There is something special about the appointment of Michelle O’Bonsavin, the first native Canadian ever to be appointed to the Supreme Court of Canada. Not about the historical appointment itself. Not about the choice of Judge O’Bonsavine, an Abenaki Odanak First Nation in Northern Ontario, Franco-Ontarian fluent in both official languages. Peculiar in the way the prime minister made the statement on 19 August.
The appointment of the first Supreme Indigenous People is a big deal. As was the appointment a year ago of the first high court judge of color, Kenya-born Mahmoud Jamal. But where Jamal was announced with pomp, O’Bonsavine’s announcement was made in a covert manner used when the government has news that he hopes no one will notice – news that could cause unwanted controversy.
It works like this. On a Friday afternoon (yes, August 19 was Friday), when the weekly news cycle comes to an end, the government releases an announcement. (In O’Bonsavin’s case, it was on the prime minister’s website.) By this time on Friday, cabinet ministers are heading home for the weekend. High-ranking officials, who could provide information, kindle a barbecue in the country. The reviewers filed their articles over the weekend. And the reporters covering the official Ottawa scattered to their favorite fern bars.
The gurus who prepare the news for the prime minister know that questions that are not answered on Friday afternoon will not be asked again on Monday morning. The news cycle will move on to new issues and controversies. This week’s cycle has no place for last week’s outdated news. It’s done and gone.
There are questions that could be asked. For starters, how old is O’Bonsavin? The prime minister didn’t say, and I couldn’t find her date of birth online. It would be good to know. She is probably in her 40s, which means she has about 30 years before her mandatory retirement. Jamal, who was appointed last year, is 20 years old. It is quite possible that one (or both) of the “young” will someday become the chief judge.
In the interim, they will change the face of the court and potentially make it more sensitive to the special needs of Canadian minorities in overcoming legal and other barriers to full participation in Canadian life. This must be one of the reasons why Trudeau chose them.
Another question. Is O’Bonsavine’s judging summary abnormally thin? Yes it is. These days, most Supreme Court judges come from the appellate divisions of the provincial high courts. Trudeau elevated O’Bonsavin directly from the Judicial Branch of the Ontario Supreme Court. There is nothing wrong; The Supreme Court Act provides for this. But that means she never heard an appeal, which is what the high court does.
Third question. Why appoint O’Bonsavin now when Michael Moldaver, the lawyer she replaced, won’t be 75 before December 23rd? I suspect Trudeau had the same reason for the early appointment as he did for Friday’s strategy. Reason: Pierre Poillièvre.
By making the appointment before Poilivre becomes leader of the Conservative Party and intends to overthrow the Liberals, Trudeau eliminates any chance that an Ontario vacancy could fall into the hands of a right-wing government that will almost certainly not name an Indigenous woman. . And Friday’s strategy temporarily silenced the conservatives. They didn’t know whether to accept O’Bonsavine or oppose him. They had to wait for their new leader to arrive and tell them what to think.