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Honorary degree citation - Rosalie Silberman Abella

By: Rose Sheinin, June 1991

Mr. Chancellor, I am honoured to present to you Rosalie Silberman Abella, a treasured friend, who does indeed lead me into paths of righteousness. She has transformed the legal landscape of our country in many ways, but most particularly in the domains of human rights, justice and equality in and before the law. In doing so, she has made it possible for all Canadian citizens to enter into the covenant of the just, in making our country a just society for all. It is Rosalie Abella who transformed our language and our culture of justice and equality, as a basis for our moving to a higher level of humanity and in the development and implementation of ethical and moral values.

Dès le moment de sa naissance à Stuttgart, en Allemagne, le 1er juillet 1946, Rosalie Silberman Abella était destinée à transformer la vie des Canadiens et des Canadiennes. En ce jour de notre Fête nationale, quel beau cadeau nous était fait, un an après la plus horrible guerre que nous ayons connue, nous tous, et surtout le peuple juif.

Dr. Abella began her professional life by obtaining her ARCT diploma in piano performance in 1964. Thereafter she devoted her life, both personal and public, to the law. She obtained her LL.B. at the Law School of the University of Toronto in 1970, and was admitted to the Ontario Bar in 1972. After four years in private practice, she began to wend her public way, from the war, the hatred, intolerance and strife of Nazi Germany, towards her destiny. We are indeed fortunate that her destiny has been played out in Canada.

Rosalie's first stop on this important journey appears to have been as Supervisor of the Parkdale Legal Community Services, a storefront legal clinic of great renown in Toronto. She then proceeded to a three year sojourn as an executive member of the National Action Committee on the Status of Women. Clearly she was moving from one disadvantaged group to another, attempting to sort out the legal system in terms of the justice it provided them. It seemed obvious to move on to be a Commissioner of the Ontario Human Rights Commission, a member of the Ontario Public Service Labour Relations Tribunal, and a Judge of the Family Division of the Ontario Provincial Court, all in the same five year interval. At the same time Rosalie was a member of the Advisory Committee on Confederation to the Premier of Ontario. Thereafter, she was Chair of a Study on Access to Legal Services for the Disabled, for the Attorney General of Ontario. Since 1982, Rosie has sat as a Director of the Canadian Institute for the Administration of Justice, and on the Canadian Section of the International Commission of Jurists. From 1987, she has been a Director of the Canadian Council of Christians and Jews and a member of the Advisory Board to the Centre for Research on Public Law and Public Policy of Osgoode Hall Law School.

In 1983, Rosalie undertook the job for which all of us here will know her best. You may not know that you know her, but you do. Rosalie Abella was named the sole Commissioner of the Royal Commission of Canada on Equality in Employment. It was Rosalie who discovered that although Canadians could not sleep easily with the concept of affirmative action, they could at least dream the thought of employment equity. It was she who, in the writing of her report, held up a very sharp mirror to Canadians, and suggested that they could have a close look to see whether or not we were totally pleased with our image of ourselves as protectors of justice and equality for all. She told us gently, but firmly, that we had better get our collective act together and we have been running to catch up with her ever since.

During 1984-89, Rosalie Abella was Chair of the Labour Relations Board of Ontario, and in 1989, she became Chair of the Ontario Law Reform Commission. She also became a Senior Fellow of Massey College at the University of Toronto, one of many, many honours awarded this very distinguished and dedicated Canadian.

Lest you thought that Rosalie was frittering away her time, let me point out that throughout her professional lifetime, she has written prolifically of and on the law. She has contributed to the teaching of the law both within and outside of the university setting. Indeed, since 1989, she has moved on the navette between Toronto and Montréal to fulfil her duties as the Maxwell Boulton Visiting Professor in the Faculty of Law at McGill University, teaching Administrative Law, Jurisprudence and the Charter of Rights and Freedoms.

J’ai malheureusement déjà dépassé les quelques minutes qui m’étaient acccordées pour présenter une femme que j’admire profondément et que j’ai le privilège de compter parmi mes amis. Je n’ai pas eu le temps, et je le regrette, d’évoquer la profondeur de ses engagements. Dans tous ses combats, dans toutes ses paroles, Rosalie Abella a apporté à la société canadienne, fondée sur le multiculturalisme, une compréhension accrue des concepts fondamentaux des droits humains, de la justice et de l’égalité. Cette contribution capitale promet à chacun et à chacune de nous un accès égal à ce merveilleux pays qui est le nôtre, avec les devoirs qu’il nous impose et les privilèges qu’il nous accorde.

Mr. Chancellor, it is a privilege to present to you, on behalf of the Senate and by the authority of the Board of Governors, Rosalie Silberman Abella, that you may confer on her the degree of Doctor of Laws, honoris causa.

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