Wilson, Bertha

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Wilson, Bertha

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Bertha Wilson was born September 18, 1923 in Kirkcaldy, Scotland. She attended the University of Aberdeen and graduated with a Masters in Arts in 1944. In 1945 she married her husband John Wilson, a reverend, and in 1949 they immigrated to Canada. In the 1950s the Wilsons moved to Halifax because her husband got a job in the navy, and Bertha decided to go to Dalhousie Law School. She graduated and was called to the Bar of Nova Scotia in 1957. After moving back to Ontario, she was called to the Bar in 1959. She practiced law from 1959-1975 with Osler, Hoskin and Harcourt. She was the first female lawyer to work there, and eventually became a partner in 1968. She was called to the Ontario Court of Appeals in 1975, the first woman to hold that position. In 1982 to she called to the Supreme Court, and became the first female Supreme Court Justice in Canada. She was specialized in legal research, and ruled on cases involving human rights, ethnic and sexual discrimination, matrimonial property, child custody, family rights, and access to information. Notable cases over which she ruled were R. v. Morgentaler in 1988 (abortion procedures) and R. v Lavallée in 1990 (battered-wife syndrome as self-defense). She was a pioneer in foundational cases interpreting the Charter of Rights and Freedoms. After retiring in 1991, Bertha was a Commissioner of the Royal Commission on Aboriginal Peoples, and the chair of the Task Force on Women in the Legal Profession. She was named a Fellow of the Royal Society of Canada in 1991, and became a Companion of the Order of Canada in 1992. Bertha Wilson passed away in Ottawa on April 28, 2007.


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Dalhousie University. Faculty of Law (1883-)

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Bertha Wilson, who graduated from Dalhousie's Faculty of Law and was called to the Bar of Nova Scotia in 1957, later became the first woman appointed to the Supreme Court of Canada

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