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Essay: What If? Career Paths Not Taken: Claire L’Heureux-Dubé and Politics

  • Constance Backhouse (a1)

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2 See, for example, Sheehy, Elizabeth, ed., Adding Feminism to Law: The Contributions of Justice Claire L’Heureux-Dubé (Toronto: Irwin Law, 2004);Belleau, Marie-Claire et Lacasse, François, eds., Claire L’Heureux-Dubé à la Cour suprême du Canada 1987–2002 (Montréal: Wilson & Lafleur, 2004);Backhouse, Constance, “The Chilly Climate for Women Judges: Reflections on the Ewanchuk Decision,” (2003) 15:1Canadian Journal of Women and the Law at 167–93.

3 Unless otherwise indicated, all information about Claire’s life and career comes from the interviews with her, her family members, her friends, and her colleagues conducted in preparation for the biography. Details of all interviews are on file with the author.

4 An Act Respecting the Bar, S.Q. 1941, c.56, s.1. On the eleven women admitted before Claire made her decision to enter law in July 1946, see Gallichan, Gilles, Les Québécoises et le barreau: L’histoire d’une difficile conquête 1914–1941 (Sillery, Québec: Septentrion, 1999).

5 The 1941 census recorded 129 women lawyers out of a total of 7,920 members of the profession; Canada Department of Labour, Occupational Trends in Canada 1931–1961 (Ottawa: 1963), 40 and 45. The Ontario numbers, more accurately tracked than those in other provinces so far, show 3.7% of those called to the bar in 1945 were female. See Backhouse, Constance, “A Revolution in Numbers: Ontario Feminist Lawyers in the Formative Years, 1970s to 1990s,” in Backhouse, Constance and Wesley Pue, W., eds., The Promise and Perils of Law: Lawyers in Canadian History (Toronto: Irwin Law, 2009), at 274.

6 The first eight were Jeanne D’Arc Lemay, Thérèse Lemay-Lavoie, Magdeleine Therrien-Ferron, Lucille Gauthier, Ghislaine Gagné, Pauline Shink, Marguerite Choquette, and Ginette Fournier. Claire graduated the same year as Judith Gamache, making them ninth and tenth.Gallichan, Les Québécoises et le barreau, at 116; Annuaire Général de L’Université Laval pour L’Année Académique 1943–44, 1944–45, 1945–46, 1946–47, 1947–48, 1948–49 (Québec: Université Laval, 1943–1948).

7 The woman who preceded Claire, Ginette Fournier, had graduated one year previously and practised for four to five years on her own before dropping out of the profession. The numbers are calculated from the listings in the Canadian Law List, 1952 (Toronto: Cartwright & Sons, n.d.), at 679–83. Claire L’Heureux did not appear in the listing until 1953. Gender data from 1950–51 compiled by the Barreau du Québec show women across the province as 1.11% of the practising bar, twenty-one individuals in total. (Untitled, undated list showing members, women, and men from 1942–1999, copy on file with the author.)

8 The proportion of women lawyers in Quebec rose from 3% in 1967 to 25.6% in 1987. By 1999, Quebec women represented 40% of the profession. The percentages in the other provinces were: PEI 35.2%, Yukon 34.6%, Ontario 30.2%, Nova Scotia 28.2%, NWT & Nunavut 28.1%, BC 27.6%, Newfoundland 26.8%, Alberta 26.4%, New Brunswick 26.1%, Saskatchewan 24.7%, Manitoba 24%.Kay, Fiona M. and Brockman, Joan, “Crossroads to Innovation and Diversity: The Careers of Women Lawyers in Quebec” (2007) 47 McGill Law Journal at 701–9.

9 André Desgagné from the Saguenay-Lac-Saint-Jean was a classmate of Claire’s. He emphasized the difficulty of setting up in practice in Quebec City with two other men who had no legal, political, or business connections: “Society was not wide open like today. And if you didn’t know anyone in the profession, your chances were not very great. We began from zero, to set up a new law firm. The first objective was to pay the rent. It took three long years before we had some revenue.” Author’s interview with André Desgagné, 10 May 2010, Quebec City. The Honourable Roger Chouinard from Chicoutimi described Quebec City at the time: “It’s a closed milieu—a town of the family compact. They called it the ‘Grande Allée,’ referring to the name of the street, and the people who lived in that class…. It’s a fable to a certain extent. But there was a certain protection between a certain number of families.” Author’s interview with the Hon. Roger Chouinard, 11 May 2010, Quebec City. Roch Bolduc explained that classmates who came from small towns often returned, their only option to open practices as notaries in the hinterland. Author’s interview with the Hon. Roch Bolduc, OC, QC, 7 August 2009, Quebec City.

