The two newest appointees to the Supreme Court of Canada were sworn in yesterday, filling important gaps on the court's ideological spectrum as it enters the troubled waters of a reference case on same-sex marriage.
At an emotional ceremony attended by the cream of the Canadian judiciary, Madam Justice Rosalie Abella dabbed occasionally at tears and Madam Justice Louise Charron praised a Supreme Court that has become the most gender-balanced in the world.
"No other comparable court anywhere in the world, to my knowledge, has come so far in giving women a voice in its deliberations," Chief Justice Beverley McLachlin told the packed courtroom.
"Gender equity is now making the court the most representative of any court in the world," Justice Minister Irwin Cotler added.
In Judge Charron, the court gains a highly disciplined specialist in criminal law who, while she does not shy away from using the Charter of Rights and Freedoms, sticks closer to established precedent.
Reform-minded Judge Abella, an internationally recognized figure in the field of human rights, is seen as a relatively activist judge who will bolster the court's depleted left-liberal wing.
The addition of the two female justices, both from the Ontario Court of Appeal, brings the number of women on the bench to four, for the first time in Canadian history.
In another first yesterday, Judge Abella joined Mr. Justice Morris Fish to make it the first time the top court has had two Jewish judges at the same time.
"The reaction from the populace has been a confident lack of hyperbolic jubilation as to the appointees' gender, ethnicity, and mother tongue," Ontario Attorney-General Michael Bryant said of the two new judges. "They are simply the best."
Judge Abella, 58, who came with her family to Canada from a displaced persons camp after the Holocaust, compared her personal journey to that of her chosen profession, which was simultaneously emerging from the shadow of the English legal system and into full flower.
"Both are incredible stories; neither possible anywhere else," she said. "One, of the majestic dynamism of the law in one generation. The other, a story of how - in one generation - a journey that started in a displaced persons camp in Germany ended in the Supreme Court of Canada."
With her strong background in human rights, family law, law reform and equality, Judge Abella is cast in the mould of recently retired judge Claire L'Heureux-Dube and former judge Bertha Wilson.
Renowned for her warmth and the punishing schedule of public appearances she keeps, Judge Abella single-handedly dispelled the notion that becoming a judge means living a cloistered, monastic existence.
Mr. Cotler described her as "an innovative and creative jurist" who has amassed a significant volume of published work.
Judge Charron, a 54-year-old franco-Ontarian, said her guiding vision in 16 years on the bench has been to give every case her utmost attention.
"It was tempting, at times, to relax the norm . . . but as a judge, I felt I couldn't do it," she said. "Every case that comes before the court is important."
A former Crown attorney and University of Ottawa law professor, Judge Charron is known as a clear, focused writer. Unpretentious and witty, lawyers consider her a particularly fair-minded judge who listens attentively to all arguments.
"Her decisions are considered a template in legal reasoning," Mr. Cotler said. He predicted that the two new judges will be every bit as excellent as the highly respected judges they are replacing - Frank Iacobucci and Louise Arbour.
Striking a cautious note two days before the same-sex reference, Chief Justice McLachlin reminded the courtroom that the Supreme Court "is an infrequent, but essential actor in our democratic governance. This court does not speak of its own initiative. Its role is the more modest one of responding to the legal questions Canadians bring before it."
Among those who attended the swearing-in was former chief justice of Canada Antonio Lamer; Lord Chancellor of the United Kingdom, Lord Falconer of Thoroton; Canadian Bar Association president Susan McGrath; Law Society of Upper Canada treasurer Frank Marrocco and several Ontario Court of Appeal judges.