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N.L. to swear in lawyer believed to be its first openly gay Supreme Court judge

JOE GIBBONS/The Telegram
The Supreme Court of Newfoundland and Labrador.
-Photo by Joe Gibbons/The Telegram
JOE GIBBONS/The Telegram The Supreme Court of Newfoundland and Labrador. -Photo by Joe Gibbons/The Telegram - Submitted

When Sandy MacDonald is sworn in as a Newfoundland and Labrador Supreme Court judge in St. John’s on Monday, he’ll make history.

MacDonald is believed to be the province’s first openly gay Supreme Court justice.

With a law degree from Dalhousie University, MacDonald has spent his legal career practising at law firm Halley, Hickman and Hunt and its successors. For the past 10 years, he was the managing partner in the St. John’s office of Cox and Palmer.

MacDonald’s main interest over the years has been in oil and gas and energy; he has served as counsel on mining and offshore projects as well as the Lower Churchill project in its various forms. He has written extensively about legal issues pertaining to the oil and gas industry.

MacDonald was retained by the province at a time when there weren’t many local lawyers specializing in oil and gas law, apart from Michael Harrington, who also went on to become a Supreme Court judge.

“Government at the time wanted Newfoundland lawyers and Newfoundland expertise,” MacDonald said.

Though he’ll miss his career as a lawyer (“I enjoyed every single minute of it,” he says without hesitation), MacDonald is looking forward to sitting on the bench once he’s sworn in.

He speaks of his pride in a country where human diversity and respect for the law are seen as pillars, and in a province, he points out, where the legal system has been instrumental in protecting the rights of LGBT residents. He says he hopes to be an example of those ideals, at least in a small way.

“It’s almost marvel,” MacDonald says of his sentiments around his appointment. “The day I ticked LGBT on the application, I said to a friend, can you imagine ticking this 25 years ago? Twenty-five years ago they might have asked you to try and filter you out. You wouldn’t imagine it. You just wouldn’t.”

The Trudeau government has made changes to the selection process for federal judges, aimed at promoting diversity and gender balance on the bench.

“The government believes Canadians’ confidence in our courts will be enhanced if the judiciary more closely mirrors the reality and experience of those who appear before it,” the Department of Justice states on its website. “This includes addressing the relatively low representation of women, racialized groups, Indigenous people and persons of other diverse backgrounds on the bench.”

To that end, applicants can choose to disclose information related to sex, racial identity, sexual orientation, gender identity and disability.

MacDonald will begin his career as a judge immediately after his swearing-in ceremony, and will serve at Family Court in St. John’s.

“It’s an interesting court and it’s one that definitely affects people’s lives,” he said. “I hope I can make people proud.”


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