New Brunswick

N.B. only province to achieve gender equity among provincial court judges

New Brunswick is the only province with an equal number of women and men serving as full-time provincial court judges, CBC News has learned.

Latest appointments of 5 women push New Brunswick to 50% while other provinces sit at 33% to 46%

Rosella Melanson said gender equity could have been achieved decades ago 'if we cared.' (Submitted by Rosella Melanson)

New Brunswick is the only province with an equal number of women and men serving as full-time provincial court judges, CBC News has learned.

Gender equity on the bench in the other provinces ranges from about 33 per cent to 46 per cent.

New Brunswick now has 12 female and 12 male judges after the Gallant government appointed five new women last month.

Justice is important in justice.- Rosella Melanson, women's rights activist

The milestone is being both praised as "brave," and criticized as long overdue.

"Having female judges is about citizens having confidence in the system of justice," said prominent women's rights activist Rosella Melanson.

"Given how women's experiences are different from men's in many ways, given how society is still sexist and mostly against women, given that Canada is based on respect of law, and that women are usually victims, rarely aggressors — so justice is important in justice."

Melanson contends equal representation on the provincial bench should have — and could have — happened sooner.

"From the time it took Mabel Penery French to jump the hoops to become a lawyer in New Brunswick — she had to wear a veil, get legislation adopted saying she was a person, because it was 1905 — to today, we could have reached gender equality on the bench several decades earlier if we cared," she said.

Melanson, the former executive director for the Advisory Council on the Status of Women, said she realizes certain criteria must be met to be appointed to the provincial court.

Candidates must have been members in good standing of the New Brunswick Bar for at least 10 years and have undergone a screening process conducted by a committee comprised of members of the public, the practicing bar, and the judiciary.

"But how many exemptions were made for men appointed as judges who did not have the usual qualifications?" 

Lawyer Pat Gallagher-Jette said 'it's just a good thing to have both parts of society represented' on the provincial bench. (Submitted)
Veteran Saint John lawyer Pat Gallagher-Jette, who has long been vocal about the lack of female judges in the province, agrees some qualified women may have been overlooked in the past because their male counterparts "had the right connections."

"As the poet said, 'Change comes slowly up this way,'" she said.

Still, she commends Premier Brian Gallant for the latest appointments and for promoting a sitting judge to be the court's first female chief judge.

"I think it's kind of a brave thing for the premier to have done," said Gallagher-Jette, a former Rothesay councillor. "I expect he'll get some push back."

But balancing the numbers "has got to be good," she said.

"Women don't process and look at things exactly the same way [as men] and it's important to have that different perspective sometimes.

"When you're meting out sentencing, when you're looking at solutions for something, it's just a good thing to have both parts of society represented."

'Pervasive influence of women judges'

It's an issue University of New Brunswick associate law professor Jula Hughes is studying — whether judicial diversity will make a difference to the way individual cases are adjudicated.

"That's a question that's been asked for a long time," said Hughes, citing a 1990 paper by Bertha Wilson, the first woman appointed to the Supreme Court of Canada in 1982.

In the paper, entitled Will Women Judges Really Make a Difference?, Wilson hypothesized women might if their "differing perspectives on life can bring a new humanity to bear on the decision-making process."

"Perhaps they will succeed in infusing the law with an understanding of what it means to be fully human," wrote Wilson, who served the high court until 1991 and died in 2007.

Jula Hughs, associate professor at the University of New Brunswick's Faculty of Law, said women judges have helped change several laws, such as rape, which was not considered an offence if a couple was married. (CBC)
Hughes suggests "the track record has been more impressive than that."

"There has been a pretty pervasive influence of women judges" on issues ranging from division of property to spousal abuse, sexual abuse and abortion, she said.

"What I can say is that historically the experience has been that women judges really have brought a different perspective to our courts and have contributed in that way and I would expect that these recent appointments will do the same thing."

'Excellent qualifications, suitability'

The new judges are:

  • Joanne Durette, who will be a travelling judge based in Bathurst.
  • Johanne-Marguerite Landry, who will be a travelling judge based in Caraquet.
  • Natalie LeBlanc, who will be based in Miramichi.
  • Lucie Mathurin, who will be based in Moncton.
  • Kelly Ann Winchester, who will be based in Saint John.

Department of Justice spokesman Paul Bradley said the five women were appointed because of "their excellent qualifications and suitability."

But he also noted "advancing women's equality strengthens society and the economy."

Maritimes judicial gender equity

Nova Scotia "continues to improve gender balance and diversity," on the provincial bench said Sarah Gillis, spokesperson for the Department of Justice.

Four new provincial court judges were appointed in March, three of them women, bringing the the number of full-time provincial and family court judges to 37, of which 17, or 46 per cent, are women, said Gillis.

"All Nova Scotians must be able to see themselves in their justice system, including in our judges," she said.

"Our guidelines for judicial appointments have helped us to achieve the balance we seek on the bench: the provincial judiciary should be reasonably representative of the population it serves."

In P.E.I., only one woman is on the provincial bench, but gender equity sits at 33 per cent, with only three judges in total in the province.

The lone woman is also the chief provincial court judge.

Fewer women among federal N.B. appointees

New Brunswick isn't doing as well at gender equality at its two other higher levels of court, where appointments are made by the federal government.

The Court of Queen's Bench currently has six female justices, compared to 16 male justices, plus four female semi-retired justices, known as supernumerary, and an equal number of male supernumerary justices.

The Court of Appeal has two female justices, four male justices, as well as one female supernumerary justice.

Once appointed, a judge will preside over matters until retirement, generally at age 65. Judges who are eligible to retire may choose either to continue sitting as judges on a supernumerary basis until age 75 or to preside on a "per diem" (as needed) basis.

Provincial court judges across Canada
ProvinceMen (full-time)Women (full-time)Gender equity
Alberta763733 per cent
British Columbia654340 per cent
Manitoba231844 per cent
New Brunswick121250 per cent
Newfoundland121046 per cent
Nova Scotia201746 per cent
Ontario17210939 per cent
Prince Edward Island2133 per cent
Quebec16113746 per cent
Saskatchewan321735 per cent