Pro Bono Students Canada

Supreme Court Chief Justice is Guest of Honor at PBSC Appreciation Event


University of Toronto, Faculty of Law, April 4, 2014
CJC1 The chief justice of the Supreme Court of Canada, Beverly McLachlin, was the guest of honour at Pro Bono Students Canada’s volunteer appreciation event hosted recently at McCarthy Tétrault LLP. Law students from the University of Toronto and Osgoode Hall chapters came together to hear the chief justice’s thoughts on a number of issues facing the Supreme Court. Lorne Sossin, Osgoode’s Dean, led a Q & A with McLachlin touching on a range of topics, including a prediction of upcoming constitutional issues, changes in the Supreme Court during the past 25 years, and role models in the chief justice’s life and legal career.
Chief Justice McLachlin said Canada’s First Nations will take centre constitutional stage over the next decade. “Canada, I believe, is a project on reconciliation. Our successes have always been in recognizing the differences and accommodating them and in working together with respect.” She added that the Charter’s guarantee of freedom of association could be another area of activity, as well as the ongoing relationship between freedom of religion and equality, a pairing that often takes “new and diverse forms” because it is so central to our society.


When asked about advancements in gender equality she had witnessed during her time in the legal profession, she told a humourous anecdote about a conversation she once had with a Grade 8 teacher. After reviewing her personality test results, the teacher informed the future chief justice of the Supreme Court of Canada that she did not have the attention span required for a career as a telephone operator or a waitress.
The changing nature of technology was another recurring theme, and McLachlin covered a range of developments in this area, including the introduction of television cameras to Supreme Court hearings, the growth of bloggers and Tweeters, as well as public access to legal information online. Fittingly, at the close of the talk Dean Sossin took a “selfie” with the chief justice, to gales of laughter from the audience.
It would not have been a PBSC event without a discussion of access to justice and pro bono. Justice McLachlin stressed the importance of pro bono work by law and articling students, stressing the experience is “one of the best ways for people to learn.” As an articling student, “pro bono files were some of the most exhilarating experiences I had,” said McLachlin. She also described witnessing a cultural shift in the legal community over time, with “a greater emphasis…on the need for the profession to reach out to the community and provide services for people who might not be able to access [a lawyer].”


Prof. Sossin said Chief Justice McLachlin has herself taken leadership on the access to justice file, by striking a committee on civil and family justice, chaired by Supreme Court Justice Thomas Cromwell. And in her closing remarks, PBSC’s national director Nikki Gershbain said: “Chief Justice McLachlin has sparked a dialogue on access to justice that has reverberated throughout the profession…. I think it’s fair to say that the momentum we’ve seen over the last year or so, the collective desire by the profession to take concrete steps to repair the justice system in this country, is directly as a result of her commitment.”
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