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Wilson’s Decision in R v Lavallee


Subject Law and governance Pages 3 Style APA


Wilson’s Decision in R v Lavallee

In the case law R. v. Lavallee, it is known that a woman by the name Angelique Lavallee was involved in a common law partnership with Mr. Kevin Rust. Their relationship was abusive, however, the appellant was unable to leave but rather decided to stay. On the night that Rust died, they hosted a party at their residence. During the event, Rust slapped her and told her that she either killed him or she would get her. The term ‘get you’ as used by Rust is often interpreted as a threat. That night, they had an altercation where at some point, Rust handed his gun to Lavallee. She first contemplated committing suicide but when Rust turned to leave the room, Lavallee shot him in the head. During the trials, she cited that she shot her partner in self-defence. She had a psychiatrist testify in her favor noting that the appellant felt threatened and had no option but to protect herself by shooting him (Grant & Parkes, 2017). Lavallee failed to testify in this case. She was acquitted by the jury, but the court of appeal overturned the jury’s decision. However, the Supreme Court of Canada (SCC) upheld the original verdict by the jury. Coincidentally, Madame Justice Bertha Wilson was one of the 6 members of the 7 judge panel that voted in defence of the battered wife syndrome defence. She voted along alongside two other female judges who shared in Wilson Berthas opinion. At this point, Wilson’s decision in this case reflects the title of her speech where her opinions influenced two other women judges to defend Lavallee. This paper therefore, details how Wilson’s decision in Lavalee reflects her argument regarding the ability for women judges to make a difference in the legal and judicial profession.

Secondly, Wilson notes that the judiciary at the time of the speech, was substantially male and that this reality could have had an impact on the partiality and neutrality of the rulings. She therefore argues that as more women were judges were being absorbed into the system, it was uncertain if they could make a difference by redefining judicial neutrality and impartiality. Backed by the conclusions made by two law professors, Professor Charles Knapp and Professor John Johnston of the New York University, it was certain that the inclusion of women in the judiciary would change the judicial attitude of the judges (Wilson, 1990). Such an outcome had been reported in the USA where cross-cultured judges had significantly contributed towards a successful shift where the judicial system freed itself from stereotypical thoughts that led to discrimination on matters color. Despite the progress, there was still discontent among the judiciary in resolving matters sex discrimination. The judges lacked the detachment, critical analysis, and reflection required to free themselves from sex discrimination as they had done in other areas of judgement. A complementary study by Professor Norma Wikler had confirmed that men, unlike their female counterparts, were likely to promote traditional beliefs and values about the nature of women and men and their gendered roles in the society.

Wilson sentiments associate male judges with status quo in regards to gender-based biases, stereotypes, and myths since these elements are deeply embedded in their thoughts and attitude. Sadly, Wilson notes that the law endorses such attitudes. She clarifies that these shortcomings were common in criminal law, family law, and tort laws. As a result, the male judges were less likely to end sexism in the judicial rulings. Wilson therefore insists that the voice of women judges would help end the issue of gender bias in the courts. She writes that women judges and women lawyers have different perspectives of life compared to men and thus, they can bring new humanity to decision making and rulings in the judicial system and this will make a difference (Brooks, 2010). It is believed that women judges would infuse the law with a new meaning of being fully human. These sentiments are evident in the ruling decisions where the three women stood up against gender based violence and domestic abuse by acquitting Lavallee. A reflection on Wilson’s speech and writings strongly alludes that if the judge panel had been composed of men, they would have propagated gender bias by defending Rust and therefore sentencing Lavallee for murder. These two arguments thus, evidence that Wilson’s decisions in the case law R v Lavallee reflects her argument in the speech and writings on whether women judges will really make a difference to the judicial system. The answer to this question, as presented by Wilson, is a yes, they will make a difference.


Brooks, K. (2010). Justice Bertha Wilson: One Woman’s Difference. UBC Press.

Grant, I., & Parkes, D. (2017). Equality and the Defense of Provocation: Irreconcilable Differences. Dalhousie LJ, 40, 455.

Wilson, B. (1990). Will women judges really make a difference? Osgoode Hall LJ, 28, 507. Retrieved from: https://digitalcommons.osgoode.yorku.ca/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=1764&context=ohlj

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