique point of view of a Franco-Ontarian from the Abenaki community of Odanak.

The one who dreamed of being part of the Canadian legal circle said she was surprised when she received the call from the Prime Minister's Office. You hope so! You wish! It's a number I didn't recognize. I took the call. […] I was super excited.

“J 'was super excited,' Ms. O'Bonsawin said following the call from Prime Minister Justin Trudeau's office.

The 48-year-old judge, however, faced criticism from those who felt that her five years on the Ontario Superior Court did not make her a sufficiently experienced candidate. In this regard, she followed the advice of her mentor, the former Manitoba judge and president of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission.

The Honorable Murray Sinclair told me, ''Michelle, there is going to be criticism. It's normal, it happens all the time. Don't read all the reviews.'' I took his advice.

Justice O’Bonsawin is now familiarizing herself with the dynamics of the Supreme Court. She believes that she will be able to use her expertise in mental health and her knowledge of the Gladue case. This ruling from the highest court in the land in 1999 advised lower courts to consider systemic factors and an Aboriginal offender's background when determining sentencing.

Judge O'Bonsawin wishes to raise public and legal awareness of the high rate of Aboriginal people in federal prisons.

Moreover, she wants to raise awareness among the public and legal experts about the high rate of Aboriginal people in federal prisons. A study released last December by the Correctional Investigator of Canada revealed that Aboriginal people represent 32% of inmates in federal detention centers, while they constitute only 5% of the Canadian population.

It goes without saying that Ms. O'Bonsawin's appointment brings joy to her community of Odanak. Chief Richard O'Bomsawin attended his swearing-in. The judge was also touched by the welcome from her peers during her visit to the meeting of the Indigenous Bar Association.

“I felt […] the pride of all the lawyers and jurists who are part of this association. It was really something. A warm welcome.

— Michelle O'Bonsawin, Justice of the Supreme Court of Canada

The judge is also proud of her Franco-Ontarian roots. She grew up in Hanmer, a municipality of 6000 inhabitants. She studied in French and speaks it at home with her husband and children.

I have always believed that bilingualism was very important. To be able to express themselves in the language of their choice, in French or in English, which are the official languages ​​of Canada. Me, it has helped me throughout my career.

Michelle O'Bonsawin will be able to practice at the Supreme Court of Canada until she reaches the retirement age, set at 75 years. Her first challenge, she says, will be adapting to the pace of the court.

I have to be patient, she said. A decision that I would have made in a few months at the Superior Court, here at the Supreme Court, it can take up to a year. Still, it's something unique that you don't necessarily see in other courts.

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