Rosalie Silberman AbellaApril 4, 2017


Canadian Supreme Court Justice Rosalie Silberman Abella, a renowned expert on human-rights law, will deliver the commencement address at Brandeis University’s 66th Commencement on May 21. She will be among five distinguished individuals to receive honorary degrees from Brandeis at the Commencement ceremony.

Abella was born in a displaced persons camp in Stuttgart, Germany, to parents who had spent three years in Nazi concentration camps and whose 2-year-old son perished in Treblinka. In 1950, the Silberman family immigrated to Canada. By age 4, Abella had decided to become a lawyer, inspired by her father who had been a brilliant law student in Poland before the war.  But when he learned he would have to become a Canadian citizen, which would take five years, in order to practice law, he went into insurance instead to support his young family.

After earning an LLB from the University of Toronto, Abella was called to the Ontario Bar in 1972. She practiced civil and criminal litigation before becoming a jurist on the Ontario Family Court in 1976 at age 29, the youngest — and first pregnant — person ever appointed to Canada’s judiciary. Sixteen years later, she was appointed to the Ontario Court of Appeal. In 2004, in a remarkable coda to her father’s legacy she became the first Jewish woman appointed to the Supreme Court of Canada.

“Justice Abella’s personal story and legal career are an inspiring example to our graduates of what we can accomplish when one uses one’s education to the betterment of the world,” said Brandeis University President Ron Liebowitz. “She is a judge with whom our namesake Justice Louis D. Brandeis would have found much in common: a commitment to the protection of those who are not at the center of power in society.”

Abella is considered a foremost expert on human-rights law. She was the sole Commissioner of the 1984 federal Royal Commission on Equality in Employment, which created the concept of “employment equity” in an effort to end workplace discrimination against women, indigenous peoples, nonwhite minorities and persons with disabilities. The report was implemented in Canada and several other countries. She has written more than 90 articles, and has written or co-edited four books. She was made a Fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences in 2007.

Brandeis will confer honorary degrees on Abella; computer scientist Leslie Lamport, MA’63, PhD’72; Provost Lisa M. Lynch, P’17; former Massachusetts Governor Deval Patrick; and Barry Shrage, president of Combined Jewish Philanthropies of Greater Boston.

“The remarkable honorary degree recipients we will honor at Commencement embody the values that guide Brandeis’ mission: They have demonstrated a commitment to intellectual rigor, have thought critically about the issues they have advanced, and have dedicated their talents and lives to repairing and improving the world,” Liebowitz said.

Commencement exercises will take place Sunday, May 21, at 10:30 a.m. in Gosman Sports and Convocation Center.