1st female Supreme Court justice dies

Bertha Wilson, the first woman appointed to the Supreme Court of Canada, has died. She was 83.

Bertha Wilson, the first woman appointed to the Supreme Court of Canada, has died. She was 83.

Wilson, whoserved on the high court from 1982 to 1991, died of an unspecified illness.

Shewas considered a fierce defender of individual rights and was appointed to the Supreme Court just 17 days before the Charter of Rights and Freedoms came into effect.

"I am an unabashed and enthusiastic supporter of the charter," she said in her retirement speech."I believe it is a document of which we can be truly proud."

While there hadbeen pressure from women's groups to name a woman to the court, then justice minister Jean Chrétien saidthe choice was basedsimply on herqualifications.

"I amsatisfied that Mrs. Wilson so far has been an excellent judge and she has all the qualities to be an excellent judge to the Supreme Court,"Chrétien said in 1982.

Born in Kirkcaldy, Scotland, on Sept. 18, 1923, Wilson graduated with an MA from the University of Aberdeen before marrying Rev. John Wilson and emigrating to Canada in 1949.

She obtained her law degree from Dalhousie University in Halifax in 1957. Her law career had begun at the Toronto firm of Osler, Hoskin & Harcourt. She was the first woman hired as a lawyer and would become the first woman to make partner.

Wilson breaks ground

Allan Beattie, who's with the firm, said she would tell the story ofher interview with the dean of the law school at Dalhousie.

"The dean of the lawschooltold her that it's crazy for her to try to become a lawyer. She shouldgo back home and spend her time in the kitchen," Beattie recalled.

"She didn't listen," he said.

She broke ground in 1975, as the first woman appointed to the Court of Appeal for Ontario and again in 1982, when she became the first woman appointed to the Supreme Court of Canada.

In theSupreme Courtdecisionthat struckdown the country's abortion law, Wilson wrote the broadest of the three concurring opinions —saying that the abortion law violated a woman's right to life, liberty and security of the person.

She left the court in 1991 and and was made a companion of the order of Canada the same year. She went on to become a commissioner of the Royal Commissioner of Aboriginal Peoples.

Chief Justice Beverley McLachlin said Wilson was known for her "generosity of spirit and originality of thought.

"As a member of this court, she was a pioneer in charter jurisprudence and made an outstanding contribution to the administration of justice. She will be sorely missed by all who were privileged to know her," she said.

With files from the Canadian Press