10 Author’s interview with Calin Morin-Melihercsik, 11 May 2010, Quebec City.

11 Author’s interview with the Hon. Justice Louis LeBel, 8 July 2010, Ottawa.

12 Since the Laval law professors, who were primarily practitioners, lectured early in the morning and late in the afternoon, Claire had worked as a secretary at Sun Trust from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. all through law school to pay her way. In 1951, she obtained her first position as a legal secretary, to the lawyer Sam Schwarz Bard.

13 The Canadian Law List, 1952 (Toronto: Cartwright & Sons, n.d.) listed only two Jewish lawyers in the city: Sydney Lazarovitz and Sam Schwarz Bard. A search of the Canadian Law List from 1900 to 1931 does not reveal any Quebec City lawyers with names that are not English or French. It is not always possible to determine ethnicity by last name, but the absence of names that suggest minority ethnicity is suggestive. On the longstanding history of anti-semitism, see Anctil, Pierre and Caldwell, Gary, Juifs et réalités juives au Québec (Québec: Institut québécois de recherché sur la culture, 1984);Weinfeld, Morton, “The Jews of Quebec: Perceived Antisemitism, Segregation, and Emigration” (1980) 22:1Jewish Journal of Sociology 520;Rosenberg, Louis, Canada’s Jews: A Social and Economic Study of Jews in Canada in the 1930s (1939; repr., Montreal: McGill-Queen’s University Press, 1993);Backhouse, Constance, “Anti-Semitism and the Law in Quebec City: The Plamondon Case, 1910–1915,” in Hamilton, Daniel W. and Brophy, Alfred L., eds., Transformations in American Legal History—Law, Ideology, and Methods; Essays in Honor of Morton J. Horwitz (Cambridge: Harvard Law School, 2010), at 303–25;Normand, Sylvio, “L’affaire Plamondon: un cas d’antisémitisme à Québec au début du xxe siècle” (2007) 48 Les Cahiers de Droit at 477504;MacFadyen, Joshua‘Nip the Noxious Growth in the Bud’: Ortenberg v. Plamondon and the Roots of Canadian Anti-Hate Activism” (2004) 12 Canadian Jewish Studies at 7396.

14 Author’s interview with Calin Morin-Melihercsik, 11 May 2010, Quebec City.

15 See Mary Kinnear’s study of early Manitoba women lawyers, “That There Woman Lawyer: Women Lawyers in Manitoba 1915–1970” (1992) 5 Canadian Journal of Women and the Law 418 at 432:“It was usual for the woman to retire from professional work on marriage, and it was a commonplace that women put their families first when family responsibilities conflicted with work demands. […] Women lawyers who worked before 1970 identified the fact that women were the primary care-givers in a family as a major reason for both their low numbers and their relative lack of success in the profession.”

16 Divorce Act, S.C. 1968, c. 24.

17 Author’s interview with Roger Garneau, 28 April 2009, Quebec City.

18 Author’s interview with Julien Payne, C.M., Q.C., LSM., LL.D., F.R.S.C., 7 July 2009, Ottawa.

19 Author’s interview with Claire L’Heureux-Dubé, Quebec City, 27–28 April 2009.

20 Author’s interview with Claire L’Heureux-Dubé, Ottawa, 10 March 2010.

21 Federal cabinet ministers Robert Andras and Jean Marchand co-chaired the 1972 federal election campaign. English, John, The Life of Pierre Elliott Trudeau: Just Watch Me, 1968–2000, vol. 2 (Toronto: Knopf Canada, 2009). Joseph-Yvon-Jean-Paul Lefebvre, born 1926, had risen through the ranks of the Jeunesse Étudiantes Catholiques (JEC), inspired by his passion for adult education to work with Jean Marchand at the Confédération des Syndicats Nationaux (CSN) and then to serve as the Liberal member of the National Assembly of Quebec for the riding of Ahuntsic from 1966 to 1970. He worked in the federal public service after the 1972 election. Marc Lalonde recalled that, at a later point, Lefebvre served as secretary general of the Liberal Party, Section Quebec. Author’s interview with the Hon. Marc Lalonde, C.P., O.C., c.r., 16 August 2012, Ile Perrot, Quebec; Author’s interview with Monique Bégin, 4 September 2011, Ottawa; Bégin’s email correspondence of 5 September 2011, copy on file with the author; Normandin, Pierre G.The Canadian Parliamentary Guide 1970 (Ottawa: Gale Canada, 1970), at 758–59.

