Bertha Wilson and Claire L’Heureux-Dubé were the first women judges on the Supreme Court of Canada. One represented English Canada, the other Quebec. Polar opposites in background and temperament, the two faced similar challenges. Their 1980s judicial appointments delighted feminists and shocked the legal establishment.
Constance Backhouse delves into the sexist roadblocks both women had to face in education, law practice, and in the courts. She explores their different ways of coping, their landmark decisions for women’s rights, and their less than stellar records on race.
To explore the lives and careers of these two path-breaking women is to venture into a world of legal sexism from a past era. When L’Heureux-Dubé sought to enroll at Laval law school (over her father’s vehement objection), a university official told her law was “only for men.” When Bertha Wilson entered Dalhousie Law School, the Dean suggested she “go home and take up crocheting.”
Tracing their efforts to navigate a storm of sexism tells much about the roots of gender inequality from our past. The question becomes, how much of that sexism has been relegated to the bins of history, and how much continues to haunt us?
Published in French.
Constance Backhouse est professeure à la Faculté de droit de l’Université d’Ottawa. Elle a publié plusieurs ouvrages couronnées de prix : Petticoats and Prejudice : Women and Law in Nineteenth-Century Canada; Colour-Coded: A Legal History of Racism in Canada, 1900-1950; The Heiress vs The Establishment: Mrs. Campbell's Campaign For Legal Justice; Carnal Crimes: Sexual Assault Law in Canada, 1900–1975 et Claire L’Heureux-Dubé: A Life. Elle est membre de l’Ordre du Canada depuis 2008.