We honour Beverley Marian McLachlin as a practitioner of law, as a prolific legal scholar and as a distinguished jurist who serves our country as its highest judicial officer, the Chief Justice of Canada. She stands forthrightly for the rule of law, for discourses based on reason, for traditions tempered by modern realities, and for universal principles of justice, applied in a time of worldwide uncertainties about civil government and human rights.
Born in Pincher Creek, Alberta, a farm girl from the foothills of the Rockies, eldest of five children, she completed three degrees at the University of Alberta, her Bachelor of Arts Honours in Philosophy and then simultaneously both her Bachelor of Laws and Master of Arts in Philosophy. By 1975 this gold medalist in law had worked six years as a civil litigation lawyer, in both Alberta and British Columbia, and had returned to academe as an associate professor of law at the University of British Columbia, teaching criminal law and the law of evidence.
No sooner had she become a tenured professor then she started another career, as a trial judge in Vancouver's County Court. Six months later, she moved to a judgeship on the Supreme Court of British Columbia. Here, she rapidly earned a reputation for presiding impartially and forwriting crisp, tightly reasoned, law-centered judgments. After four years of hearing and determining criminal prosecutions and civil lawsuits, she was promoted to the British Columbia Court of Appeal, where she wrote appellate judgments with a vigorous focus on the law as it is, not as others might want it to be. Each judgment respected the separate needs of the two parties who had brought their dispute into the public forum. In 1988 she agreed to step away from appellate work, to return to the trial level in order to apply her administrative talents as Chief Justice of the Supreme Court of British Columbia. By then she had established herself as a regular contributor to legal literature and as co-author of three books that remain authoritative texts.
Seven months later, she accepted appointment to the Supreme Court of Canada, where she served for a decade as an associate or puisne justice. Canada welcomed the new millennium with the swearing in, on 7 January 2000, of The Right Honourable Beverley McLachlin as Chief Justice of the Supreme Court of Canada. She is the seventeenth jurist to so serve since the Court's creation in 1875 and the office's first woman. With her eight colleagues, she now leads by example in our Court of last resort, a court that is unique in the world for its general jurisdiction and its written guiding principles in the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms.
Chief Justice McLachlin has helped to define equality rights of minorities, to strengthen freedom of speech, to recognize Aboriginal rights, to reinforce the role of juries, to encourage local governmental diversity, and in general to champion the Charter, both domestically and as a model for other nations. Not surprisingly, she has been quoted as saying "I have always really loved what I’m doing!" She continues to bring dignity, intelligence and empathy to the pursuit of justice for all Canadians.
Mr. Chancellor, it is my honour and privilege to ask, in the name of Senate of the University of Manitoba, that you confer upon The Right Honourable Beverley Marian McLachlin the degree of Doctor of Laws, honoris causa.