N.B.: The detail displayed about each honorary degree recipient varies, as
the database was compiled from a variety of sources. However, more information may
be available at the University Archives.
Convocation date: May 21, 1992
Discipline / contribution: jurisprudence
Citation / biographical information:
Eminent Chancellor, on behalf of the Council and Senate, I present to you Bertha Wilson.Degree received: Doctor of Laws
In her 1989 judgment in the case of Andrews v. Law Society of British Columbia, Madam Justice Wilson said, ‘I am sensitive to the fact that citizenship is a very special status that not only incorporates rights and duties but serves a highly important symbolic function as a badge identifying people as members of the Canadian polity.’ This sentence may have had particular resonance for her, as she and her husband John chose to emigrate to Canada from Scotland in the 1950’s. Initially, they settled, appropriately enough in New Scotland, where she obtained an LL.B. degree from Dalhousie University in Halifax.
They then moved to Ontario, where Bertha Wilson was admitted to the Bar and practised law with a prominent Toronto law firm, being appointed Queen's Counsel in 1973. In 1976, she was appointed to the Ontario Court of Appeal, and in 1982, she became the first woman to be appointed to the nation's highest court, the Supreme Court of Canada.
Madam Justice Wilson was appointed to the Supreme Court at a critical moment in Canadian legal history. The advent of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms was a significant development in constitutional terms, and the participation of Madam Justice Wilson in the interpretation of the Charter during its first decade left a distinctive stamp on constitutional jurisprudence. To this important task she brought formidable analytical gifts, clarity of expression, sensitivity to those in Canadian society suffering from disadvantage and inequality, and a strong vision of the possibilities for Canada’s future.
Though the timely arrival of Madam Justice Wilson on the Supreme Court resulted in the constitutional decisions for which she may be best known, she brought the same talents to bear on other legal issues as diverse as the liability of public authorities, the defence of provocation in criminal law, and the rights of shareholders in companies.
Throughout her professional career. Madam Justice Wilson also managed to remain active in the affairs of her church, her profession and her community.
When she departed from the Supreme Court in 1991, Madam Justice Wilson did not depart from public life. She is currently Chair of the Canadian Bar Association Task Force on Gender Inequality in the Legal Profession, a Scholar-in-Residence at the University of Ottawa, and a member of the Royal Commission on Aboriginal Peoples.
Eminent Chancellor, I am honoured to present to you Bertha Wilson, and ask that you confer on her the degree of Doctor of Laws, honoris causa.
Degree presented by: Beth Bilson
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