Judging Bertha Wilson: Law As Large As Life

by Ellen Anderson, Lawyer, Barrie, Ontario. Published with the University of Toronto Press, 2001.

Bertha Wilson is the first woman to be appointed to the Ontario Court of Appeal. She is the first woman to be appointed to the Supreme Court of Canada at that critical moment when the Charter was entrenched. Nevertheless, Bertha Wilson has never considered herself to be a feminist. But neither has she ever backed off from controversy, a reputation sustained in this authorized intellectual biography. The early Charter years were turbulent times. Wilson is remarkably frank about the many issues affecting judicial decision-making as the Court struggled with Charter interpretation. In this intriguing biography, we come to understand what drove the sense of duty impelling Wilson to take on so extraordinary a burden of dissents and concurrences.
The Bertha Wilson story begins with her Scottish values and experiences and it concludes with her gruelling years on the Royal Commission on Aboriginal Peoples. Before judging, Wilson said, a judge must “enter the skin.” Seen from an intimate and even affectionate perspective, there can be no doubt Bertha Wilson is one judge who really did make a difference.


Ontario Historical Society's Alison Prentice Award 2004

Reviews of Judging Bertha Wilson: Law As Large As Life

Ellen Anderson's engaging book on Justice Bertha Wilson is timely and records a life filled with firsts. ... Anderson's book is inspirational in showing what can be achieved when a person possessing innate ability is exposed to a good education. It is a female Horatio Alger story but instead of rags to riches, the transformation is from local parish influence in Scotland to significant national influence in Canada. ... We should all be very grateful to Anderson for telling the Wilson story skillfully with insight, passion and elegance. Not only does the story need to be told but it needs to be read, not just by lawyers, law students and students of politics but by all citizens who wish to be well informed about the third branch of government, the judiciary, which since the Charter has a much enhanced role to play. Gordon Bale, Supreme Court Law Review, vol 18, 2002
An exceptional book about an exceptional judge...one of the best biographies I have ever read. Chief Justice Antonio Lamer, Ottawa Law Review, vol 22, 2002 , p.483.
Anderson's book does not simply introduce us to the life of an important judge, though it does do that. It also encourages us to live similarly in the law. It encourages an adoption of Wilson's concerns with a multiplicity of legal subjects .... Anderson offers both a book and a challenge worth picking up. Rebecca Johnson, Canadian Bar Review, Vol 81, 2002, p. 483.

Reviews have also appeared in the following publications:

  • Constance Backhouse, Labour/Le Travail, No 67, 2003, p. 295.
  • Clare McGlynn, Feminist Legal Studies, Vol 11, 2003, p. 307.
  • Paul Sheridan, University of Toronto Faculty of Law Review, Vol 61, 2003, p. 133.
  • Thomas M.J. Batemen, Law & Politics Book Review, Vol 12, 2002, p. 90.
  • Andrea Cambridge, Canadian Law Libraries, Vol 27, 2002, p. 236.
  • Jodi McNaughton, Saskatchewan Law Review, Vol 65, 2002, p. 589.
  • Jonathan Swainger, Canadian Historical Review, Vol 83, 2002, p. 591.
  • Michael J. O'Keefe, The Advocate, Vol 60, 2002, p.765.
  • Christopher Moore, Law Times, Vol 19, 2001, p. 7.