News Releases

For immediate release January 17, 2000

Karl Warner, Q.C. Address — on the occasion of the elevation of Madam Justice Beverley McLachlin to Chief Justice of the Supreme Court of Canada

Check against delivery.

Thank you.

Chief Justice McLachlin, my Lords and Ladies and members of this court, Minister McLellan, BC Deputy A-G Wallace, family and friends of Chief Justice McLachlin:

By way of very short preamble, as some of you may know, I have come from that part of this beautiful country which is somewhat west of Pincher Creek, somewhat south of Fort St. John and certainly a degree or two beyond Hope to bring you the well wishes of all British Columbia lawyers. As well, I hope that at least a couple of my good friends and colleagues from Alberta will allow me to presume to speak on their behalf as well.

It is always exciting when the legal profession celebrates the appointment of a new Chief Justice of the Supreme Court of Canada. It is a great honour and privilege for me to appear before you today as President of the Law Society of British Columbia to take part in this distinguished ceremony. Today is an especially rewarding day — both for me and the British Columbia Bar — as we recognize the accomplishments and success of one of our own.

Although she hails from Alberta, BC lawyers will always consider Her Ladyship Chief Justice McLachlin to be "one of us" — a made-in-BC lawyer, a highly respected colleague, and an exceptional jurist.

It would be an understatement to say that Chief Justice McLachlin has always been a leader in the legal profession. A gold medalist at the University of Alberta, she was called to that bar in 1969, and then to the BC Bar in 1971.

Which takes me to a short story from nearly 30 years ago.

In 1971, a young woman, Mrs. Beverley McLachlin, applied for membership in the Law Society of BC as a transfer applicant from Alberta. She asked us to waive the requirement that she repeat her articles. In processing this application, the usual enquiries were made and the Committee responsible received a number of reference letters, including one from Mr. Arnold Moir, Q.C., of Edmonton, Alberta, with whom Mrs. McLachlin had practised law. He apparently had been both her principal while she had been under articles and her senior partner when she had begun her association with the firm.

In his letter, Mr. Moir was unrelenting in his praise for his then charge and wrote, inter alia, that:

"... I am sure that the Society will be amply rewarded by finding a most conscientious and competent person as a new member. I sincerely hope that the Education Committee can do something for Mrs. McLachlin as she is most deserving and most competent ..." he implored.

This was testimony that was intended to be, and I am sure was received as, very helpful to the then Credentials/Education Committee of our Law Society that was then deciding on the licensing fate of the then Mrs. McLachlin. Had he stopped there, Mr. Moir's task would have been completed. However, the good Mr. Moir, in what appears to have been a feeling that he should go an extra mile or two to ensure the success of the application, followed with a short effort to call out to perhaps an even more sympathetic ear and requests that the reader "when he or she next sees Johnny deVoin, (another person with some authority in Society affairs) will you please give him my regards." Fair enough, but Mr. Moir then takes a step seemingly out of that context and delivers a line which I can only guess as one raising at least one or two eyebrows at the next Committee meeting or at the very least causing one or another of the members scratching his or her head when he adds, and I quote, "I hope that your Errors and Omissions Plan is running successfully" — a troubling reference in what was otherwise a praiseworthy endorsement letter.

In any event, the words "competent and deserving," my Lady, have been prophetic.

I do not wish to repeat her professional history here but I would be remiss if I did not remind you, as others have, that Her Ladyship has been a respected litigator, taught law at the University of British Columbia, and sat on BC's County Court, Supreme Court, and Court of Appeal. She was the first woman appointed to the BC Court of Appeal, the third woman to be appointed to an appellate court in Canada and was the first woman BC Supreme Court Chief Justice. And now, she continues her groundbreaking service to Canadians by being our first woman Chief Justice of the Supreme Court of Canada.

As well and in further recognition, I would like to recall the remarks of a past Master Treasurer of our Law Society, Mr. Paul Beckmann, Q.C., which I found when searching through a compendium published by our present Chief Justice of British Columbia, Chief Justice McEachern CJBC, on his website. Mr. Beckmann said, "she (meaning the then Madam Justice McLachlin) went through all levels of the British Columbia court system faster than it takes most litigation to travel through them." This only underscores the fact that her quick elevation within the judiciary is simply because of the high regard in which she is held by everyone, both within the justice system and without.

Too, Chief Justice Bryan Williams, of the Supreme Court of British Columbia, recently remarked to me that "new roles in the justice system are of course old hat for our new Chief Justice.... Over the years, British Columbia has produced some great judges. But Madam Justice Beverley McLachlin is one of the greatest judicial products of them all — certainly in my time. Although she started out in the province of Alberta, British Columbians claim her as their own and we are bursting with pride at her great achievement today."

Since Her Ladyship's elevation to the Supreme Court of Canada in 1989, I think that it is clear to all that she has demonstrated time and again her remarkable legal mind, her respect for the court and the law, and her compassion for the people who make up a diverse, complex Canadian society. Indeed, Her Ladyship has already left her mark on this court by making courageous decisions on difficult, often contentious issues. The past ten years have been tumultuous times in Canada and this new millennium will surely prove to be no different. Our justice system is viewed under an intense microscope; the public and the media have become more critical of all our institutions, but particularly of the court system and these pressures will continue to mount when one considers this in the context of the expanding array of issues coming to the fore.

In that respect, it is gratifying to know that the Supreme Court of Canada will be led by such an accomplished Chief Justice who, I believe, will work to continue to bring pragmatism, fairness and transparency to the process of resolving the matters brought before it.

The Supreme Court of Canada will play a pivotal role in some of the most important challenges facing the future of Canada. For example, constitutional disputes involving Canadian unity, and treaty negotiations with aboriginal peoples, have raised some of the most profound issues addressed by any high court in the world. The latter issue in particular will have a major impact on British Columbia — where there is a great struggle ongoing to establish aboriginal treaties — and I predict that the Supreme Court of Canada will be looked to as a referee from time to time. The fact that our new Chief Justice comes from British Columbia and is seen as such a fair-minded and practical jurist will be of inestimable value as we forge new arrangements for living together in harmony and prosperity with our aboriginal peoples. Time does not permit me to list other issues.

Finally, let me pass on a few words from one of your classmates. I was told by Mr. Jim Matkin, that classmate and our Executive Director, that: (and I quote)

"Your destiny to play a pivotal role in the Canadian Justice system began when you led our class in legal scholarship at the University of Alberta. You have stayed true to the important values of the rule of law and principled, fair decision-making. That class is proud of your past accomplishments and looks forward to your continued success as our new Chief Justice."

To all present, I say, on behalf of the Benchers of the Law Society of British Columbia, our 9800 members — the lawyers in the province, and others working within that justice system in BC, that we congratulate Chief Justice McLachlin on her exceptional career which, I am sure, culminates today as she takes on her challenging role as Chief Justice of the Supreme Court of Canada.

Your Ladyship, we wish you well, give you our support, and we are sure that you will lead this court with compassion, integrity, strength, and conviction.

Thank you.