Supreme Court Season 2: Season of the SCC: Part 2

Ritchie CJ, Sedgewick J, Duff CJ, Estey J, Nolan J, Martland J, Wilson J, Iacobucci J, Abella J

Ritchie CJ, Sedgewick J, Duff CJ, Estey J, Nolan J, Martland J, Wilson J, Iacobucci J, Abella J


The second justice Alexander Mackenzie appointed on Sept. 30, 1875 was The Hon. Sir William Johnstone Ritchie PC Kt. (1813-1892). Ritchie was born in Annapolis, NS. He graduated from the Pictou Academy (which was downgraded from a college to a high school in 1842), went to study law in Halifax, was called to the bar of Nova Scotia in 1837, moved to Saint John, NB, and called to the Bar of New Brunswick in 1838. He served in the Legislative Assembly of New Brunswick from 1846 to 1851 and 1854 to 1855. In 1855 he left politics to accept an appointment to the Supreme Court of New Brunswick, and was named Chief Justice of New Brunswick in 1865, serving until joining the Supreme Court. He became the Chief Justice on Jan. 11, 1879. He served on the Supreme Court for 17 years until he died on Sept. 25, 1892; until Beverly McLachlin surpassed him, he was Canada’s longest-serving Chief Justice.

Sir John Thompson, who was Prime Minister for barely two years, appointed Robert Sedgewick (1848-1906) to the Court on Feb. 18, 1893. Born in Aberdeen, Sedgewick came to Nova Scotia while still a tiny baby, and graduated from Dalhousie in 1867. He moved to Ontario, articled in Cornwall, passed the Ontario bar in 1872, then returned to Halifax and passed the bar there the next year.Thompson, who was then Minister of Justice, appointed Sedgewick as his Deputy Minister in 1888; together, they wrote most of the Criminal Code of Canada. Sedgewick died in office on Aug. 4, 1906.

The Rt. Hon. Sir Lyman Poore Duff GCMG PC (1865-1955) was appointed to the Court on Sept. 27, 1906, beginning a 37-year tenure on the Court – the longest in its history.

Sir Lyman was born in Meaford, ON, attended the University of Toronto, earning degrees in math and law. He taught math at a high school in Barrie until he passed the bar in 1893 and set up practice in Fergus for a year, then he moved to Victoria, BC, in 1894 and was called to the bar of British Columbia in 1895. In 1903, he was selected to serve as a junior counsel for Canada before the Alaskan Boundary Commission in London, England. He was appointed to the Supreme Court of British Columbia in 1904 and to the Supreme Court of Canada two years later.

On March 17, 1933, Sir Lyman was named by R.B. Bennett as Chief Justice of Canada. The most important case of his Court was 1938’s Reference re Alberta Statutes, a.k.a. the “Alberta Press Case”, which struck down an Alberta law attempting to regulate the freedom of the press. His Court also defined Inuit as one of the First Nations in 1939’s Re Eskimos. He retired on Jan. 7, 1944, and died in 1955 at the age of 90.

James Wilfred Estey (1889-1956) was appointed to the Supreme Court on Oct. 6, 1944. Born in Keswick Ridge, NB, “Bill” Estey graduated from UNB in 1910 and earned a Bachelor of Law degree from Harvard in 1915. He then moved to Saskatchewan and passed the bar in 1917, practicing law as a Crown prosecutor until 1929. He also taught law and economics at the University of Saskatchewan. He was a Liberal MLA from 1934 to 1944; From 1934 to 1941, he was the Saskatchewan Minister of Education, and from 1939 to 1944 was the Attorney General of Saskatchewan. He was appointed to the Supreme Court of Canada in 1944 and served until his death in Jan. 22, 1956. His son, Willard Z. Estey, was also a justice of the Supreme Court of Canada.

Mar. 1, 1956 saw Louis St.-Laurent appoint Brig. Henry Grattan Nolan CBE MC (1893–1957) to the Court. Nolan was born in Calgary, earned a BA from U of A, signed up for the Great War, was wounded at Cambrai, received the Military Cross, won a Rhodes Scholarship, earned a BA from Oxford, came home to Calgary, and passed the bar of Alberta in 1922. During World War II, he signed up as a JAG with the Canadian Army and was made a Brigadier. From 1945 to 1948, he was a prosecutor before the International Military Tribunal for the Far East at Tokyo. He was made a Commander of the Order of the British Empire in 1946. He then returned to private practice from 1948 to 1956. Nolan died in office on July 8, 1957.

Ronald Martland CC (1907-1997) was appointed by John Diefenbaker to the SCC on Jan. 15, 1958. Born in Liverpool, he came to Canada at four and settled near Edmonton. He earned two bachelor’s degrees from U of A, won a Rhodes scholarship, and earned two bachelor’s degrees from Oxford. He was called to the bar of Alberta in 1932 and practiced law in Edmonton until he was appointed to the Court. In 1973, Pierre Trudeau caused controversy when he passed over Martland, the senior judge at the time, and appointed Bora Laskin as Chief Justice, only the third time ever that the senior justice wasn’t elevated to Chief Justice. Martland retired on Feb. 10, 1982, and died in the fall of 1997.

Bertha Wilson CC (1923-2007) was appointed to the bench on March 4, 1982 – the first female justice of the Supreme Court.

Born Bertha Wernham in Kirkcaldy, Scotland, she graduated from the University of Aberdeen in 1944 and from the Training College for Teachers in Aberdeen in 1945, the year she married the Rev. John Wilson; they immigrated to Canada in 1949. Bertha Wilson then earned a law degree from Dalhousie and was called to the bar of Nova Scotia in 1958. She moved to Toronto the next year and practiced privately until she was appointed to the Ontario Court of Appeal in 1975, where she sat until joining the SCC.

Wilson wrote the majority decision for 1985’s Singh v. Minister of Employment and Immigration, which found the Charter’s rights also apply to foreign nationals, 1986’s Clarkson v. R., which stated that a person accused of a crime who wishes to waive their right to counsel must be advised of the consequences, and 1990’s R. v. Lavallee, her most famous decision, which gave legal recognition to battered woman syndrome. Wilson retired on Jan. 4, 1991, and died of Alzheimer’s in April 2007.

Frank Iacobucci CC (1937-now) was appointed to the Supreme Court by Brian Mulroney on Jan. 7, 1991. Born in Vancouver to Italian immigrants, Iacobucci went to UBC and Cambridge and practiced corporate law in New York before working at U of T from 1967 to 1985, serving as a professor, then Dean of Law, and finally Provost. Iacobucci was then Deputy Minister of Justice from 1985 to 1988 and Chief Justice of the Federal Court of Canada from 1988 to 1991.

Iacobucci retired from the Court on June 30, 2004. Since then, he has served on a number of corporate and university boards of directors. He also chaired the selection committee for the members of the Indian Residential Schools Truth and Reconciliation Commission in 2008.

Rosalie Abella (1946-now) was appointed to the Supreme Court by Paul Martin on Oct. 4, 2004. Born Rosalie Silberman in a displaced persons camp in Stuttgart, she moved to Canada in 1950 and proved to be a musical prodigy, graduating from the Royal Conservatory of Music in classical piano. She went to U of T, where she married Irving Abella in 1968 (who is now a professor of Jewish studies at York University) and passed the Ontario bar in 1970. In 1976 she became the youngest judge in Canadian history when she was appointed to the Ontario Family Court at the age of 29. She was appointed to the Ontario Court of Appeal in 1992. Abella is an expert in human rights law.


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