“One, It’s not just what you stand for, it’s what you stand up for. Two, indifference is injustice’s incubator. Three, you can’t forget what the world looks like for those who are vulnerable.”
Supreme Court of Canada Justice Rosalie Silberman Abella spoke to Osgoode Hall law students and faculty on September 14, 2016 in an event sponsored by Pro Bono Students Canada (PBSC). Her remarks, including the excerpt outlined above, stressed the need for a “procedural revolution” in the Canadian justice system. Justice Abella underscored her desire to see a system that strives for accessible legal representation and accessible justice processes, and she was quick to identify PBSC in the discussion: “I think Pro Bono Students Canada is part of the answer.”
Justice Abella noted that students and lawyers must listen to people struggling with the inaccessibility of the system and attempt to find ways to change it in interesting and incremental ways. Justice Abella remarked, “the movement for change is coming from the public,” and lawyers must decide which side they are on: the one fighting change or the one embracing it.
Justice Abella received a warm introduction by Dean Sossin, and welcomed student questions in an open-mike format. In an afternoon full of poignant and humorous moments, Justice Abella also took the time to share some personal reflections about bedrock moments in her life, including the decision to become a lawyer at a very young age after learning that her father was denied that right because he was not a Canadian Citizen. Justice Abella charted her own course, whether sitting in a law class amidst a sea of men or walking into corporate firm interviews sporting a trendy but non-traditional wardrobe, knowing full well that eventually she’d find the right job for her.
One of the most powerful aspects of Justice Abella’s talk was in recounting her role in Andrews v. Law Society of British Columbia. In Andrews, the Supreme Court of Canada used the definition of equality Justice Abella had developed in the report for the 1983 Royal Commission on Equality in Employment. In using her definition, the Court struck down the very law that had prevented Justice Abella’s father from becoming a lawyer because of his citizenship status all those years ago.
All in all, Justice Abella’s talk can be summed up in one of her comments, “is there a part of life that doesn’t require humanity?”