Bertha Wilson once quoted Ralph Waldo Emerson’s declaration that “an institution is lengthened by the shadow of one man”. The Supreme Court of Canada’s jurisprudence in the early years of Charter interpretation was lengthened by the shadow of one woman: that of Bertha Wilson, the Court’s and the Charter’s first woman judge. This paper takes the measure of that shadow. The first section asks whether her concurring opinions really made a difference, and explains, in answer, how her R. v. Morgentaler concurrence influenced the evolution of section 7. The second section addresses the Wilson myths — that she was a feminist judge and an activist judge — by discussing concurrences which show that her approach to decision-making was not monolithic. The third section of the paper takes her contextual approach — which was introduced in a concurrence — as the point of entry to an analysis of her conception of rights. The conclusion suggests how a question she frequently asked — what will we write at the top of our ledgers? — might be answered.
"Justice in Her Own Right: Bertha Wilson and the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms."
The Supreme Court Law Review: Osgoode’s Annual Constitutional Cases Conference
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