The Right Honourable Beverley McLachlin
(Privy Council), Chief Justice of Canada
Not only is Chief Justice McLachlin the first woman to hold this prestigious position as Chief Justice of the Supreme Court of Canada (having been nominated by Jean Chrétien and appointed in the year 2000) she is also the longest serving Chief Justice in all of Canadian history!
Born in 1943, Beverley McLachlin received a Bachelor’s of Arts with Honours in Philosophy in 1965. She then proceeded to Law School at the University of Alberta where in 1968 she received a Masters in Philosophy and a degree in Law, winning the gold medal as top student and serving as Editor-in-Chief of the Alberta Law Review. She was called to the Alberta Bar the following year and to the British Columbia Bar in 1971. She later taught several years in the Faculty of Law of the University of British Columbia. She was first appointed as Judge in 1981 in the County of Vancouver. She was nominated to the Supreme Court by Brian Mulroney in 1989.
She is characterized as having libertarian leanings with a passion for freedom of expression as is shown in some of her written decisions. Her rulings have been described as centrist and pragmatic.
Since her appointment as Chief Justice, she has made efforts to gain consensus between the Judges, bringing them together to discuss decisions. From 2000 to 2008, the court significantly reduced the number of concurring reasons it released, and also achieved a 74 per cent unanimity rate with its decisions – up from 58 per cent between 1990 and 2000
She aspired, above all, to write clearly in a manner that was accessible to both the public and the legal profession. Despite her heavy administrative role, she was one of the busiest decision-writers on the court. While not known for literary elegance or pungent phrasing, her writing was incisive and carefully targeted key points.(x)
She has also made an effort to stop backlog and speed up the time it takes to give decisions.
There are many important facets of recent Canadian history that were thanks to Beverley McLachlin’s court:
- - Stood on behalf of Freedom of Expression on many occasion. Notably in 1990 dissenting against the majority writing that hate speech laws breached the Freedom of Expression provision of the Canadian Charter of Rights. In 1992 she wrote the decision to strike down a provision of the Criminal Code of Canada which limited the freedom of expression. In 1994 she ruled that the government had gone too far by introducing a near-total ban on tobacco advertising.
- - In 1991 she wrote to strike down a rape-shield law that prohibited those accused of sexual assault from cross-examining the accuser as it violates the right to a fair trial. (With this, McLachlin caused a backlash in the feminist movement. Taken aback by the furor, in subsequent decisions she underlined the vulnerability of sexual assault complainants and the necessity of offering women equal treatment under the law. (x))
- -In 2005, in her capacity as Deputy of the Governor General of Canada, she gave Royal Assent to the Civil Marriage Act, effectively legalizing same-sex marriage in Canada;
- - In 2007 Chief Justice McLachlin, writing for a unanimous court held that the security certificate process, which prohibited the named individual from examining evidence used to issue the certificate, violated the right to liberty. Holding that sections 33 and 77 to 85 of the Immigration and Refugee Protection Act, unreasonably violates sections 7, 9 and 10 of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms;
- - In 2007 The McLachlin Court established a constitutional right to collective bargaining;
- - She has asserted the Court’s view to the government on several occasions. Recently on Marc Nadon’s appointment by a phone call to the government, opposing Stephen Harper’s claims that she was acting inappropriately in doing so. Also in 2006, when Prime Minister Stephen Harper announced a plan to re-make the Judicial Advisory Committees, that would have given government appointees a majority on each committee. McLachlin expressed the Canadian Judicial Counsel’s serious dissatisfaction with the changes
- - She has made efforts to make the court more transparent bringing television cameras into the Supreme Court Chambers and setting up briefings of cases to reporters (x);
- - In 1995 McLachlin endorsed the notion that a black judge could rely on her life experiences to observe that police often lie or overreact when they deal with members of racial minorities;
- 2011 She wrote the Insite decision that kept open Vancouver’s safe-injection site for drug users;
- - The McLachlin Court struck down the country’s anti-prostitution laws in a unanimous decision;
- Under McLachlin, the court developed and entrenched the notion that governments must consult and accommodate Aboriginal people prior to making decisions that could affect unproven rights and title claims. (x) In 2014 She wrote the decision granting land title to Tsilhqot’in First Nation in British Columbia
Some quotes from this article:
Jamie Cameron, a constitutional law professor at Osgoode Hall Law School:
“I think the court at this point in time very much bears the McLachlin hallmark, and although there are exceptions, I see the court as a cautious, as a pragmatic and compromise-seeking court.
If you look at where the court was in 2000 when she took over and where it is now, it’s a much stronger court as an institution with her as a leader.
McLachlin has far more Supreme Court experience than the rest of the bench — Louis LeBel is second in seniority and he joined the court 11 years after McLachlin. The chief is also a prolific workhorse, writing close to 400 majority decisions in the last quarter century.
Beverley McLachlin herself:
“I think my goal is the more modest one of trying to make sure that we really come to grips with the issues we are facing in each case. Do we really understand the nature of the dispute and have we expressed our result in a way that makes it possible to apply the law without too much difficulty and that furthers respect for the law? These would be the kinds of things that I think about every day.”
She is a strong Canadian woman who holds one of the most prestigious positions in the country. Her outlook on Law is commendable. She seems to try to make the judicial system more just.
Beverley McLachlin is an inspiration to me not only as a woman but as a person.