Rosalie Abella

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Rosalie Silberman Abella
Puisne Justice of the Supreme Court of Canada
In office
October 4, 2004 – July 1, 2021
Nominated byPaul Martin
Preceded byFrank Iacobucci / Louise Arbour
Succeeded byMahmud Jamal
Personal details
Born (1946-07-01) July 1, 1946 (age 77)
Stuttgart, Germany
Spouse(s)Irving Abella
(1968–2022, his death)[1]
EducationUniversity of Toronto (BA, LLB)

Rosalie Silberman Abella FRSC (born July 1, 1946) is a Canadian jurist. In 2004, Abella was appointed to the Supreme Court of Canada, becoming the first Jewish woman and refugee to sit on the Canadian Supreme Court bench.[2] She retired from the federal bench in 2021.

Early life and education[edit]

Rosalie Silberman Abella was born on July 1, 1946, the daughter of Jacob and Fanny (Krongold) Silberman.[3][4] She was born in a displaced persons camp in Stuttgart, Germany. Her father was born in Sienno, Poland, in 1910,[5] while her mother was born in Ostrowiec in 1917.[6] Abella's older brother was murdered in the Holocaust. Her parents both survived, Jacob Silberman was liberated from Theresienstadt Concentration Camp, Fanny Silberman survived Buchenwald Concentration Camp. Jacob had studied law at the Jagiellonian University in Kraków and was appointed head of legal services for displaced persons in the US Zone of Southwest Germany.[7][8][3] In 1950, her family was admitted into Canada, though Jacob Silberman was not allowed to practise law because he was not a citizen.[3][9]

From a young age, Abella was determined to become a lawyer.[3][10] She attended Oakwood Collegiate Institute and Bathurst Heights Secondary School in Toronto, Ontario.[11] She then attended the University of Toronto, where she earned a B.A. in 1967 and an LL.B. in 1970.[2] In 1964, Abella graduated from the Royal Conservatory of Music in classical piano.[2]


Abella was called to the Ontario bar in 1972.[12] She practised civil and criminal litigation until 1976, when, at the age of 29, she was appointed to the Ontario Family Court (which is now part of the Ontario Court of Justice) by then–attorney general Roy McMurtry,[13] becoming both the youngest and first pregnant judge in Canadian history.[14] She was appointed to the Ontario Court of Appeal in 1992.[12]

In 1983–1984, Abella served as the sole commissioner of the federal Royal Commission on Equality in Employment (known as the Abella commission), appointed by Lloyd Axworthy.[13] As commissioner, she coined the term and concept of "employment equity",[4] a strategy for reducing barriers in employment faced by women, visible minorities, people with disabilities, and Aboriginal peoples.[12][2] The theories of equality and discrimination developed in the report were adopted in Andrews v Law Society of British Columbia (1989), the Supreme Court of Canada's first decision regarding equality rights under the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms.[2] Its recommendations report was also adopted by jurisdictions including New Zealand, South Africa, and Northern Ireland.[12]

In 1988, Abella moderated the televised English-language leaders' debate between Brian Mulroney (PC), John Turner (Liberal) and Ed Broadbent (NDP).[2]

Abella has acted as chair of the Ontario Labour Relations Board, the Ontario Study into Access to Legal Services by the Disabled and the Ontario Law Reform Commission, and as a member of the Ontario Human Rights Commission and of the judicial inquiry into the Donald Marshall, Jr. case. From 1988 to 1992, she taught at McGill University Faculty of Law as the Boulton Visiting Professor.[2][15]

In 2004, Prime Minister Paul Martin appointed Abella to the Supreme Court of Canada. Abella became the first Jewish woman to sit on the court.[16] She was eligible to serve on the Supreme Court until July 1, 2021, when she turned 75.[17] In February 2021, she announced that she would retire on that date, and Prime Minister Justin Trudeau started the selection process of a new justice who would succeed her.[18] Mahmud Jamal was selected as her replacement, and assumed office on July 1, 2021. Following her retirement from the Supreme Court, Abella has served as a visiting professor at Fordham University School of Law and Harvard Law School.[19][20]

Abella is an authority on constitutional law and human rights law. Her opinions often cite foreign and international law.[4] According to Sian Elias, they are regarded as authoritative by judges in many common law countries.[9]

Honours and personal life[edit]

Abella has received at least 38 honorary degrees.[21] On June 7, 2023, she was awarded an Honorary Doctor of Laws from the University of Saskatchewan. She became a fellow of the Royal Society of Canada in 1997.[2] She was awarded the Canadian version of the Queen Elizabeth II Golden Jubilee Medal in 2002.[22] She was elected a foreign honorary member of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences in 2007.[23] In 2012 she was awarded the Canadian version of the Queen Elizabeth II Diamond Jubilee Medal.[24] In May 2016, she was awarded an honorary degree from Yale University,[25] becoming the first Canadian woman to earn such an honour.[12] In addition, she has been a judge of the Giller Prize. In January 2017, Northwestern Pritzker School of Law's Center for International Human Rights named her the Global Jurist of the Year for 2016 in recognition of her commitment to human rights and international criminal justice.[26] In April 2018, Abella was elected a member of the American Philosophical Society.[27]

Abella is the widow of historian Irving Abella,[12] and has two sons.

