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Canada Constance Glube: Canada’s first female chief justice made history

Constance Glube

The Courts of Nova Scotia

A trailblazer for women and minorities, Constance Glube, or Connie, as she preferred to be called off the bench, pioneered the role of women not only in Nova Scotia's legal system, but in the Canadian judiciary. As the first woman to be appointed chief justice of a Canadian court, Ms. Glube had a long record of firsts.

"She left the Canadian justice system richer and more effective than she found it. We are all indebted to her," said Beverley McLachlin, chief justice of the Supreme Court of Canada.

Ms. Glube, who died on Feb. 15 at the age of 84 at the Queen Elizabeth II Health Sciences Centre in Halifax following a massive stroke, was appointed to the bench in 1977 as the first woman on the Supreme Court of Nova Scotia. She had spent the past 21 years developing a reputation as a lawyer with integrity, diligence, sound judgment and a deep sense of fairness.

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In 1982, she made history again when she became the first female chief justice in Canada with her appointment to the position in the Supreme Court of Nova Scotia. In 1998, she became chief justice of Nova Scotia's highest court, the Court of Appeal.

When Ms. Glube's phone rang on March 8, 1982, she didn't expect to hear Pierre Trudeau on the other end of the line, asking if she was interested in becoming the chief justice of the Supreme Court of Nova Scotia's Trial Division. She didn't hesitate in giving him an answer.

"I think I took him aback when I interrupted him to say I would take the job. The normal procedure in these matters is to take a week to mull things over. But it's not my style," Ms. Glube said in a 1983 interview with The Globe and Mail.

Decisiveness, in both her professional and private life, was a hallmark of Canada's first female chief justice. She delighted in telling the story of her brisk courtship proceeding her 45-year marriage. In 1952, three days after meeting Richard Glube, on a blind date in Chicago, she married the young MBA student, whose prominent Jewish family owned a furniture store in Halifax. Mr. Glube, who died in 1997, went on to teach administrative studies at Dalhousie University. The couple had four children.

Aside from her decisiveness, Ms. Glube was known for her warm smile, her ability to see the humour in most things and her modest and unpretentious manner. John Yogis, a friend and professor emeritus at the Schulich School of Law at Dalhousie University, remembers introducing her as "the Honourable Constance Glube." Immediately, she would stick out her hand and say, "I'm Connie."

Born in Ottawa on Nov. 23, 1931, Ms. Glube was the daughter of Pearl and Sam Lepofsky. After undergraduate studies at McGill University, she decided to become a lawyer like her father and went to Halifax to attend Dalhousie's law school. One of only two women in the graduating class of 1955, she received several academic awards. Aware that one of her classmates was under financial pressure, she decided, in her quiet, unassuming way, to give him the money from her awards.

"She was such a class act," Justice Thomas Cromwell of the Supreme Court of Canada said. "She really wanted to treat people well."

"She had a real genuine interest in other people. It was never about her," Justice Cromwell added.

She brought those same values to her courtroom. "I give politeness and consideration from the bench, and I always remember how nervous people are who come into this court and that is something a lot of judges have forgotten," she told The Globe and Mail in 1983.

After being admitted to the Nova Scotia Bar in 1956, Ms. Glube fought an uphill battle. At the time, women who were married and women who were Jewish didn't practice in Halifax. Struggling to find work as a lawyer, she initially held several part-time jobs in retail until she found more legal work.

"The ordinary person did not choose a woman to be their lawyer," Ms. Glube told Halifax's The Daily News in 1998. "Women were, perhaps, I assume, perceived not to be able to grasp the intricacies of law."

She eventually joined the law firm of Kitz, Matheson and later became a partner in the firm of Fitzgerald and Glube. In 1969, she became a solicitor with the legal department of the City of Halifax and, in 1974, she was appointed Halifax's city manager – the first woman to oversee the operations of a Canadian city.

It was at the city where she honed her administrative and management skills. It served her well in the courts, where she became a pioneer in effective judicial management.

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"I don't think anyone could be as efficient as she was," said Michael MacDonald, Chief Justice of Nova Scotia.

When Ms. Glube retired in 2004 after a 48-year legal career, 27 of them as a judge, she had some advice for her successor, Chief Justice MacDonald: Write your judgments clearly and efficiently and don't delay.

