Appointment of Mi’kmaq, black women to Nova Scotia courts ‘a huge step’
2017/01/25 Leave a comment
As the federal government increases the diversity of its judicial appointments (Justice minister announces 24 new judges in effort to end national shortage), interesting to see watch provincial announcements and the degree to which they are reported on:
Nova Scotia has appointed the first Mi’kmaq woman and the third black woman to the provincial and family courts, in what the province’s Premier calls a “huge step forward” for ethnic diversity on the bench.
Legal aid lawyer Catherine Benton becomes only the third aboriginal judge in Nova Scotia, while Ronda van der Hoek, a public prosecutor, joins two
other black women – Corinne Sparks and Jean Whalen – among the 73 full-time judges in the province.
Premier Stephen McNeil said in an interview the two new judges will provide added perspectives from the black and indigenous population in a court system that needs to reflect the makeup of the general population.
“I believe this is a huge step forward. They have had distinguished careers in making sure minority voices are being heard, that Mi’kmaq rights are being protected, and their cultures will be reflected in the decisions they make,” he said.
Justice Benton is well known within legal circles as an advocate for racial and ethnic diversity in the courts, having pushed from the earliest days of her career for a stronger role for indigenous lawyers in the court system.
She worked as a researcher with the Union of Nova Scotia Indians and the Mi’kmaq Grand Council before getting her law degree from Dalhousie in 1993.
In 1994, Justice Benton told the aboriginal publication Windspeaker she had made a series of fruitless job applications to firms around Atlantic Canada, with some partners telling her they felt her knowledge of aboriginal law wouldn’t be an asset.
“I think it’s important to establish an aboriginal justice network,” she told the publication.
Naiomi Metallic, a teacher specialized in indigenous law at Dalhousie’s Schulich law school, says the appointments are being greeted with delight among advocates for greater indigenous and black representation in the legal system.
“I’m elated … We’ve been saying in the media there needs to be more diverse appointments and it appears that hasn’t fallen on deaf ears,” she said.
Justice van der Hoek, from Windsor, has practised law for 19 years and also worked with Nova Scotia Legal Aid in Windsor and Halifax after graduating from Dalhousie Law School.
She is the third black judge in the province’s lower and superior courts.
Justice Van der Hoek and Justice Benton also bring the family and provincial courts a step closer to gender parity, with a total of 15 full-time female judges, compared to 20 full-time, male judges.