Beverley McLachlin has left the bench. Adrienne Clarkson knows her well and puts her tenure as Chief Justice of the Supreme Court in perspective:
Rarely does public life bring you into intimate contact with people for whom you instantly feel great personal affinity. And in my case, a sharing of a generation's strivings in the second wave of feminism. It's not easy to be a woman in public life in Canada. Chief Justice Beverley McLachlin and I, having been governor-general, have shared different kinds of travails, but we know what sharing means and we know what sisterhood means. Yes, I use that rather dated and old-fashioned word because I think it is really what I have found with her.
It's her approach to the law which -- most of all -- defines McLachlin:
This Chief Justice understands that law is an organic entity, or, "the living tree," which grows and evolves with the evolution of societal views. This Chief Justice knows that courts can justify the making of substantial changes to the law if in doing so they reflect clear changes in social values.
Nowhere was this more evident in the Court's battles with Stephen Harper -- who consistently refused to acknowledge the existence of the Charter of Rights and Freedoms -- and who personally badmouthed McLachlin.
Moreover, she never forgot where she came from:
I am sure that she is the only Chief Justice we have ever had who knows how to deliver a calf. I don't think there is anything more revealing than going to Pincher Creek – which I have done – and seeing that beautiful little town nestled in the foothills of Alberta and to enter through the roadway that is now called Bev McLachlin Drive. I think that Bev McLachlin Drive really says a lot. It says that she comes from there. It says that she is known to everyone there. And it says that she is one of us.
The air inside Canada's legal temples can get pretty rarefied. It's important that our judges remember the air that most of us breathe everyday. It was a principle McLachlin followed scrupulously.
She was -- and is -- an Extraordinary Chief Justice.
Image: The Toronto Star