By Rob South
On Jan. 7 of this year, Beverly McLaughlin was sworn in as the first female Chief Justice of the Supreme Court of Canada. Well respected in the legal community for her independent mind and strong defences of the rights of the accused, McLaughlin is most famous for her 1991 decision striking down the so-called "rape shield law." The Gauntlet’s News Editor Rob South was granted the opportunity to briefly interview Justice McLaughlin just before she received a honourary Doctor of Laws degree from the University of Calgary.
Gauntlet: As a native Albertan, what does receiving a honourary degree from the University of Calgary mean to you?
McLaughlin: It means a great deal because this is a part of the world that I really feel very at home in and I have known for a long time. So it adds a special significance to getting a degree.
G: You were a professor at the University of British Columbia; do you miss the university environment at all?
M: I do. One does have to make choices in life, but I still try to keep in touch with the universities. I do a lot of speaking at universities, law schools and so on across the country. I love meeting with students. We have law clerks who come to us straight out of university. So I feel I have very close ties with universities.
G: You have been Chief Justice since January; how has the job been so far?
M: It has been very busy. It has been a very swift learning curve as you can imagine. In addition to being a judge you have a lot of other extra duties: administrative duties for the court; Canadian Judicial Council; judicial education; certain duties related to the Governor General’s Office, like the Order of Canada. So trying to learn all that is a big challenge, but it is a lot of fun. I have been enjoying it immensely.
G: Certain people and groups are going to see your appointment as Chief Justice as an accomplishment for the women’s movement. How much of a role would you say being a woman plays in your job and your views?
M: Well, if you are asking whether being a woman played a role in my nomination as Chief Justice, I don’t know. I suppose the prime minister could answer that.
G: No, the question did not mean that.
M: I have been a judge for a long time. In the natural order of things I think that as women are taking places in our various institutions–and have been doing so for 20 or 30 years now in increasing numbers–we are going to see more and more women, quite naturally, find their way to the higher ranges of jobs.
G: How well would you say the Canadian legal profession is progressing with putting women in positions of power?
M: I think quite well; we are getting more women practitioners. About 50 per cent–sometimes more, sometimes less–of our graduates from law school are women. Those people are taking their place in the profession. So I think it looks very bright for the future.
G: Since the inception of the Charter of Rights and Freedoms, the Supreme Court has become much more powerful. What type of impact would you say the charter is having on the court today?
M: It gives us a lot of new problems to look at that would not have been there without the charter. It means that we have to spend more of our time thinking about fundamental rights and freedoms, so it changes the workload somewhat.
G: What would you say the emerging legal issues are for the next decade?
M: It is hard to predict, but I think that as technology, bio-medicine, science and so on progresses we are going to see a lot of issues associated with those things. Of course, primarily it will be parliament and the legislatures that have to grapple, but the courts will inevitably be involved at some level.