She had no tolerance for unnecessary delays. In 1983, she stayed a criminal prosecution in the case R. v. Rahey, Justice MacDonald said. The accused alleged a violation of his Charter right to be tried within a reasonable amount of time. Ms. Glube agreed. She decided that the trial judge's delay of 11 months to give a decision was unreasonable. The case was appealed and went to the Supreme Court of Canada, where Ms. Glube's judgment was upheld.

"I thought it was a courageous decision," Justice MacDonald said, adding that it ventured into uncharted waters at the time. "It was a legacy. It gave the Charter teeth."

Ms. Glube didn't shy away from controversy. One of the high-profile cases she heard was for an injunction to halt the public inquiry into the Westray Mine disaster. She ruled in 1992 that the inquiry was unconstitutional. She viewed it as a criminal investigation that would force deponents to incriminate themselves. The following year, her ruling was overturned by the Nova Scotia Court of Appeal, but it delayed the inquiry until charges first went through the court system.

Unafraid of differing opinions, Ms. Glube could resort to her self-deprecating humour when she had a decision overturned by the Supreme Court of Canada. "Well, I guess I got that one wrong," she joked to friends.

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As chief justice, Ms. Glube spent 22 years on the Canadian Judicial Council. From 2000 to 2003, she chaired the national committee on jury instructions which prepared model jury instructions now used throughout Canada. She helped to develop instructions, in both English and French, that were direct and easy for lay people to understand.

"Not only do jurors get better instructions," Chief Justice McLachlin said, "we have fewer appeals because the instructions are so clear. This is a big accomplishment."

A leader in judicial education, Ms. Glube deserves much of the credit for putting Canada at the forefront in judicial education, Chief Justice McLachlin said.

But success for Ms. Glube had its sadder side, something she bravely admitted publicly.

"She didn't pretend life was easy or that it had unfolded the way she might have wanted or planned. And yet, in the face of all of that she was optimistic and generous and warm," said Kim Brooks, an associate professor at the Schulich School of Law at Dalhousie University.

A little less than a year after becoming chief justice, Ms. Glube charged her son Joseph, who was then 15, with stealing and pawning valuables from the family home. He was subsequently convicted in juvenile court. He later had a string of run-ins with the law.

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"It's fair to say law is my life," she told The Globe and Mail in 1983. "For a woman who is also a mother that has meant a double-barrelled commitment. But you have to make sacrifices, and in some ways I think I've sacrificed my family."

In speaking publicly about her family troubles, she accepted some blame, but was also pragmatic.

"Obviously, I don't feel good about what happened. Perhaps I didn't adjust my time, didn't give my children all the attention they needed. But I think, past a point, it's a matter of their living their own lives," she said.

Years later, Ms. Glube's son John, a former St. John's lawyer, was sentenced to three years in prison for theft and attempting to launder proceeds of crime. In 1999, John Glube apologized in court for stealing more than $700,000 from clients and investing the money in a Nigerian-based fraud scheme. He told the St. John's court that he deeply regretted what he had done. He had also borrowed $130,000 from his mother and sent it to the Nigerians. The court heard that Ms. Glube sent her son the money because she believed he was experiencing financial difficulties.

Throughout her career, Ms. Glube received countless honours and awards. In 2006, she was named an officer of the Order of Canada. She also holds honorary degrees from Dalhousie University, Mount Saint Vincent University and Saint Mary's University.

After retiring from the bench, Ms. Glube was outspoken about judicial appointments. In 2005, she told a Commons committee that too often the federal government based judicial appointments on politics rather than merit. When she suggested the province's top lawyers for appointments, Ottawa never accepted her recommendations, she said.

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In retirement she continued her work in the community through various boards and charities and became a skilled bridge player. While she loved to read in her quiet time, especially whodunits and true crime books, her real passion was the courtroom.

"When I walk in that courtroom I'm totally absorbed in what is going on in there. I find the toughest things to deal with are custody cases and sentencing. There is always such thought, such agony based on that unanswerable question. 'Am I doing the right thing?'" she told The Globe and Mail.

Ms. Glube leaves her sister, Sheila; sons, John, Joe and Harry; daughter, Erica; five grandchildren; and four great-grandchildren.

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Editor's note: An earlier version of this obituary incorrectly called Ms. Glube the first female chief justice of any federal court in Canada. In fact, the courts over which she presided were provincial. This online version has been corrected.

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