Bertha Wilson

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When I was appointed to the Supreme Court of Canada in the Spring of 1982, a great many women from all across the country telephoned, cabled, or wrote to me rejoicing in my appointment. "Now," they said, "we are represented on Canada's highest court. This is the beginning of a new era for women." So why was I not rejoicing? Why did I not share the tremendous confidence of these women?

First came the realization that no one could live up to the expectations of my well-wishers. I had the sense of being doomed to failure, not because of any excess of humility on my part or any desire to shirk the responsibility of the office, but because I knew from hard experience that the law does not work that way. Change in the law comes slowly and incrementally; that is its nature. It responds to changes in society; it seldom initiates them. And while I was prepared - and, indeed, as a woman judge, anxious - to respond to these changes, I wondered to what extent I would be constrained in my attempts to do so by the nature of judicial office itself.

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