A must-read for anyone who cares about our nation's history
Beverley McLachlin: The Legacy of a Supreme Court Justice
Ian Greene and Peter McCormick | James Lorimer & Co. Ltd. Publishers
$29.95, 228 pages
Beverley McLachlin has come a long way from the ranch at Pincher Creek, Alta., where she was born in 1943. McLachlin has had a remarkable career in the law, ultimately serving as the first female chief justice of Canada’s Supreme Court (and, to date, that court’s longest serving chief.)
During her years on the Supreme Court, McLachlin made legal history repeatedly, as she and her judicial colleagues created landmark rulings on contentious issues like medically assisted death, prostitution, the rights of Indigenous individuals and First Nations, allowable evidence in sexual assault cases, access to harm reduction facilities for those addicted to drugs, freedom of religion, a constitutional protection for collective bargaining and strike actions, voting rights for prisoners and other fundamental implications of the Canadian Charter of Rights.
The McLachlin court grappled with all these issues, as well as with the less dramatic but crucially important arcana of administrative law and electoral district boundaries. (Full disclosure: Many of the cases described in this book involved interventions by the B.C. Civil Liberties Association, where I once served as a member of the board of directors.)
The chief justice also emerged with her reputation, career and gravitas intact as then-prime minister Stephen Harper launched an essentially mendacious attack on her in 2014. As portrayed by her admiring biographers, legal scholars Ian Greene and Peter McCormick, McLachlin has navigated all these issues and conflicts with an abiding (and they would say quintessentially Canadian) dedication to reason, the rule of law, collaboration and collegiality.
She has not only created powerful precedents on important issues, but she has done it, they argue, while reducing fractiousness among the justices of the court and increasing the number of rulings that are co-authored by justices or issued unanimously by “The Court.”
The biographers say that McLachlin has been crucial in the evolution of the Supreme Court from a “heroic” model to an “institutional” one. In this way, too, they say, the chief justice has consistently operated in the spirit of the “reasonable person” so often invoked in legal texts.
Not content to rest on her laurels after retiring from the court in 2017, McLachlin has published a well-received novel, Full Disclosure, and accepted part-time appointments to the International Commercial Court in Singapore and the Court of Final Appeals in Hong Kong.
My verdict? This book is a must-read for anyone who cares about Canadian history.
Tom Sandborn lives and writes in Vancouver. He welcomes your feedback and story tips at email@example.com
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