Honorary Degree Citation - Louise Arbour

by Marcel Danis, June 2001

Mr. Chancellor, I have the honour to present to you the Honorable Louise Arbour, Justice of the Supreme Court of Canada, and former chief prosecutor for the United Nations' International Criminal Tribunals.

Over the course of her distinguished 30-year legal career, Louise Arbour's pursuit of human rights and criminal justice has led to groundbreaking legislative changes in Canada and around the world. Born in Montreal, she completed all her studies here, earning a Bachelor of Arts from the Collège Regina Assumpta in 1967, and an LL.L., with distinction, from the Faculty of Law at the Université de Montréal in 1970. Although she has been called a "global citizen" following her high-profile tenure at the helm of the International Criminal Tribunals from 1996 to 1999, Montreal can truly claim Louise Arbour as one of its own.

Justice Arbour began her career articling for the Legal Department of the City of Montreal. In 1971, she was called to the Québec Bar. She was a law clerk for Justice Louis-Philippe Pigeon of the Supreme Court of Canada, then a research officer for the Law Reform Commission and a member of the Criminal Procedure Project.

She became a lecturer in criminal procedure at York University's Osgoode Hall Law School in 1974, an assistant professor the following year, and associate professor in 1977. That same year, she was called to the Ontario Bar. From 1985 to 1987, she was also vice-president of the Canadian Civil Liberties Association.

In July 1987, justice Arbour was named Associate Dean of Osgoode Hall Law School. She left the post six months later, when she was appointed to the Supreme Court of Ontario. In 1990, she was appointed to the Court of Appeal for Ontario. Over the years, Justice Arbour wrote prolifically in English and French on criminal procedure, human rights and civil rights. She focused national attention on numerous issues, including women's rights, memory and credibility in testimony (particularly among children), family violence, gender issues, and cultural diversity and the courts.

In 1995, Justice Arbour headed a federal inquiry into human rights abuses of prisoners at the Kingston Penitentiary for Women. The inquiry was commissioned by the federal government in the face of outrage at the way Kingston Penitentiary guards treated female prisoners following a riot at the prison. Justice Arbour recommended that the penitentiary be closed and that women be placed in communities, with more appropriate forms of treatment and programs. There have since been substantial reforms to the Canadian prison system.

From 1996 to 1999, Justice Arbour was chief prosecutor for the International Criminal Tribunals on war crimes in the former Yugoslavia and on the genocide in Rwanda. The International Criminal Tribunals are the first international endeavours to bring justice to those responsible for crimes committed during armed conflict, since the Nuremberg and Tokyo trials after World War II. The Tribunals uncovered gruesome evidence of mass murders, sexual violence and other horrific acts. Under sharp scrutiny, and in face of sometimes frustrating political obstacles, she pursued and indicted war criminals, including Slobodan Milosevic, and a number of political and military leaders. This was the first time a sitting head of state was indicted before an international tribunal.

Justice Arbour's work on the tribunals has greatly increased public awareness of the innocent victims of war. Up to 90 per cent of all casualties of armed conflicts today are civilians. Justice Arbour's Canadian approach to international criminal justice, and her steadfast resolve, have been pivotal to the development of a modern course towards ensuring that perpetrators of war crimes and violators of human rights are held accountable for their actions.

She has been integral to the process of developing a new international jurisdiction based on human rights and accountability, and the signing of the 1998 Rome Treaty, an agreement in principle made by 120 countries to establish an International Criminal Court.

Justice Arbour was appointed to the Supreme Court of Canada in 1999. She continues to make an invaluable contribution to the laws for human rights and justice within Canada, and on the international stage.

Mr. Chancellor, on behalf of Senate and the Board of Governors, it is my privilege and an honour to present to you, the Honorable Louise Arbour, so that you may confer upon her the degree of Doctor of Laws, honoris causa.