Two Firsts : Bertha Wilson and Claire L’Heureux-Dubé at the Supreme Court of Canada

By Constance Backhouse

A Feminist History Society Book Series

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The first two women judges on the Supreme Court of Canada were polar opposites, but faced many of the same challenges

Bertha Wilson and Claire L’Heureux-Dubé were the first women judges on the Supreme Court of Canada. Their 1980s judicial appointments delighted feminists and shocked the legal establishment. Polar opposites in background and temperament, the two faced many identical challenges. Constance Backhouse’s compelling narrative explores the sexist roadblocks both women faced in education, law practice, and in the courts. She profiles their different ways of coping, their landmark decisions for women’s rights, and their less stellar records on race. To explore the lives and careers of these two path-breaking women is to venture into a world of legal sexism from a past era. The question becomes, how much of that sexism has been relegated to the bins of history, and how much continues?

Praise & Recognition

Backhouse depicts Wilson and L’Heureux-Dubé as the admirable pioneers they were, and as individuals fully capable of human frailty. Two Firsts is exactly the kind of well-researched, currently relevant, straightforward, non-memoir non-fiction that gives the genre such power. It’s not a biography of either woman, but a well-told story of the similar extraordinary circumstances that made both of them “firsts,” and how this big job played out in each of their lives and in the life of Canada. The Globe & Mail
Two Firsts is excellent because of Backhouse's ability to both tell her subjects' life stories and analyze their actions within personal and societal frameworks. Quill & Quire
A quick, entertaining, well-researched, and informative read, I think anyone interested in a ‘behind the scenes’ look at being a judge in Canada and the history (or “herstory”) of these “Two Firsts” will enjoy this book. Cowling Legal
This highly readable little book reminds us of the importance of gender diversity on the country’s highest court. Herizons


Publication Date: March 8, 2019

Genre: Adult Nonfiction

Product Format: Paperback

Pages: 272

ISBN: 978-1-77260-093-3

Constance Backhouse

About the Author

Constance Backhouse

Constance Backhouse is a Professor of Law at the University of Ottawa. She has published a number of prize-winning books: Petticoats and Prejudice: Women and Law in Nineteenth-Century Canada;-Coded: A Legal History of Racism in Canada, 1900-1950; The Heiress vs the Establishment: Mrs. Campbell’s Campaign for Legal Justice; and Carnal Crimes: Sexual Assault Law in Canada, 1900-1975. Her latest book, Claire L’Heureux-Dubé: A Life, was published in 2017. She was named to the Order of Canada in 2008.
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