Celebrating our two new female judges in Nova Scotia

Judges Catherine Benton and Ronda von der Hoek (Picture borrowed from  CBC News)

Judges Catherine Benton and Ronda von der Hoek (Picture borrowed from  CBC News)

I have often commented on the lack of diversity in leadership positions generally for women of colour, marginalized and the Indigenous peoples here in Nova Scotia. Today, I am proud to say, that our numbers have increased by two in the Judiciary.

In spite of all the negativity that have dominated our press in the past few weeks, I was ecstatic, when I learnt about the two new female appointees to the Family Court Division in our province.

Catherine Benton has become the first female Mi'kmaq judge in Nova Scotia. She was a legal aid lawyer and worked as a researcher with the Union of Nova Scotia Indians and the Mi’kmaq Grand Council before getting her law degree from Dalhousie in 1993. Catherine is also the third Aboriginal judge in Nova Scotia. We are proud to join in the celebrations with Judge Benton's community for her achievements.

Ronda van der Hoek is an African-Nova Scotian who practiced with the federal Public Prosecution Service prior to Monday's appointment to the bench. Ronda Van der Hoek, from Windsor, has practiced law for 19 years and also worked with Nova Scotia Legal Aid in Windsor and Halifax after graduating from Dalhousie Law School.

We congratulate Judge van der Hoek as she joins three other black female judges in our province. I can imagine the celebrations in the community of Windsor. 

Their appointment brings us one step closer to a more diverse justice system. They would help to influence lives and raise people's level of consciousness. Some of their decisions would no doubt give cause to challenge people's biases in decisions and systemic discrimination practices in their profession.

In a statement, Premier Stephen McNeil said, "huge step forward” for diversity in the courts." He also echoed our thoughts when he said, "both women have ensured that minority rights have been heard and Mi’kmaq rights have been protected." (The Canadian Press).

He also predicts their cultures and backgrounds will be reflected in the decisions they make. This acknowledgement is significant to us as people of colour and Indigenous peoples

In terms of gender diversity in the court system, there are now 15 female judges serving in Nova Scotia's provincial and family courts out of a total of 35 full-time and five part-time judges.

"A well-qualified and well-rounded judiciary that reflects the society and the people it serves increases people's confidence in the courts and the justice system," Chief Judge Pam Williams said in a news release. (CBC News, January 23, 2017). 

I must say here, that I was impressed with Premier McNeil's statement and I am looking forward to the day when diversity would be reflected across government and without exceptions because we still have a long way to go.

As we celebrate Canada's 150 Anniversary, and commemorate, The Decade of African Descent, African Heritage month, and International Women's Day, and the International Day for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination, in the coming weeks, and months perhaps there is something for all of us to reflect on.

Today, is a proud moment for all of us as women generally, especially Aboriginal Women, in Nova Scotia.