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Humility, humour mark day as new judges sworn in

Supreme Court of Canada nominees Justice Andromache Karakatsanis (L) and Justice Michael Moldaver wait to testify before an all-party committee meeting to review their nomination on Parliament Hill in Ottawa October 19, 2011. (REUTERS/Chris Wattie)

CHRIS WATTIE/REUTERS

It was a day to celebrate their ascension to the loftiest perch a lawyer can attain – the Supreme Court of Canada – and the court's two newest judges used their swearing-in to provide deeply personal reflections.

Madam Justice Andromache Karakatsanis wiped away a tear as she spoke of her parents immigrating from Greece to a country they believed could offer their children unlimited possibilities.

Moving fluidly from English to French, Judge Karakatsanis then uttered a couple of sentences in her family's native tongue, becoming arguably the first person to speak in Greek in the Supreme Court's 130-year history.

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When his turn came, Mr. Justice Michael Moldaver's voice trembled as he expressed wonderment that a mischievous son of a scrap metal merchant and a homemaker was sitting alongside some of the towering intellects of his generation.

Monday's formal welcoming ceremony marked a milestone in Prime Minister Stephen Harper's judicial legacy: a refashioned Supreme Court. With four appointments under his belt, Mr. Harper looks forward to three more opportunities to replace retiring judges before his majority mandate expires.

Renowned for his plain-spoken style, Judge Moldaver proceeded to turn the stiff ceremony into something more akin to a backyard barbecue.

He told humorous anecdotes and mocked himself for being cast as the palace eunuch in a high school performance of Julius Caesar. Later, in A Man For All Seasons, he was induced to play a Roman Catholic cardinal. "It was an interesting role for a nice Jewish boy from Peterborough who had never seen the inside of a confessional – but probably should have," he said.

A veteran of four marriages, Judge Moldaver provoked gales of laughter when he looked into Judge Karakatsanis's eyes as they prepared to recite their oaths and said: "I do."

Judge Moldaver also launched a wave of applause after asking an aunt to stand up in acknowledgment of her 82nd birthday, and choked up briefly describing fundamental values his deceased parents instilled in their three sons – humility, an understanding of the human condition and an unfailing sense of humour.

Judge Moldaver recalled his parents' happiness when he and his brothers began to amass university degrees behind their names. He said that his father, Irving, took to adding honorific letters behind his own name – J.D. for junk dealer, and M.D. for metal dealer.

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Judge Moldaver also made rueful reference to questioning he underwent at a high-profile parliamentary hearing last month, where MPs roasted him for not being bilingual.

"I found it to be a lot like exercise," Judge Moldaver said. "It ain't great while its happening, but it sure feels good when it's over."

When he and Judge Karakatsanis returned to their hotel together after the session, he said they stood by the elevator and were so overcome by the whirlwind of events that neither could recall the day of the week.

"There we were, two new members of the Supreme Court of Canada, neither one of us knowing what day it was. ... It was a good thing the Prime Minister couldn't see us, then," he said.

All nine judges arrived in the courtroom for the swearing-in clad in ceremonial, flowing red gowns with white ermine cuffs and collars, an outfit some judges in the past have likened to dressing up as a Christmas tree.

Chief Justice Beverley McLachlin told the assemblage, composed of the cream of the judiciary and legal establishment, that it was the 13th Supreme Court swearing-in she has attended, yet she never tires of the blend of emotion, goodwill and focus on legal tradition.

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"Welcoming new members of the court brings back a whole range of emotions I felt when I was sworn in...including a healthy dose of fear," she said.

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About the Author
Justice reporter

Born in Montreal, Aug. 3, 1954. BA (Journalism) Ryerson, 1979. Previously covered environment beat, Queen's Park. Toronto courts bureau from 1981-85. Justice beat from 1985 - present. More

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