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Hon. Catherine Benton

Hon. Catherine Benton

Reason for inclusion / First
: First Mi’kmaw woman to be appointed to the Bench in Nova Scotia

Bio / Key facts: DOB - DOD, Place of Birth, Occupation:  Benton was born in PEI circa 1965. Her mother was from Lennox Island First Nation. Prior to going into law, Benton worked as a family support worker in Lennox Island First Nation. The family moved to Nova Scotia where Benton began her law career. In 1994 she was appointed to the Nova Scotian Bar. In 2017 at the age of 52, she became the first Mi’kmaw woman appointed to the Nova Scotian Bench.

Early years/ Motivations: Benton has always strongly advocated for Indigenous communities. Prior to attaining her law degree she worked as a researcher for the Union of Nova Scotia Indians and the Mi’kmaq Grand Council.

Benton graduated with her law degree from Dalhousie University Schulich School of Law in 1993. She was appointed to the Nova Scotia Bar a year later. In 1994 she gave an interview to the Windspeaker about the difficulty in securing employment as an Aboriginal lawyer, and the dismissal and disqualification of her knowledge of Aboriginal law.

She practiced poverty law for 22 years, managing the Nova Scotia Legal Aid Bridgewater office. She was also on the board of directors of the Tawaak Housing Association; the Micmac Native Friendship Centre; and the Mi’kmaq Justice Institute, a forerunner of the Mi’kmaw Legal Support Network. In January 2016, Benton received the Queen’s Counsel designation for “demonstrating professional integrity, good character, and outstanding contributions to the practice of law”.

Key accomplishments/contributions: On 23 January, 2017, Benton was appointed to the Provincial and Family Courts of Nova Scotia, making her the first Mi’kmaw woman to be appointed to the Bench in Nova Scotia.

Known as a strong advocate for racial and ethnic diversity in the courts, Benton remarked at her robing ceremony on 24 March, 2017 that she thought it was “vital that the Mi'kmaw community and non-First Nation communities alike see Mi'kmaw people as competent, of value and respected for our contributions and perspectives”.

Later years/ Present day:

Other / Interesting facts: In 2017, at the time of her appointment to the Bench, Benton became only the second Mi’kmaw judge and the third Aboriginal judge in Nova Scotia. Only 10% of Nova Scotia’s 104 judges were non-white; 3 were Indigenous, 5 were Black, 1 was Chinese and 1 was Sri-Lankan Canadian.