22 English, JohnThe Life of Pierre Elliott Trudeau: Citizen of the World, 1919–1968, vol. 1 (Toronto: Knopf Canada, 2006);English The Life of Pierre Elliott Trudeau: Just Watch Me, 1968–2000, vol. 2.

23 On the 1940 extension of suffrage in Quebec, the last province in Canada to do so, and the failure to elect Québécoises to Parliament before 1972, see Dumont, Micheline, Le féminisme québécois, raconté à Camille (Montréal: Les Éditions du remue-ménage, 2009), at 165.

24 The Liberal campaign platform, “The Land is Strong,” offered statistical evidence of economic growth and then stated: “Behind these statistics is a man with a good job and a steady wage; a man and a woman starting a new family in a new house; another man with a good job because Canadian products sell so well abroad; still another man with a good job because Canadian enterprise has the confidence in itself and in the country to re-invest to create the new jobs our young people want.” English, The Life of Pierre Elliott Trudeau: Just Watch Me, 1968–2000, vol. 2, at 178. On Trudeau’s instructions, see Author’s interview with Monique Bégin, 4 September 2011, Ottawa.

25 Monique Bégin notes that although she never saw the reputed list, she was told that she was number eight, and that other names included Rita Cadieux and Monique Coupal. Many of the women refused to run, some claiming that the Liberal Party was not sufficiently focused on social reform. In contrast, the campaign organizers on the English-Canadian side apparently told Trudeau that “there were no women capable of being candidates.” In the end, the only Liberal women elected in 1972 were from Quebec. Author’s interview with Monique Bégin, 4 September 2011, Ottawa.

26 Author’s interview with the Hon. Marc Lalonde, C.P., O.C., c.r., 16 August 2012, Ile Perrot, Quebec.

27 Brandt, Gail Cuthbert, Black, Naomi, Bourne, Paula, and Fahrni, Magda, Canadian Women: A History, 3rd ed. (Toronto: Nelson, 2011), at 527.

28 Cerise Morris, “No More Than Simple Justice: The Royal Commission on the Status of Women and Social Change in Canada,” M.A. Thesis, McGill University Department of Sociology, January 1982.

29 Anthony Westell, “Report is More Explosive Than Any Terrorists’ Time Bomb,” Toronto Star, 8 December 1970.

30 Author’s interview with the Hon. Marc Lalonde, C.P., O.C., c.r., 16 August 2012, Ile Perrot, Quebec.

31 Author’s interview with Monique Bégin, 19 July 2012, Ottawa.

32 Dumont, MichelineLe féminisme québécois raconté à Camille (Montréal: Les Éditions du remue-ménage, 2009) at 133.

33 The Conseil du statut de la femme published a groundbreaking document in 1978 entitled Pour les Québécoises: Égalité et independance. Gail Cuthbert Brandt et al., Canadian Women: A History, at 531–32.

34 Ibid., at 532.

35 Vickers, Jill, Rankin, Pauline, and Appelle, Christine, Politics As If Women Mattered: A Political Analysis of the National Action Committee on the Status of Women (Toronto: University of Toronto, 1993).

36 Dumont, MichelineLe féminisme québécois raconté à Camille (Montréal: Les Éditions du remue-ménage, 2009) at 126–27.

37 Author’s interview with the Hon. Marc Lalonde, C.P., O.C., c.r., 16 August 2012, Ile Perrot, Quebec.

38 Author’s interview with Claire Lalonde, 16 August 2012, Ile Perrot, Quebec.

39 Author’s interview with Monique Bégin, 4 September 2011, 5 September 2012, Ottawa.

40 Author’s interview with Claire L’Heureux-Dubé, Clearwater, Florida, 10–14 May 2009 (Emphasis in oral statement).

41 Author’s interview with Claire L’Heureux-Dubé, Clearwater, Florida, 10–14 May 2009.

42 Author’s interview with Claire L’Heureux-Dubé, Quebec City, 30 August 2012.

43 English The Life of Pierre Elliott Trudeau: Citizen of the World, 1919–1968, vol. 1.

44 In the 1940s, a small group of French-Canadians living in Ottawa (among them Arthur Dubé and Gérard Morin, correspondent for Le Soleil) used to dine at Le Canton, a Chinese restaurant favoured by Pierre Trudeau. Arthur Dubé followed politics carefully but never joined the Liberal Party. According to Claire, Arthur’s political philosophy was “liberal, very nationalistic, but not separatist.” Author’s interview with Claire L’Heureux-Dubé, Quebec City, 27–28 April 2009.