Without Precedent: The Supreme Life of Rosalie Abella, a documentary film about Abella by director Barry Avrich, is slated to premiere May 1, 2023 at the Hot Docs Canadian International Documentary Festival.[28]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ "Obituary: Irving Abella, 82, was a Canadian historian who revealed why Canada kept Jews out during the Holocaust". July 4, 2022.
  2. ^ a b c d e f g h "The Honourable Rosalie Silberman Abella". Supreme Court of Canada. February 3, 2021. Archived from the original on October 22, 2018. Retrieved May 13, 2021.
  3. ^ a b c d Abella, Irving. "Rosalie Silberman Abella". Jewish Women's Archive. Archived from the original on October 12, 2016. Retrieved January 20, 2020.
  4. ^ a b c MacCharles, Tonda (March 7, 2021). "Supreme Court's Rosalie Abella prepares to retire as her legacy of defining equality seems built to last". Toronto Star. Archived from the original on March 13, 2021. Retrieved May 13, 2021.
  5. ^ Nurse, Donna Bailey (December 20, 2005). "Just 'Rosie'". University of Toronto Magazine. Retrieved September 26, 2021.
  6. ^ Posner, Michael (March 4, 2010). "Surviving the Nazis helped make Fanny Silberman unstoppable". The Globe and Mail. Retrieved September 26, 2021.
  7. ^ "Rosalie Silberman Abella". Jewish Women's Archive.
  8. ^ Text of a speech given by Justice Abella to the Empire Club in Toronto on February 9, 2011, entitled "The World is not Unfolding as it Should: International Justice in Crisis", "Archived copy". Archived from the original on September 13, 2011. Retrieved February 4, 2013.{{cite web}}: CS1 maint: archived copy as title (link).
  9. ^ a b Fine, Sean (June 26, 2021). "How Rosalie Abella's personal history shaped her legal legacy". The Globe and Mail. Retrieved September 24, 2021.
  10. ^ "Watch the Powerful Yale Graduation Address of the First Jewish Woman to Serve on Canada's Supreme Court". Tablet Magazine. June 16, 2016. Archived from the original on January 9, 2018. Retrieved January 20, 2020.
  11. ^ Nurse, Donna Bailey (2006). "Just "Rosie"". U of T Magazine. Archived from the original on October 3, 2018. Retrieved January 2, 2016.
  12. ^ a b c d e f Knelman, Martin (May 23, 2016). "Justice Rosalie Abella first Canadian woman to receive honorary Yale degree". Toronto Star. Archived from the original on October 2, 2016. Retrieved September 30, 2016.
  13. ^ a b Wells, Paul (June 15, 2021). "Rosie Abella said she'd answer questions when she turned 75". Maclean's. Retrieved September 25, 2021.
  14. ^ "The newest justices". CBC News. February 24, 2006. Archived from the original on August 31, 2004. Retrieved October 8, 2007.
  15. ^ Walker, James (2008). "Rosalie Silberman Abella". Jewish Virtual Library. Archived from the original on December 23, 2020. Retrieved May 13, 2021.
  16. ^ "How Justice Rosalie Abella made Yale law grads cry on the happiest day of their lives". CBC Radio. May 29, 2016. Archived from the original on October 5, 2016. Retrieved September 30, 2016.
  17. ^ Shribman, David (August 26, 2019). "Revered from left and right, she'll soon be Canada's longest-serving judge". Los Angeles Times. Archived from the original on August 28, 2019. Retrieved August 28, 2019.
  18. ^ "Prime Minister launches process to select the next justice of the Supreme Court of Canada". Newswire. Prime Minister's Office. Archived from the original on February 22, 2021. Retrieved February 19, 2021.
  19. ^ "Justice Rosalie Silberman Abella of Canada's Supreme Court Named Mulligan Distinguished Visiting Professor at Fordham Law". Fordham Law. December 22, 2021. Retrieved April 7, 2022.
  20. ^ MacDonald, L. Ian (April 8, 2021). "Harvard Bound: Justice Abella's Well-Earned Non-Retirement". Policy Magazine. Retrieved May 13, 2021.
  21. ^ Diller, Matthew; Abella, Rosalie (2018). "A Conversation with the Honorable Rosalie Silberman Abella and Dean Matthew Diller". Fordham Law Review. 87: 844.
  22. ^ "Golden Jubilee Medal". Archived from the original on June 25, 2016. Retrieved May 30, 2012.
  23. ^ "Book of Members, 1780-2010: Chapter A" (PDF). American Academy of Arts and Sciences. Archived (PDF) from the original on October 5, 2018. Retrieved March 20, 2011.
  24. ^ "The Honourable Rosalie Silberman Abella". Governor General of Canada. Retrieved June 23, 2021.
  25. ^ "Honorary degrees awarded to nine outstanding individuals". Yale News. May 22, 2016. Archived from the original on October 3, 2016. Retrieved September 30, 2016.
  26. ^ Fine, Sean (January 13, 2017). "Canadian judge Rosalie Abella named Global Jurist of the Year". The Globe and Mail. Archived from the original on January 13, 2017. Retrieved January 12, 2017.
  27. ^ Fine, Sean (May 3, 2018). "Supreme Court Justice Rosalie Abella elected to American Philosophical Society". The Globe and Mail. Retrieved May 13, 2021.
  28. ^ Barry Hertz, "Hot Docs 2023: Former Supreme Court judge Rosalie Abella claims another precedent with new film". The Globe and Mail, April 21, 2023.

External links[edit]