Ontario Appeals Court Judge Bertha Wilson's appointment as the first woman to the Supreme Court of Canada in its 107 year history was hailed Thursday as 'a great day for women in the country.'
From the corridors of the nation's highest court, through political arenas to private law offices across the country, Judge Wilson's historic appointment was applauded as a welcome start to a new era in the judiciary.
Judge Wilson, 58, attained the highest judicial office ever held by a woman in Canada when she was appointed to the Ontario Court of Appeal in December, 1975. She is now the first woman ever named to the highest court in the land.
'I think it's really sensational. I am so pleased,' said Lucie Pepin, president of the Advisory Council on the Status of Women.
Ms. Pepin said Judge Wilson would broaden the dimension of the high court, particularly in cases involving women's rights. 'She will bring a different perspective ... she is very capable and a good judge.'
Solicitor General Robert Kaplan hailed the appointment as 'a great day for women in the country.'
Amy Williams, president of the National Council of Women, said it was unlikely the appointment was made only because President Ronald Reagan had last year named Sandra Day O'Connor, 51, to America's highest court.
'I think the impetus really came with the discussion of the constitution because so much power will lie with the courts,' she said. 'The writing and interpretation of laws has not been as completely fair as women would have liked it to be. Hopefully, this will start to change.'
Health Minister Monique Begin said it was a 'positive addition' to the nine-member court. 'I think a woman will bring in a special approach to the Supreme Court. I'm very happy her point of view will be a key factor, especially now that we will have a Charter of Rights.'
The 33,000-member Canadian Bar Association said it welcomed the appointment for two reasons.
'First and foremost, as a lawyer and a judge her Ladyship has demonstrated her worthiness to sit on the highest court in Canada,' CBA president Paul Fraser said.
'Secondly, the appointment ... involves women in every level of the judicial system and makes the role of women in the administration of justice appropriately complete.'
Conservative MP Flora MacDonald said such an appointment was long overdue, noting only 4 percent of other federal judicial appointments were held by women. 'After 115 years a male bastion has finally been cracked, but we can't stop there,' she said.
'I'm extremely pleased with the appointment. She's very qualified and I'm sure she'll serve with distinction.'
Sarah Breault, executive director of the Elizabeth Fry Society of Ottawa, said 'I'm happy that a woman has been appointed to the Supreme Court.'
Conservative MP Walter McLean, former critic on women's issues and a supporter of women's rights in the constitutional debate, said 'I was very encouraged.
He added, however, 'It must only be seen as a first step because of the very real danger it will be seen as only a token appointment. With 52 percent of the population of the country women, one doesn't want to think it's all over. With the number of women entering the legal profession today, they will want equal consideration in the future.'
Edmonton lawyer Maureen New said 'I really do find it exciting,' but she said she did not think the appointment would create shockwaves through the judicial system.
Courts, she said, have 'in general been sympathetic' to women's causes and problems for the last 15 years and a woman justice would not have a 'terrific' impact.
'What can anyone say, it's about time, it's just great,' said Derwin Whitbread, president of the Alberta Status of Women Action Committee. 'That this has happened is good for women.
'Hopefully, now that one has been appointed, more will follow.'
Federal Mines Minister Judy Erola, the minister responsible for the Status of Women, called the appointment of Wilson 'a signal to women across Canada to stand up and be counted.'
Mrs. Erola said this historic appointment further illustrates the government's committment to equality, having already appointed Canada's first female Lieutenant Governors, Commons Speaker and Senator.
Lucie Pepin, president of the Canadian Advisory Council on the Status of Women, said the appointment came at an opportune time, 'as women establish their rights under the new Constitution ... they will feel more secure, for at last they will have representation in the highest court in the land.'