45 Author’s interview with Claire L’Heureux-Dubé, Quebec City, 27–28 April 2009.

46 Ibid.

47 Claire recalls several versions of the conversation. See Author’s interview with Claire L’Heureux-Dubé, Quebec City, 30 August 2012. André Legault, a member of Claire’s staff at the Supreme Court of Canada, recalls hearing from her a slightly different version: “Trudeau approached her and said, ‘You’d be a good minister in my cabinet.’ She said, ‘I know nothing about being elected . . . whether people would vote for me.’ He said, ‘Don’t worry—I’ve got a place for you to run, even a dog could get elected there.’ She said, ‘So you think I’m a dog!’ And he said, ‘No, that’s not what I meant.’ They were laughing about it.” Author’s interview with André Legault, 10 December 2007, Ottawa.

48 Author’s interview with Claire L’Heureux-Dubé, Quebec City, 27–28 April 2009.

49 Author’s interview with Claire L’Heureux-Dubé, Quebec City, 30 August 2012.

50 Lily Tasso, “La famille avant la politique chez Madame Claire L’Heureux-Dubé,” clipping dated 5 October 1972, no other reference, in scrapbook kept by Claire’s father.

51 Dumont, Micheline, Le féminisme québécois, raconté à Camille (Montréal: Les Éditions du remue-ménage, 2009), at 165;Jean, Michèle, Québécoises du 20e Siècle (Montréal: Les Éditions Quinze, 1977), at 43. Albanie (Paré) Morin was born 30 April 1921 in St. Elizabeth, Manitoba. Her husband, George Morin, ran a sales and repair business in automobiles. Albanie did not finish high school as a young woman and began her career as a secretary. After she married, she completed her university education with degrees in history, education, and translation. She won the riding of Louis-Hébert in 1972 and in 1974, and she served as the assistant deputy chair of the House of Commons Committee of the Whole from 1974 to 1976. She had completed all of her law courses but was not yet called to the bar when she died on 30 September 1976. Interview with Albanie Morin (daughter of Albanie Paré Morin), 1 August 2008, Montreal; Madden, Wayne D., Canadian Women M.P.s and M.L.A.s (Fort McMurray, Alta: A Little Bit of Hope (Madden), 1998), at 12;Bannerman, JeanLeading Ladies Canada (Belleville: Mika Publishing, 1977), at 263–64.

52 Author’s interview with Julien Payne, 7 July 2009, Ottawa.

53 Born in Saskatchewan, rising to prominence with the JEC and as a CBC journalist, in 1972, Jeanne Sauvé was first elected to the Montreal riding of Ahuntsic and appointed the minister of state for science and technology, the only woman in the Trudeau cabinet. She later served as the minister of the environment and of communications and became the first female Speaker of the House of Commons. In 1984, she was appointed Canada’s first female governor general. Wood, Shirley, Her Excellency Jeanne Sauvé (Toronto: Macmillan, 1986). Born in Rome, Monique Bégin was elected in 1972 to the Montreal riding of Saint-Michel, which she held until 1979. She was then elected to the Montreal riding of Saint-Léonard-Anjou, which she held until 1984. She was appointed the minister of national revenue in 1976 and served as the minister of health and welfare from 1977 to 1984. Author’s interview with Monique Bégin, 4 September 2011, Ottawa.

54 When the Liberals recruited Monique Bégin to run in 1972, they offered her a “safe” Montreal seat, pledged to run no fewer than three Québécoises, and provided some financial support for the campaign. One assumes that had Claire so requested, her entrance into politics would have been similarly assisted. Author’s interview with Monique Bégin, 4 September 2011, Ottawa.

55 The two other female MPs were Grace MacInnis (NDP, Vancouver Kingsway) and Flora MacDonald (Progressive Conservative, Kingston and the Islands). Grace MacInnis was the daughter of J. S. Woodsworth, the founder of the CCF predecessor party to the NDP, who had held the seat since 1965. For all of the others, this was their first term as Sunny, MP.Lewis, P., Grace: The Life of Grace MacInnis (Madeira Park, BC: Harbour Publishing, 1993);Farrell, Ann, Grace MacInnis: The Story of Her Love and Integrity (Markham, Ont.: Fitzhenry and Whiteside, 1994); Madden, Canadian Women M.P.s and M.L.A.s, at 12.

56 Author’s interview with Monique Bégin, 4 September 2011, Ottawa. Trudeau had been criticized, because his first cabinet contained no women (unlike the earlier cabinets of John Diefenbaker and Lester Pearson), and he was anxious not to repeat the oversight. English, The Life of Pierre Elliott Trudeau: Just Watch Me, 1968–2000, vol. 2.

