Nathalie Des Rosiers has some big shoes to fill as successor to Alan Borovoy as general counsel for the Canadian Civil Liberties Association, but she’s met similar challenges in the past.
The CCLA recently announced that Borovoy’s reign as general counsel, which began in 1968, will end in June. He will be honoured at a gala dinner set to take place at the Royal York Hotel in Toronto on April 28.
As part of the role, Des Rosiers will also become executive director of the Canadian Liberties Education Trust.
Des Rosiers, currently the acting secretary for the University of Ottawa, was dean of that university’s civil law section for a stint that ended in November.
She previously waspresident of the Law Commission of Canada, from 2000 to 2004; was a member of the University of Western Ontario’s Faculty of Law from 1987 to 2000; worked as a law clerk to Supreme Court of Canada Justice Julien Chouinard from 1982 to 1983, after which she was in private practice until 1987.
Des Rosiers says she’s excited to lead the CCLA.
“I think it’s very important now to have organizations with vigilance to protect the state of our constitutional freedoms and liberties, and that’s the role that CCLA has played and should continue to play,” she says.
The organization’s function in advancing society’s thinking about constitutional protection, and its position as a voice for the values of freedom drew her to it, says Des Rosiers.
“It’s an important role. Civil society has to have organizations like this; it’s a little like being the ombudsman for civil liberty,” she says.
But she has no delusions about the high standard her predecessor has set. Borovoy, an Officer of the Order of Canada, has been a central figure in many of Canada’s key civil liberties debates over the past 40 years through advocacy, lecturing, and writing.
“It’s always daunting to step into the shoes of someone who has been the founder and the big thinker behind an organization,” says Des Rosiers, noting it’s not the first time she’s been in such a position.
At the Law Commission of Canada, she replaced founding president Rod Macdonald. She adds that she was “an outsider” at the University of Ottawa before becoming dean of the civil law section there.
“In a way, you take the organization and try to give it what you have to give,” says Des Rosiers. “That’s what I think I’m going to do.”
On top of her current responsibilities at the University of Ottawa, Des Rosiers also is president of the Canadian Federation of Social Sciences and Humanities, president of the Association des juristes d’expression francaise de l’Ontario, and president of the Canadian Association of Law Teachers.
She received her legal training at the Universite de Montreal, obtaining an LLB in 1981, and at Harvard University, where she got an LLM in 1984.
Borovoy called Des Rosiers “an inspired choice” to take the lead at the organization.
“She’s clearly a very able person, but on top of that, she oozes charm, and I can just see her as a very effective person in this work,” he says.
Borovoy, meanwhile, plans to continue working with the CCLA and hopes to write, teach, and speak on the issues he’s passionate about.
Asked if he’ll make any time for leisure, Borovoy replies, “What’s that?”
He says, “I enjoy working so much, that I’m hoping to continue to do that.”