On September 13th, the McGill Chapter of Pro Bono Students Canada (PBSC) welcomed the Honourable Claire L’Heureux-Dubé, who served on the Supreme Court of Canada from 1987 to 2002. Madam Justice L’Heureux-Dubé who participated in a fireside chat with Dean Leckey, has been a friend to PBSC for a very long time. Having her attend the McGill PBSC launch was nothing short of spectacular.
Many know Madam Justice L’Heureux-Dubé from her fiery dissenting opinions in constitutional matters, where she always made a point of standing up for the most vulnerable in our society. While she admits that she didn’t always end up in the majority during her time on the Court, she made a point of explaining the inherent worth of dissenting opinions to the development of law. In her view, as society changes, the law must constantly be adapting to those changes. She takes solace in the fact that a great number of her opinions have now become law in Canada. As for the rest of her opinions, she was quick to tell us: “Don’t worry, it’s the law of the future.”
She also took the time to discuss access to justice in Canada – the core mandate of PBSC. PBSC is the only national law student program, and the first pro bono program to have been founded in Canada. Every year, students provide legal services without charge to organizations and individuals, and thus make an enormous contribution to access to justice.
As Justice L’Heureux-Dubé made clear, more pro bono work is needed in our country. PBSC helps to lessen the access to justice gap but this crisis keeps growing. She called for changes to legal education and to the legal profession to address the increasing difficulty for some of the most vulnerable Canadians to access the justice system. When Justice L’Heureux-Dubé started her legal education in 1947, people went to law school to make a difference and help their communities. Of course, this has changed over the years and the number of unrepresented litigants currently sits at an alarming level. She stressed that being a lawyer is a vocation, not just a job. Of course, financial stability is a worthwhile goal, but McGill Law students all have the tremendous privilege to be studying in one of Canada’s top law schools. Using the knowledge we’ve acquired here by giving back to our communities is the least we can and should do.
It’s safe to say that Justice L’Heureux-Dubé has been an inspiration to many law students and legal professionals. As Nikki Gershbain, National Director of PBSC, noted during her remarks, Justice L’Heureux-Dubé has had a major impact on the LGBTQ community in particular. When the gay rights movement was starting its battle for legal equality, in Justice L’Heureux-Dubé they found someone on the Supreme Court of Canada who was willing to stand up for them, and for that we can all be grateful.
Even though Justice L’Heureux-Dubé’s time on the bench has come to an end, her presence at McGill succeeded in inspiring a new generation of law students.
“It was inspiring to see someone talk about not only the accomplishments of their career but also about the disappointments and disagreements they faced along the way, and in her case how these disappointments later had such a formative impact on our conception of law. At the Justice’s insistence, the event definitely gave students an inspiration to make time for pro bono work throughout their legal careers.”
“I really enjoyed the talk because through her animated anecdotes, she illustrated just how far we have come in terms of human rights advancement in this country. The legal landscape she entered is unrecognizable from the one she left behind…” Derakshan Qurban-Ali
“Meeting Justice L’Heureux-Dubé had been one of my dreams since I came to law school so meeting her in the moot court somehow felt unreal.”