On January 4, 2019, the Peter A. Allard School of Law welcomed the Right Honourable Beverly McLachlin to deliver an engaging public lecture on her impressive legal career, including her tenure as Chief Justice of the Supreme Court of Canada. Students, faculty, and members of the public filled the Franklin Lew Forum to listen to the former Chief Justice. As individuals hung over the rafters to catch a glimpse of the Canadian legal trailblazer, McLachlin captivated her audience with reflections on joining the law school at UBC as a tenured Associate Professor in 1974, her remarkable judicial career, and the ever-evolving Canadian legal landscape.
Entitled “The Future of Law in a Changing World,” McLachlin’s lecture focused on the development of Canadian law over the past several decades and its future role. From her beginnings as a law student at the University of Alberta in the graduating class of 1968, McLachlin witnessed the immense diversification and evolution of modern Canadian jurisprudence. She noted that with the advent of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms, the Canadian legal system has gone from a “stodgy affair” to one that “thinks outside the box” and welcomes diversity in the post-Charter era. Chief among such changes is the broad and purposive reading of rights and freedoms that Canadians have come to expect and depend on in the modern legal climate.
Despite the impressive progression of Canada’s legal identity, the role of law in its traditional sense has come under attack in recent years. “There are those that suggest that the heyday of the law is over,” said McLachlin, referring to the complexities of increasingly mobile, diverse, and technologically advanced contemporary life. Nevertheless, McLachlin ensured the crowd that there simply is no substitute for the law. Although the law may need to adapt, it is a necessary institution to address three major challenges facing the modern world: mass migration, the negative impacts of a digitized society, and climate change. “Each of this problems is real and pressing,” stated McLachlin, “and in each case the only real and lasting solutions will involve legal solutions.”
Following her public lecture, McLachlin engaged with the audience through a “fire-side chat,” with questions fielded by audience members. She answered honestly about the evolution of her own legal career and judicial identity. In discussing the respective roles of the judiciary and legislature, McLachlin noted the challenge of balancing judicial restraint with pressing demands for change and social improvement. In particular, the former Chief Justice highlighted the continued need to solve issues regarding Indigenous rights and to foster reconciliation. When applauded by an audience for her groundbreaking decisions involving Indigenous rights, McLachlin acknowledged that there is still ample work to be done.
For more information on the Honourable Beverly McLachlin and her connection to the law school at UBC, please see her Allard School of Law History Project profile.