L'Heureux-Dubé, Claire

Law Hall of Fame logoClaire L'Heureux-Dubé was born in Quebec City in 1927.

 

Born Claire l'Heureux, she was raised, along with her three sisters, by a mother confined to a wheelchair because of the ravages of multiple sclerosis.

She received her law degree from the Université Laval in 1951 and a year later, was called to the Québec bar (Barreau du Québec).

In 1956, she took a break from practise and traveled in Europe but promptly upon her return to Canada in 1957, she married Arthur Dubé in 1957, adding his surname to her's.

In February 1973, she was appointed to the federal Superior Court of Quebec (Cour supérieure) - the first woman to have ever been so appointed.

In 1978, tragedy struck: her husband committed suicide.

She was appointed to the Québec Court of Appeals in October of 1979; again, a first for a woman.

On April 15, 1987, she was appointed to the Supreme Court of Canada, only the second woman to do so, joining Bertha Wilson on Canada's highest court, whom she later called her "guardian angel".

She was not fond of the working conditions her fellow Quebecer and haughty chief justice Antonio Lamer (also her fellow colleague on the Quebec Court of Appeal, in 1979) imposed. The judges' offices were remote from each other and she felt that the concrete bunker which houses the Court in Ottawa was like a prison.

Claire L'Heureux-DubéShe once complained that the only contact she had with her colleagues on the court was mostly by way of impersonal memo. She missed her days on the Quebec Court of Appeal where collegiality and personal relations were cherished.

In 1991, she took on a dinosaur judge from the Alberta Court of Appeal (John "Buzz" McClung, 1935-2004) who had acquitted an accused rapist by referring to his assault as "romantic intentions" and the victim as follows:

"...the complainant did not present herself to Ewanchuk or enter his trailer in a bonnet and crinolines.... She was the mother of a six-month-old baby."

Endorsed by her brother on the Court, Charles Gonthier, L'Heureux-Dubé spoke her mind in R v Ewanchuk:

"One might wonder why (McClung) felt necessary to point out these aspects of the trial record.

"Could it be to express that the complainant is not a virgin?

"These comments ... help reinforce the myth that under such circumstances, either the complainant is less worthy of belief, she invited the sexual assault, or her sexual experience signals probable consent to further sexual activity.

"Based on those attributed assumptions, the implication is that if the complainant articulates her lack of consent by saying no, she really does not mean it and even if she does, her refusal cannot be taken as seriously as if she were a girl of good moral character. Inviting sexual assault, according to those myths, lessens the guilt of the accused."

McClung, soon thereafter, wrote a letter to a national newspaper in which he pondered if views such as those of Justice L'Heureux-Dubé in Ewanchuk might explain the "number of male suicides being reported in the province of Quebec."

It was a malicious reference to L'Heureux-Dubé's deceased husband. Facing public outrage, McClung apologized but not after the unbelievable suggestion that he was not aware of the nature L'Heureux-Dubé's husband death.

In 1994, she showed she had a sense of humour when, in Willick, she quoted herself in an earlier case, and quipped:

"I most heartily agree."

In 1993, she dissented in Canada v Mossop, disagreeing with the majority on the court who were not prepared to include same-sex couples within the meaning of the word family in the Canadian Human Rights Act.

Conversely, she told a Montreal Gazette reporter in 2009 that she is opposed to legalizing polygamy as "it is contrary to the equality of the sexes".

Her only son died in 1994.

L'Heureux-Dubé retired from the Supreme Court in 2002 and lives in Quebec City, though now often traveling to teach new judges on the art of judgeship.

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Published: Friday, June 05, 2009
Last updated: Friday, June 05, 2009
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