Stand against in­jus­tice

Supreme Court jus­tice takes aim at ‘nar­cis­sis­tic pop­ulism’ in grad­u­a­tion speech

Cape Breton Post - - Canada -

One of Canada’s top judges has made an im­pas­sioned plea to the grad­u­at­ing class of law stu­dents at an Amer­i­can univer­sity to stand against in­jus­tice fu­elled by “nar­cis­sis­tic pop­ulism.’’

In a speech that seem­ingly took aim at the ac­tions and words of the sit­ting Amer­i­can pres­i­dent, Supreme Court Jus­tice Ros­alie Abella did not once ut­ter the name of U.S. Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump.

Yet Trump’s feuds with Amer­i­can judges who have halted his planned travel bans from pre­dom­i­nantly Mus­lim coun­tries, the on­go­ing fall­out from his fir­ing of former FBI di­rec­tor James Comey, and his pop­ulist poli­cies ran through Abella’s key­note ad­dress at a grad­u­a­tion cer­e­mony Sun­day.

Abella told the grad­u­at­ing class at Bran­deis Univer­sity, west of Bos­ton, Mass., that she has be­come deeply wor­ried about the state of jus­tice in the world seven decades af­ter the Sec­ond World War.

Af­ter the war, coun­tries com­mit­ted them­selves to the “pro­mo­tion and pro­tec­tion of val­ues de­signed to pre­vent a rep­e­ti­tion of the war’s unimag­in­able hu­man rights abuses,’’ she said.

Abella said that com­mit­ment has been “shat­tered by nar­cis­sis­tic pop­ulism, an un­healthy tol­er­ance for in­tol­er­ance, a cav­a­lier in­dif­fer­ence to equal­ity, a de­lib­er­ate am­ne­sia about the in­stru­ments and val­ues of democ­racy that are no less cru­cial than elec­tions and a shock­ing dis­re­spect for the bor­ders be­tween power and its in­de­pen­dent ad­ju­di­ca­tors like the press and the courts,’’ spark­ing a round of ap­plause.

The hon­orary de­gree was the lat­est in a string of hon­ours for Abella, who was named global ju­rist of the year by the law school at North­west­ern Univer­sity in Chicago, Ill., in Jan­uary, and last year be­came the first Cana­dian woman to re­ceive an hon­orary de­gree from Yale Univer­sity.

The speech Sun­day brought Abella to tears at points as she linked her per­sonal his­tory to con­tem­po­rary events.

Her par­ents spent three years in Nazi con­cen­tra­tion camps. Her fa­ther was the only mem­ber of his fam­ily to sur­vive. The cou­ple’s two-year-old son also died in the camps.

Abella was born July 1, 1946, in a refugee camp in Stuttgart, Ger­many, where her fa­ther, a lawyer, worked with Amer­i­can of­fi­cials on le­gal ser­vices for displaced per­sons in the Al­lied zone of south­west Ger­many.

Af­ter the fam­ily im­mi­grated to Canada, her fa­ther was told that non-cit­i­zens could not be lawyers. Abella was four years old at the time. She said it was at that mo­ment she de­cided to be­come a lawyer.

Her fa­ther died a month be­fore she grad­u­ated from law school.

Abella went on to be­come the first Jewish fe­male on the Supreme Court, and headed a 1984 com­mis­sion on em­ploy­ment eq­uity.

In her key­note ad­dress, Abella in­voked the mem­ory of the Holo­caust and said the mantra of “never again’’ had turned into “again and again’’ in to­day’s po­lit­i­cal cli­mate.

“My life started in a coun­try where there had been no democ­racy, no rights, no jus­tice, and all be­cause we were Jewish,’’ Abella told the grad­u­ates.

“We have a par­tic­u­lar duty to wear our iden­ti­ties with pride and to prom­ise our chil­dren that we will do ev­ery­thing hu­manly pos­si­ble to keep the world safer for them than it was for their grand­par­ents, a world where all chil­dren — re­gard­less of race, colour, re­li­gion, or gen­der — can wear their iden­ti­ties with dig­nity, with pride, and in peace.’’


Jus­tice Ros­alie Abella looks on dur­ing a swear­ing-in cer­e­mony at the Supreme Court of Canada for her and Jus­tice Louise Char­ron, in Ot­tawa on Oct. 4, 2004. Abella has made an im­pas­sioned plea to the grad­u­at­ing class of law stu­dents at an Amer­i­can univer­sity to stand against in­jus­tice fu­elled by “nar­cis­sis­tic pop­ulism.”

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