The Right Honourable Beverley McLachlin, PC (’65 BA, ’68 MA, ’68 LLB) is the 17th chief justice of Canada and the first woman to hold that position. She is also the longest-serving chief justice in Canadian history.
Born in Pincher Creek, Alta., McLachlin pursued a philosophy degree from the University of Alberta. She graduated with honors and, upon completion of her master’s and law degrees three years later, was awarded the gold medal as the top student in the Faculty of Law.
After being called to the Bar of Alberta in 1969 and the Bar of British Columbia in 1971, McLachlin went on to practise law in Edmonton, Fort St. John and Vancouver. In 1974, she joined the Faculty of Law at the University of British Columbia, earning a reputation as a vigorous scholar and quickly becoming an associate professor.
In 1981 McLachlin was appointed to both the County Court of Vancouver and the Supreme Court of British Columbia. In 1985 she was elevated to the British Columbia Court of Appeal and in 1988 she was appointed chief justice of the Supreme Court of British Columbia. Prime Minister Brian Mulroney nominated McLachlin to the Supreme Court of Canada in 1989, and on Jan. 7, 2000, Prime Minister Jean Chrétien nominated McLachlin as Canada’s first female chief justice of the Supreme Court of Canada.
During her time on the nation’s highest court, McLachlin has been involved with key rulings on free speech, child pornography, rape shield laws and assisted suicide. In her role as chief justice, McLachlin also serves as the deputy of the Governor General of Canada. In 2005, when Governor General Adrienne Clarkson was hospitalized, McLachlin performed the duties of the Governor General and gave royal assent to the Civil Marriage Act, which legalized same-sex marriage in Canada.
McLachlin is a member of the Queen’s Privy Council for Canada and sits on the Advisory Council of the Order of Canada. In 2006 she was appointed Commander of the Venerable Order of Saint John, and in 2008 was named Commander of the Legion of Honour by the Government of France. McLachlin has been awarded nearly 30 honorary doctorates, including one from the U of A in 1991. She is also the recipient of the U of A’s Distinguished Alumni Award and Alumni Award of Excellence.
For almost as long as there’s been a Canada, there’s been a University of Alberta. Over the next year, in honour of Canada’s 150th anniversary, we’re proudly celebrating the people, achievements and ideas that contributed to the making of a confederation.