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Mary Moreau, a francophone judge from Alberta, has been selected to fill a vacancy on the Supreme Court of Canada.Supplied

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has chosen Mary Moreau of Alberta to fill a vacancy on the Supreme Court of Canada, putting women in the majority for the first time in the country’s history.

Justice Moreau, currently Chief Justice of the Alberta Court of King’s Bench, has been a judge for 29 years and has trained judges around the world, including in Ukraine, Haiti, Colombia and Morocco.

Mr. Trudeau said he chose Justice Moreau for her “dedication to fairness and excellence.”

Among her rulings was one addressing the case of convicted youth terrorist Omar Khadr. She reduced his period of supervision in the community to one day from 3½ years, saying he had already been under a restrictive supervision order for four years and had complied.

Justice Moreau listed the Khadr case as one of her noteworthy rulings in her application form, made public by the government on Thursday.

“I chose this judgment to illustrate how I took a creative approach that was nonetheless grounded in the principles governing sentencing,” she explained in the application form.

Also on that form, she mentioned the importance of staying current as a judge, to ensure that old, discredited ways of thinking do not persist.

“Judges have a responsibility to hone their legal and social-context knowledge to ensure respect, fairness and dignity for all members of society and to clearly and definitively eliminate myths and stereotypes,” she wrote.

On criminal law, Justice Moreau fills a shortage of hands-on expertise on the Supreme Court. In some years, criminal matters make up more than half of the Supreme Court’s docket. Before becoming a judge, she practised criminal, constitutional and civil law in Alberta.

As a trial judge, she has a long, well-known record on criminal-law matters, and criminal lawyers say she is open to creative arguments and looks carefully at background factors in the sentencing of Indigenous offenders.

Edmonton lawyer Shawn King, vice-president of Alberta’s Criminal Trial Lawyers’ Association, said Justice Moreau is steeped in the knowledge of criminal law and has the confidence to hold police accountable for appropriate standards of behaviour.

“The members of the CTLA are elated … she was that good,” Mr. King said in an interview.

The position on the Supreme Court was open because of the resignation in June of Russell Brown, moments before a disciplinary body was to announce a public inquiry into allegations that he harassed two women at an Arizona hotel last winter. (He denied the allegations.)

Mr. Brown, the final appointee of then-prime minister Stephen Harper, was the court’s most powerful conservative voice in decades.

Because she was a trial judge, rather than one that hears only appeals, Justice Moreau’s judicial philosophy is not well known when it comes to applying the Charter of Rights and Freedoms to controversial questions of social policy.

At 67, Justice Moreau has just eight years to serve before she reaches mandatory retirement. Mr. Trudeau’s other five appointments ranged from late 40s to early 60s.

The Prime Minister’s choices were constrained because by convention, the appointment had to come from the West, or the North, to replace Mr. Brown, who had been an Alberta judge and law professor. The West traditionally has two judges on the nine-member court.

Another constraint: Mr. Trudeau has imposed a requirement that candidates for the Supreme Court be able to hear cases in French and English.

Justice Moreau is the first francophone to be chosen from Western Canada.

Although the choice of Justice Moreau means that five of the past six Western appointments are from Alberta, it is unlikely to be controversial, because few highly qualified candidates applied. Saskatchewan, which hasn’t had an appointment since 1962, had only a single, part-time judge who is bilingual when applications closed in July.

The Globe and Mail was unable to confirm any judges who applied from provincial courts of appeal or the Federal Court of Appeal. The vast majority of Supreme Court appointees have been from appeal courts in the past 40 years.

Senator Brent Cotter, a former law dean and a former deputy attorney-general of Saskatchewan, said the province and British Columbia will be disappointed, “but my general understanding is that there were not a lot of candidates for consideration.

“That said, the quality of Chief Justice Moreau’s appointment is undoubted, and, speaking for myself, it is pretty great that, for the first time, five of the nine judges on the Supreme Court of Canada will be women.”

Neil Wittmann, a former chief justice who sat alongside Justice Moreau, called her a “classic example of a superior intellect with impartiality and independence. She will bring that to the court above all else.”

Malcolm Lavoie, a University of Alberta law professor, has sat with Justice Moreau on the Alberta Judicial Council since 2020, and said “it’s not easy to situate her on an ideological spectrum,” because she was ruling largely on evidentiary, procedural and factual matters as a trial judge.

“She is a proud franco-Albertan,” he said.

That pride in her heritage features large in her application form. For instance, as a young lawyer, she represented Luc Paquette, who was charged with cocaine trafficking, as he sought a trial in French in front of a French-speaking jury, though Alberta law did not at that time provide for it. (She won at the Supreme Court.)

In her form, she also spoke of French Canadian music, literature, traditional songs and festivals enriching her life while she was growing up in Western Canada.

Mr. Trudeau’s choice of Justice Moreau is at this stage considered a nomination. Justice Moreau will answer questions before a parliamentary committee in a public session on Nov. 2. But the ultimate appointment remains the prerogative of the Prime Minister and cabinet.

Ian Holloway, law dean at the University of Calgary, said that while Mr. Brown’s conservative philosophy “was out of the jurisprudential mainstream – which made it something valuable on Canada’s highest court,” it will be interesting to see whether Justice Moreau aligns with one group or another on the court.

“She will bring a Western Canadian perspective, to be sure – and a minority perspective, as well, given that she is franco-Albertan,” he said.

Justice Moreau is a married mother of four adult children who went to law school at the University of Alberta. Her husband, Peter Royal, was among Alberta’s most prominent criminal lawyers until his retirement.

The first woman on the Supreme Court, Bertha Wilson, was appointed in 1982 by Pierre Trudeau.

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