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Tuesday, January 18, 2000

Gender doesn't matter, McLachlin says of her rise to chief justice
Solemn and light tributes paid during ceremony
Juliet O'Neill
Southam News

Tom Hanson, The Canadian Press
The Supreme Court justices photographed yesterday are: (front row, left to right) Frank Iacobucci, Claire L'Heureux-Dube, Chief Justice Beverley McLachlin, Charles Gonthier and John Major. (Back row, left to right) Louise Arbour, Michel Bastarache, Ian Binnie and Louis LeBel.

OTTAWA - Beverley McLachlin says her appointment as the first female head of the Supreme Court is "a testament to the justice of Canadian society" in which success is not dependent on money, connections or gender.

At a ceremony yesterday, she placed emphasis on her gender for the first time since her early November appointment, fusing the historic event with personal recollections of growing up in Alberta and British Columbia at a time when there were no women judges and few women lawyers in Canada.

The ceremony in the main courtroom, marking her elevation to chief justice, was a mix of solemn and light-hearted tributes, during which the 56-year-old judge got the biggest laugh of all during a 25-minute speech.

She told of her discovery of a sub-genre of chief justice jokes with a theme of the powerlessness that the robes and other trappings of her job conceal. "As an ex-chief from California put it, 'They gave me the reins of power and then I discovered they weren't connected to anything.' "

Judge McLachlin's accession from Pincher Creek, Alta., farm girl to the bar to the bench, was praised in tributes from fellow Judge Claire L'Heureux-Dube; Karl Warner, president of the Law Society of British Columbia; Anne McLellan, the Justice Minister; Eugene Meehan, president of the Canadian Bar Association; and Gillian Wallace, deputy attorney-general of British Columbia.

"Every year, Beverley McLachlin, the student, was awarded prestigious scholarships which are reserved for the best student," Judge L'Heureux-Dube said. "She would have made a perfect law clerk at the Supreme Court of Canada, had the court hired them at the time!"

Judge McLachlin told of needing the encouragement of her late first husband Rory to make it through law school. "Without his infusions of confidence I would never have believed I could have succeeded in the male-dominated legal profession," she said. She paid tribute to a series of mentors, among them Arnold "Spud" Moir, the lawyer (and later Alberta judge) with whom she articled in Edmonton "and who taught me that gender really doesn't matter when it comes to ideas and performance.

"I can assure you that I did not wake one morning at six years of age, as one commentator has suggested, with the firm resolution to become chief justice of Canada," Judge McLachlin said.

"The fact that I am in this seat today is more than anything else a testament to the justice of Canadian society -- a society where people without money or connections or the usual gender for a certain job will be allowed to do it, and having done it, will be allowed to succeed.

"When I grew up, there were few women lawyers and no women judges. But there was an increasing awareness that fairness required equal opportunities for women and that the law must work to ensure this. I am the beneficiary of that sense of fairness and of the laws and practices that cast it in concrete form. Today's youth will benefit from these [even more]."


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