Honorary Degree Citation - Beverley McLachlin

by Marguerite Mendell, June 2011

Mr. Chancellor, it is my honour to present to you the Right Honourable Beverley McLachlin, Chief Justice of the Supreme Court of Canada.

The Chief Justice McLachlin spent her formative years in Pincher Creek, Alberta, the oldest of five children. She studied philosophy and then law at the University of Alberta, graduating with high honours in 1968. She was sworn in as Chief Justice of Canada on January 7, 2000 and is the first woman in Canada to hold this position.

The Chief Justice has a distinguished career, first as an academic with the Faculty of Law at the University of British Columbia, as a lawyer, but most specifically with the judiciary. Her career on the bench began in April 1981 when she was appointed to the Vancouver County Court. A succession of distinguished appointments followed, first to the Supreme Court of British Columbia in 1981 and to the British Columbia Court of Appeal in 1985. She was named Chief Justice of the Supreme Court of British Columbia in September 1988.  In April 1989, she was sworn in as a Justice of the Supreme Court of Canada. The Chief Justice chairs the Canadian Judicial Council, the Advisory Council of the Order of Canada and the Board of Governors of the National Judicial Institute. She also serves on the selection committee of the Vimy Award.

Auteure et conférencière accomplie, la juge en chef McLachlin a reçu 29 diplômes honorifiques et s’est vue décerner de nombreuses distinctions. Entre autres, elle a été nommée commandeur de l’Ordre de la Légion d’honneur de la République française et a obtenu la Médaille du jubilé de la Reine de même
que le prix de l’International Council of Jurists. De plus, elle est membre honoraire de l’American College of Trial Lawyers. En 2010, le Canadian Club de Toronto l’a désignée « Canadienne de l’année » et le Forum international des femmes l’a admise à son Temple international de la renommée.

The Chief Justice is recognized for her leadership in fostering consensus in Canada’s highest court. Taking strong stands on controversial issues early in her appointment to the Court, the Chief Justice established a reputation for independent thinking and consensus-building. Under her leadership, the Court has maintained an exceptionally high rate of unanimity, reducing the number of concurring or dissenting judgments by 1/3. The Chief Justice maintained this consensus within the Supreme Court even as she increased the number of judges involved in each case.

No other Chief Justice has done as much to make the work of the Supreme Court accessible to the Canadian public. Former Supreme Court Justice John Major stated that “her successful efforts to reach out to the public might be the defining accomplishment of her first decade as Chief Justice.” This has included holding media “lock-ups” to brief reporters in advance of the release of exceptionally important and complex judgments, making the Supreme Court of Canada the first in the world to do so. Under the direction of the Chief Justice, the Supreme Court also began streaming live webcasts of most of its appeals.

La juge en chef donne fréquemment des conférences sur le travail de la Cour suprême. Décrite comme une personne « extrêmement dynamique et incroyablement énergique », elle est aussi reconnue pour son leadership intellectuel. À l’aube de sa douzième année en tant que première femme juge en chef du Canada, elle place la barre à un niveau très élevé pour les juges et juges en chef de demain. Ainsi, par sa contribution au travail et à la gestion de la Cour, la juge en chef McLachlin a façonné une haute magistrature à la fois moderne et efficace.

President and Vice-Chancellor, on behalf of Senate and the Board of Governors, it is my privilege and honour to present to you The Right Honourable Beverley McLachlin, Chief Justice of Canada, so that you may confer upon her the degree of Doctor of Laws, honoris causa.