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Cdn to head UN Human Rights Commission

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Arbour leaving Supreme Court for UN post

Canadian Press

Ottawa — Justice Louise Arbour is leaving the Supreme Court of Canada to become the United Nations human-rights commissioner, touching off what is expected to be an intense contest to take her place at the court.

Judge Arbour's departure was to be announced Friday by the UN.

The criminal-law expert was appointed to Canada's top court in 1999.

She was the prosecutor for tribunals into the genocide in Rwanda and human-rights abuses in Yugoslavia in the 1990s.

She earned an international reputation for courage and tenacity and gained the respect of UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan, as well as human-rights groups around the world.

Judge Arbour had been on what a UN spokesperson called “a very short list” to be the next United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights.

She will replace Sergio Vieira de Mello, killed in the bombing of the UN headquarters in Baghdad on Aug. 19, 2003.

Judge Arbour, 57, did not request a leave of absence. No fewer than six Ontario Court of Appeal judges are considered to be prime candidates for one of the country's most coveted legal posts.

It is also sure to reopen contentious debate over how positions of the court should be filled.

Opposition MPs have long called for a different process than the current method, which leaves the decision up to the prime minister. The Conservatives in particular have pushed for parliamentary committee hearings so that MPs can ask Supreme Court candidates about potential conflicts of interest.

One recent appointment to the top court, Marie Deschamps, raised eyebrows.

Her husband, businessman Paul Gobeil, was a Quebec cabinet minister in Robert Bourassa's Liberal government from 1985 to 1989. He also helped run now Quebec Premier Jean Charest's bid to become Quebec Liberal party leader in 1998.

Judge Deschamps brushed off Opposition concerns that her husband's previous political life had any influence on her appointment.

Prime Minister Paul Martin is expected to face pressure to replace Judge Arbour with a woman. Her departure leaves two women, Judge Deschamps and Chief Justice Beverley McLachlin, and six men.

Quebec is guaranteed by law three of nine seats on the court of last resort. Tradition dictates that three judges come from Ontario, two from the West and one from Atlantic Canada.

The most obvious candidates to replace Judge Arbour include Justice Rosalie Abella, a renowned human-rights expert and a front-runner for the last Ontario appointment to the court; Justice Louise Charron, a francophone Ontarian who grew up in Ottawa, and Justice John Laskin, son of former Supreme Court chief justice Bora Laskin.

All currently serve on the Ontario Court of Appeal.

Alex D. from TRIBE on Utility Room