Canada is about to lose one of the finest jurists in North America: Chief Justice Beverley McLachlin is retiring. She made a difference in her country, but for those who have had the privilege to meet her, her influence transcended.
I first met her when invited to speak in Canada about the relationship between courts and the media. Canadian judges are traditionally quite reserved about talking to the media. There are of course good reasons to limit what a judge is willing to comment to the media about, but appropriate comment to the media promotes public understanding of our branch of government. Chief Justice McLachlin understands that.
Great court leaders have to have the courage to occasionally take on the rest of government when the independence of the judiciary is under attack. There are court leaders who are far too hesitant to speak up. Chief Justice MaLachlin with dignity had the courage to speak up when a champion for the judiciary was needed:
Supreme Court of Canada Chief Justice Beverley McLachlin fought back tears Thursday as she said goodbye after serving nearly three decades on the country’s highest court.
“Whatever lies ahead, I know that my time here will always be the centrepiece of my life,” she said.
McLachlin, 73, announced her retirement in June, but Thursday’s hearing about the cross-border beer case of a New Brunswick man was her final day on the bench.
She received a standing ovation.
“It’s been intellectually stimulating, it’s been hugely challenging, and there’s not been a day when I haven’t thought, ‘I am the luckiest of people,'” she said.
“It has been, as they say vernacularly, a terrific ride.
McLachlin was sworn in as a justice of the Supreme Court of Canada in 1989 and became the first woman to hold the top post when she was appointed in 2000.
She said she was grateful for her “good fortune” of serving during a period when Canadian law has “grown so greatly.”
“Don’t get your hopes up respondents, that’s a general statement,” she quipped to Gerard Comeau’s lawyers, prompting laughter in the packed Ottawa courtroom.
Comeau’s lawyers are urging the court to strike down interprovincial trade barriers that led to his being nabbed by police for bringing 14 cases of cheap beer and other alcohol home from Quebec, which could have far-reaching implications.
The court has reserved decision to an undetermined date. McLachlin officially retires on Dec. 15, but will continue to weigh in on cases she has heard until next summer. A successor has not yet been named.
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