57 The 1972 election produced a minority Liberal government, with the NDP holding the balance of power: Feigert, Frank B., Canada votes, 1935–1988 (Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 1989), at Table 237. Author’s interview with Monique Bégin, 4 September 2011, Ottawa.

58 Bégin recalled that Gérard Pelletier told her that they wondered if a cabinet appointment at that early stage might “destroy” her; she added: “They thought Question Period would kill me.” Author’s interview with Monique Bégin, 4 September 2011, Ottawa.

59 Jean Marchand told Bégin that he supported Morin’s candidacy as a Liberal because he perceived her to be “feminine,” “traditional,” “not dangerous.” Bégin added: “Albanie was very proper. A fine human being. I liked her a lot. The Conservatives in the House loved her. She was a very feminine, comfortable, mature woman. But socially speaking, she was not a fighter. They didn’t want a nice, sweet person. It was a minority government. They needed a fighter.” Author’s interview with Monique Bégin, 4 September 2011, Ottawa.

60 Author’s interview with Monique Bégin, 4 September 2011, Ottawa.

61 Author’s interview with Monique Bégin, 4 September 2011, Ottawa.

62 Author’s interview with the Hon. Marc Lalonde, C.P., O.C., c.r., 16 August 2012, Ile Perrot, Quebec.

63 Dion has sat as an MP from 1996 to the present and served as a cabinet minister under Jean Chretien and Paul Martin. He headed the federal Liberal Party from 2006 to 2008. Author’s interview with Stéphane Dion, 6 August 2011, Lake Couchiching, Ontario.

64 Author’s interview with the Hon. Marc Lalonde, C.P., O.C., c.r., 16 August 2012, Ile Perrot, Quebec.

65 Author’s interview with the Hon. Allan Rock, 6 September 2012, Ottawa.

66 English, The Life of Pierre Elliott Trudeau: Citizen of the World, 1919–1968, vol. 1; English, The Life of Pierre Elliott Trudeau: Just Watch Me, 1968–2000, vol. 2; Clarkson, Stephen and McCall, Christina, Trudeau and Our Times, 2 vols. (Toronto: McClelland & Stewart, 1990–1994).

67 Author’s interview with Monique Bégin, 4 September 2011, Ottawa.

68 Author’s interview with Monique Bégin, 4 September 2011, Ottawa.

69 Deslauriers, Ignace-J., La Cour Supérieure du Québec et ses juges, 1849–1er janvier 1980 (Québec: Bibliothèque nationale du Québec, 1980), at 33, 45, 144;Ratushny, Ed, “Judicial Appointments: The Lang Legacy” (1977–78) 1 Advocates’ Quarterly 2 at 14. Réjane Laberge-Colas, the first, was appointed by Justice Minister John Turner and Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau to the Superior Court of Quebec in Montreal on 20 February 1969. She had graduated from the Faculty of Law at the University of Montreal (LL.L. cum laude) and stood first at the bar exams in 1952. She was married to Émile Colas, a Montreal lawyer, and the couple was part of a tight network of successful Liberal professionals. Her first five years in practice were spent as in-house counsel with Aluminium Secretariat. She had just joined the law office of Geoffrion et Prud’homme in 1969, when she was appointed to the court. Author’s interview with Monique Bégin, 5 September 2012, Ottawa; Michèle Jean, Québécoises du 20e Siècle, at 42; Alison Prentice, Paula Bourne, Gail Brandt, Cuthbert, and Light, Beth, Canadian Women: A History (Toronto: Harcourt, Brace, Jovanovich, 1988), at 346; Lucie-Anne Fabien “Décès de l’honorable Réjane Laberge-Colas—1923-2009,” Canada Newswire, 10 August 2009. The second woman was Mabel Margaret Van Camp, who was appointed by Justice Minister John Turner and Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau to the Supreme Court of Ontario in 1971. Born in Blackstock, north of Toronto, in 1920, Van Camp was a graduate of Osgoode Hall Law School and was called to the bar in 1947. She practised in Toronto with Beaudoin, Pepper & Van Camp until her appointment. Obituary, William Illsey Atkinson, “I Am the Damn Judge,” Toronto Globe and Mail, 9 August 2012, R5. On earlier appointments to lower courts, see Harvey, Cameron, “Women in Law in Canada” (1971) 4 Manitoba Law Journal at 20–2.

1 Professor of Law, University of Ottawa. I would like to thank my research assistants, Falon Milligan, Emelie Kozak and Jessica Kozak, and my administrative assistant Veronique Larose. David Wexler, of the Faculty of Law, University of Puerto Rico, offered many valuable insights to this work. Funds from the University of Ottawa, the Trudeau Foundation, the Killam Foundation, and the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada are gratefully acknowledged.

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