Justice Bertha Wilson
344 pages, 6 1/4 x 9 1/2
4 b&w photos
Release Date:01 Jul 2010
Release Date:15 Nov 2009
Release Date:01 Jul 2010

Justice Bertha Wilson

One Woman’s Difference

Edited by Kim Brooks
SERIES: Law and Society
UBC Press

Bertha Wilson’s appointment as the first female justice of the Supreme Court of Canada in 1982 capped off a career of firsts. Wilson had been the first woman lawyer and partner at a prominent Toronto law firm and the first woman appointed to the Ontario Court of Appeal. Her death in 2007 has, in turn, provoked reflection on her contributions to law and the legal profession and raised the question, what difference do women judges make?

Justice Bertha Wilson examines Wilson’s career through three distinct frames and from a wide range of feminist perspectives. In “Foundations” contributors evince Wilson’s contributions to the building blocks of the legal system, including to property law, contract law, and fiduciary duties; in “Controversy” they examine Wilson’s role in high-profile, controversial decisions on issues such as prostitution, criminal defence, and child custody. The final section, “Reflections,” assesses Wilson’s credentials as a feminist judge and her impact on the legal profession and judicial education.

This timely, evocative book highlights Wilson’s contributions to the Canadian legal landscape and addresses many of the issues that Wilson grappled with in her life and career. A nuanced portrait of a complex woman, it will appeal to lawyers, judges, policy makers, academics, and anyone interested in law and women’s contributions to Canadian society.

A nuanced portrait of a complex woman, it will appeal to lawyers, judges, policy makers, academics, and anyone interested in law and women’s contributions to Canadian society.

Justice Bertha Wilson is an original contribution ... this collection of essays reminds us that all women constitute themselves within conditions of overt and more ambient gender discrimination. Through the lens of one ‘extraordinary’ woman’s life, this collection contributes to feminist attempts to develop theories that account for women’s capacity for agency, their negotiations, concessions, and transgressions of normative femininity – in short, the relative and shifting constraints and opportunities generated through our interactions with gendered social structures. Suzanne Bouclin, Faculty of Law, McGill University, Canadian Journal of Law and Society, Vol. 25, No. 2, 2010
The book is an excellent legacy of Madame Justice Bertha Wilson’s life as a lawyer, jurist, role model, and task force chair. Hers was a life that made a difference. Joan Brockman, Canadian Journal of Woman and the Law, Vol 22
A fitting tribute to a remarkable woman and jurist. This collection explores not only her famous Charter and criminal law judgments, but also the rather-neglected commercial law opinions and her legal work before joining the Supreme Court. I commend the book to the many lawyers who knew her and miss her friendship and intellectual engagement, but especially to the readers who know her only through her judicial writing. You will understand both her and the law better after reading these essays. Donna Greschner, Dean of Law, University of Victoria
Was Bertha Wilson a feminist judge or not? This and other tantalizing questions are explored in this multifaceted collection devoted to the professional journey of an internationally famous ‘FW2’ (First Woman to...) in the often hostile, masculinist domain of law. The collection enables the reader to acquire an understanding of not only a courageous and compassionate trailblazer and her legacy, but also the organic nature of the nexus between law and social change. Margaret Thornton, Professor of Law, Australian National University

Kim Brooks is an associate professor and the H. Heward Stikeman Chair in the Law of Taxation in the Faculty of Law at McGill University.

Contributors: Elizabeth Adjin-Tettey, Beverley Baines, Marie-Claire Belleau, Janine Benedet, Susan B. Boyd, Melina Buckley, Rosemary Cairns Way, Gillian Calder, T. Brettel Dawson, Angela Fernandez, Isabel Grant, Rebecca Johnson, Larissa Katz, Claire L’Heureux-Dubé, Moira L. McConnell, Mary Jane Mossman, Shannon O’Byrne, Debra Parkes, Janis Sarra, Beatrice Tice, Lorna Turnbull, and Christina Vinters

Preface / Justice Claire L'Heureux-Dubé

Introduction / Kim Brooks

Part 1: Foundations

1 Bertha Wilson’s Practice Years (1958–75):  Establishing a Research Practice and Founding a Research Department in Canada / Angela Fernandez and Beatrice Tice

2 A Traditionalist’s Property Jurisprudence/ Larissa Katz

3 Power, Discretion, and Vulnerability, Justice Wilson and Fiduciary Duty in the Corporate/Commercial Context / Janis Sarra

4 A Few More Spokes to the Wheel: Reasonableness, Fairness, and Justice in Justice Bertha Wilson’s Approach to Contract Law / Moira L. McConnell

5 Giving Emotions Their Due: Justice Bertha Wilson’s Response to Intangible Loss in Contract / Shannon Kathleen O’Byrne

Part 2: Controversy

6 Picking up Where Justice Wilson Left Off: The Tort of Discrimination Revisited / Elizabeth Adjin-Tettey

7 Paradigms of Prostitution: Revisiting the Prostitution Reference / Janine Benedet

8 Contextualizing Criminal Defences: Exploring the Contribution of Justice Bertha Wilson / Isabel Grant and Debra Parkes

9 “Finally I know Where I am Going to Be From”: Culture, Context, and Time in a Look Back at Racine v. Woods / Gillian Calder

10 Challenging Patriarchy or Embracing Liberal Norms?  Justice Wilson’s Child Custody and Access Decisions / Susan B. Boyd

Part 3: Reflections

11 But Was She a Feminist Judge? / Beverley Baines

12 I Agree/Disagree for the Following Reasons: Convergence, Divergence, and Justice Wilson’s “Modest Degree of Creativity” / Marie-Claire Belleau, Rebecca Johnson, and Christina Vinters

13 A Way of Being in the World / Lorna Turnbull

14 Ideas and Transformation: A Reflection on Bertha Wilson’s Contribution to Gender Equality in the Legal Profession / Melina Buckley

15 Taking a Stand on Equality: Bertha Wilson and the Evolution of Judicial Education in Canada / Rosemary Cairns Way and T. Brettel Dawson

16 Bertha Wilson: “Silences” in a Woman’s Life Story / Mary Jane Mossman


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