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Honorary degree citation - Claire L'Heureux-Dubé

By: Marcel Danis, November 2001

Mr. Chancellor, I have the honour to present to you the Honorable Claire L'Heureux-Dubé, Justice of the Supreme Court of Canada, and a leading thinker in family law and social justice.

The longest-serving judge on Canada's highest court, Justice L'Heureux-Dubé is a legal trailblazer and unwavering defender of the Charter rights of women, children, aboriginals and minority groups. After earning a Bachelor of Arts from Collège Notre-Dame de Bellevue in Quebec City, Claire L'Heureux graduated cum laude from the law school at Université Laval in 1951, during the first decade that women in Quebec were allowed to practice law. She was called to the Quebec Bar the following year, and spent more than 15 years building a practice as a divorce lawyer. With her husband Dr. Arthur Dubé, she had two children, Louise and Pierre. She was a Counsellor of the Quebec Bar from 1968 to 1970, and a Quebec Bar lecturer in family law from 1970 to 1973.

In 1973, Justice L'Heureux-Dubé was one of the first women appointed to the Superior Court of Quebec. During her tenure, she served on the Royal Commission of Inquiries relating to the Department of Manpower and Immigration, and headed the Family Law Committee and Family Court Committee of the Quebec Civil Code Revision Office. She contributed significantly to the province's progression towards jurisprudence rooted in the concepts of equality and social justice. She was appointed to the Quebec Court of Appeal in 1979, and the Supreme Court of Canada in 1987.

Among many accomplishments over the course of her career, Justice L'Heureux-Dubé has imparted pioneering judgements on the definition of "equality" in the Charter. She has been credited with leading the Supreme Court in its rejection of a technical and formalistic definition, in favour of a substantive and contextual definition. In this way, Justice L'Heureux-Dubé has bestowed an important legacy to Canadian law, a reshaping of the definition of equality that aims to enfranchise all members of contemporary society and render justice with empathy.

A member of the Canadian Bar Association and the Canadian Institute for the Administration of Justice, she has also been active in the International Society on Family Law, the National Council of the Canadian Human Rights Foundation, and the International Academia of Comparative Law. In 1998 she was president of the International Commission of Jurists, in Geneva.

In addition to numerous honorary degrees and awards, she has received medals from the Montreal and Quebec Bars, the International Year of the Family Medal in Quebec, and the 1997 Prix de la Justice.

Justice L'Heureux-Dubé has been called the most liberal-minded judge ever appointed to the Supreme Court. She is labelled by some as a "feminist" or "activist" judge. However, it is most important to think beyond labels. Claire L'Heureux-Dubé's long and distinguished legal career speaks for itself and the strong beliefs she holds.

She has become known as a frequent, and sometimes sole, dissenting voice on the bench. She has worked to render justice with a recognition of our ever-changing social context and with a respect for differences. At times this has meant controversial judgements in cases involving the rights of women, children, aboriginals and minority groups such as immigrants, the disabled, and gays and lesbians. Justice L'Heureux-Dubé has consistently demonstrated a strong sense of compassion in her judgements, and careful consideration to balancing the rights of all Canadians.

Her judicial insights are an exceptional contribution to a modern definition of "equality" in the country's highest court, and surely the foundation for a Canadian society in the new century that is truly egalitarian. Her determination, strong work ethic, will to succeed, and desire for social justice, are inspiration for all.

Mr. Chancellor, on behalf of Senate and the Board of Governors, it is my privilege and an honour to present to you, the Honorable Claire L'Heureux-Dubé, so that you may confer upon her the degree of Doctor of Laws, honoris causa.

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