Rosalie Silberman Abella was born in Stuttgart, Germany in a displaced persons camp in 1946. The daughter of Holocaust Survivors, Rosalie graduated from the University of Toronto Law School in 1970 and was called to the bar in 1972. She practised law for four years. In 1976, at the age of 29 and while pregnant with her second child, Abella became the youngest Canadian – and first Jewish woman – to be named to the bench. Abella quickly became known as a beacon of positivity and steadfast commitment to human rights.
In 1992, Abella was appointed to the Ontario Court of Appeal. She previously served as Chair of the Ontario Labour Relations Board, the Ontario Study into Access to Legal Services by the Disabled, and the Ontario Law Reform Commission. She also served as a member of the Ontario Human Rights Commission and of the judicial inquiry into the Donald Marshall, Jr. case. Abella is considered one of Canada’s top experts on human rights law, both nationally and internationally, and has taught at McGill Law School in Montreal.
Abella’s passion for human rights stems from her family history. Abella’s father, Jacob Silberman, overcame great odds to go to law school. Jagiellonian University’s law school had a numerus clausus – a Jewish quota, or limit – and he was one of just a very small number of Jews accepted into the program in 1930. He had been a practicing lawyer prior to the Holocaust, and provided legal counsel to residents of displaced persons camps in order to assist them in the citizenship process.
In 2004, Prime Minister Paul Martin appointed Rosalie to serve on the Supreme Court of Canada. She became the first Jewish woman to sit on the bench. She is eligible to serve on the Supreme Court until July 1, 2021.Viewed as a beacon of hope and progressive values, Abella’s reputation extends far beyond Canada’s legal sphere. She has written over ninety articles and four books, served as a Senior Fellow of Massey College in 1989, a Fellow of the Royal Society of Canada in 1997, and a Fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences in 2007. She has received 35 honorary degrees, including one from Yale University in 2016. She was also awarded the Queen Elizabeth II Golden Jubilee Medal in 2002, and has been a judge of the Giller Prize. She is also an acclaimed piano player and art connoisseur.
In January 2016, Northwestern Pritzker School of Law’s Centre for International Human Rights named Rosalie Abella the Global Jurist of the Year for her outstanding, lifelong commitment to international criminal justice and human rights. Abella is the youngest Canadian and first Jewish woman to be named to the bench. She was also the first pregnant judge in Canadian history. Her work and status in the justice system is an inspiration to all.
Justice Abella has left an everlasting mark on Canadian society.