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Thursday, January 13, 2000

Clarkson emphasizes gender as chief justice sworn in
Having female leaders means Canada 'doing the right thing'
Luiza Chwialkowska
National Post

Jim Young, Reuters, Special to the National Post
Adrienne Clarkson, the Governor-General, kisses newly sworn-in Supreme Court Chief Justice Beverley McLachlin on the cheek at a ceremony at Rideau Hall in Ottawa yesterday. McLachlin replaced Antonio Lamer as chief justice.

OTTAWA - Presiding over the swearing-in ceremony of Chief Justice Beverley McLachlin, the governor-general yesterday focused her remarks on the judge's gender.

"I think in the world today there isn't a situation like this, with somebody in my place and somebody in hers," Adrienne Clarkson told the audience at Rideau Hall.

"Because of this uniqueness, because of our being women, I think that Canada is very well assured to go into the 21st century looking ahead and doing the right thing," she said.

The remark, in which Ms. Clarkson placed particular emphasis on the words "being women," drew laughter, some of it uneasy, from an audience that included several cabinet ministers and Supreme Court judges. It also drew criticism from observers concerned with the impartiality and gender neutrality of the court.

"Mrs. Clarkson's comments were extremely inappropriate and damaging to both Justice McLachlin and the Supreme Court," said Gwen Landolt, vice-president of R.E.A.L. Women of Canada.

"She has undermined the very credibility of the court by suggesting that somehow women think alike and that a woman chief justice would allow ideology to play a role in deciding cases that should be judged on their merits.

"She seems to be saying, we're women, we've been oppressed, and now we'll show them."

The court has been criticized for the frequency with which it has sided with arguments made by feminist groups, especially in cases dealing with divorce and sexual assault.

Judge McLachlin, one of three women on the court, has played down the significance of her appointment as Canada's first female chief justice, saying she seeks to reach impartial decisions fair to both men and women. In an interview with the National Post on the eve of the swearing-in, she said gender issues did not trump "other values" in her deliberations.

In 1991, R.E.A.L. Women of Canada, a "pro-family" organization, launched a complaint with the Canadian Judicial Council after Judge McLachlin gave a speech endorsing what the group called "a feminist view"of laws regarding prostitution, abortion and sexual assault.

The council's judicial committee dismissed the complaint, ruling that the judge's remarks about the criminal law's treatment of women were a statement of historical facts and did not undermine public confidence in her impartiality.

The governor-general's ceremonial role requires her to refrain from expressing personal or political views, said David Smith, a political scientist at the University of Saskatchewan who specializes in constitutional monarchy.

"The appointment of the first woman chief justice is certainly a historical moment for the country that requires some acknowledgement," said Prof. Smith.

"But one can never be too careful as governor-general when talking about a chief justice. There are so many issues that have the potential to come before the courts."

Jean Chretien, the Prime Minister, restricted his remarks to wishing the new chief justice "bonne chance" when he shook her hand.


(Each link opens a new window)

  • Governor General home page

  • Installation Ceremony: no longer available

  • Adrienne Clarkson biography

  • Adrienne Clarkson Home Page

  • Adrienne Clarkson's resume

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