Monday, June 22, 2020

Justice Abella

Supreme Court Justice Rosalie Abella on stage at the Jackman Law Building, October 2019 (photo by Nick Iwanyshyn / U of T)

Supreme Court Justice Rosalie Silberman Abella (LLB 1970), a champion of human rights and social justice, has been honoured with Germany’s Commander’s Cross of the Order of Merit (with badge and star).

Awarded by Germany's President Frank-Walter Steinmeier, the Commander's Cross is the country’s second-highest honour, with the first category reserved for heads of state.

Read the Globe and Mail 

Her parents survived the Holocaust. Justice Abella was born, in 1946, in a Displaced Persons camp in Germany Stuttgart, Germany, and came to Canada as a refugee in 1950. She graduated from University College in 1967 and received her law degree from the Faculty of Law 1970. She practised civil and criminal law before her judicial appointment to the Family Court at the age of 29. She was named to the Ontario Court of Appeal in 1992, and was appointed to the Supreme Court in 2004. She is the longest-serving current member of the Supreme Court.

Her father, who had trained as a lawyer in Poland, was barred from working in his profession when Germany invaded. He could not practise when he arrived in Canada, because he was not yet a citizen. This motivated her, at the young age of four, to become a lawyer.

What a remarkably lucky life’s journey I’ve had,” she told The Globe and Mail. “How lucky I was to be able to grow up in Canada, which opened its doors to who I wanted to be, and who I became.

“And then to find that at the end of my professional life, Germany’s generosity closed the circle. It overwhelmed me. All of the history came rushing through. The improbability of it. The extraordinary way in which our two countries have changed over the years, how open they have become, and how I was the beneficiary of that openness."

Justice Abella is also credited with coordinating visits between Germany’s Constitutional Court and the Supreme Court of Canada.

In 2019, Justice Abella was presented with the University of Toronto's Rose Wolfe Distinguished Alumni Award

With files from the Globe and Mail and the University of Toronto