Judges of the Court
Remarks of the Right Honourable Beverley McLachlin, P.C.
Retirement Ceremony of the Honourable Claire
June 10, 2002
As Chief Justice of this Court, I welcome you to this ceremony marking the retirement of our colleague, the Honourable Claire L'Heureux-Dubé. We are honoured by the presence this morning of several distinguished members of the judiciary, the Honourable Martin Cauchon, Minister of Justice and Attorney General of Canada, the Honourable Paul Bégin, Minister of Justice and Attorney General of Quebec, Mr. Eric Rice, Q.C., President of the Canadian Bar Association, Mr. Denis Jacques, representing the Barreau du Québec, Madame la bâtonnière Lise Malouin, president of the Quebec City Bar, Professor Marie-Claire Belleau, former members of this Court, the Right Honourable Antonio Lamer, P.C., and the Hon. Bertha Wilson and Rev. John Wilson, distinguished members of the Bar, family members and distinguished guests and friends of Justice L'Heureux-Dubé, distinguished ladies and gentlemen.
I have known Claire L'Heureux-Dubé for almost two decades and have worked with her for more than thirteen years. We know Claire as a woman of many qualities and accomplishments. We forget sometimes that this thoroughly modern woman was also a pioneer. She attended law school when few women did. Called to the Bar in 1952, she had difficulty finding a firm that would hire her. She finally found a place in Quebec City with Sam S. Bard. The fit could not have been better. Claire and Sam took on the tough, unpopular causes of the times, and fought for them in the courts. Claire specialized in family law. Along with it, she developed an abiding passion for social justice focused on the situation of women, children and members of unpopular minority groups. In 1987, she was appointed to this Court after serving on the trial and appellate courts of Quebec -- 6 years on the trial court; 8 years on the Court of Appeal. Through almost 30 years on the Bench, Claire's passion for social justice has remained undimmed. Her presence at this Court has been enormous; her absence will be palpable. The strength of her convictions is equaled only by the force of her personality. We shall all miss her.
There is a tendency on the part of some to try to attach labels to the members of this Court, past and present. Labels make complex things simple through an economy of words. But we must remind ourselves that labels, like metaphors, usually contain equal measures of truth and untruth, and certainly do not tell the whole story.
The labels that are often applied to our departing colleague are "Feminist" and "the Great Dissenter". In both cases, there is some truth in these labels, as I shall explain. But there is also an unfairness to them, to the extent they give a false and incomplete description of Justice L'Heureux-Dubé's important contribution to the work of this Court.
A "feminist", according to the Oxford English Dictionary, is a person who advocates for the rights of women, based on the theory of equality of the sexes. According to this definition, Justice L'Heureux-Dubé is a feminist, as am I -- as, I suspect, are most people in this room, indeed, most Canadians. I say this because equality is more than a "theory" in this country -- it is constitutionally required. Equality of the sexes is the law. Of course, one can have different ideas about what this equality means, but there should be no dispute about the merits of the idea of sexual equality.
There is no doubt that equality is one of Justice L'Heureux-Dubé's passions. She is acknowledged to be one of the world's greatest experts and advocates in this area. But to label our colleague a feminist suggests that she is interested mainly or exclusively in women's rights. But that is far from true. In the area of equality, Claire has defended the rights of many different groups -- the handicapped, aboriginal people, children, ethnic minorities, and members of minority sexual orientation. Along the way, she made lasting contributions to family law and the criminal law. To characterize her work as primarily devoted to the rights of women leaves out far too much.
So, on the one hand, labeling Justice L'Heureux-Dubé as a feminist judge tells us that she supports the equality rights of women, which is true. She is a passionate defender of women's equality rights. But, it is also a misleading label because Justice L'Heureux-Dubé is a great believer in equality rights generally. And it is a label that leaves out all of her many contributions in other areas of the law.
The other label that is applied to our colleague is the "Great Dissenter". Again, while there is some truth in this moniker, it does not tell the full story. Justice L'Heureux-Dubé's reputation as a frequent dissenter is perhaps exaggerated. This Court is unanimous most of the time, indeed, in about 80% of its cases last year. Justice L'Heureux-Dubé only dissented 5 times last year. Overall, she dissented in 7.72% of the cases she heard.
But even she will admit -- indeed, professes to be proud of the fact -- that she dissents more often than most of her colleagues. But that does not diminish the contribution she makes to the law. All of us on this bench have dissented from time to time and, in doing so, we all felt we were being faithful to the law as we saw it, and to our oaths as judges. Too few people appreciate the valuable function that dissents can play in clarifying and even advancing the law. A dissent may lay out the broader implications and consequences of the majority's judgment. It may trace a different line of authority or cast new light on existing jurisprudence. It may distill a novel principle, expose developments on the international scene or find persuasive reasoning in the judgments of other high courts of the world. And, typically, in such dissents, this is laid out in a scholarly fashion for the benefit of academics and jurists, for future consideration and development. This is just the sort of highly influential dissenting judgment we can find under the pen of some of this Court's greatest jurists, such as Bora Laskin, and later, in his early years on the Court, Brian Dickson. Claire's dissents stand in this proud tradition.
It may or may not be fair to label Claire L'Heureux-Dubé the "Feminist" or the "Great Dissenter". But she can fairly be characterized as exceptional on a number of other counts. Today I would like to single out three: Claire the worker; Claire the truthteller; Claire the friend.
First, Claire's legendary energy and capacity for hard work. Justice L'Heureux-Dubé will be remembered as a woman of convictions, whether fighting in the trenches or pursuing her vision of social justice on the bench.But convictions without more are but words writ on water. It takes energy and hard work to transform them into law. Claire had no shortage of either.
Part of the Claire legacy, cited by friends like Chief Justice Fraser of Alberta, is that when Claire went to convent school, the nuns soon observed, "Claire you're very bright". However, with Newtonian logic, they believed that no good compliment should come without an equal and opposite criticism, and so the good sisters warned her that she must guard against being lazy. Little did they know the impact that that lesson would have on her!
When Claire came to the Supreme Court of Canada, then Chief Justice Brian Dickson told her, "Claire -- this is a full time job". Claire simply smiled and said nothing. But a week later Claire invited him into her office. She showed him the cot she had installed. "See -- now I can work 24 hours a day", she advised.
And she did! -- As attested by her record.
In her time on the Court, Claire has produced -- a considerable record:
- 254 decisions
- 30 scholarly articles
- 240 speeches
- and in her spare time, she has travelled to all parts of the world as an ambassador for human rights and the rule of law.
Another of Claire's great qualities is as a truth teller.
Long before Ronald Dworkin advised judges to "come clean and get real", Claire was making sure we did this at the Supreme Court of Canada. She has no tolerance for obfuscation.
At meetings, conferences, she would sometimes listen to one of her fellow colleagues expounding his or her views in what appeared -- judging from her facial expressions -- to be mounting disbelief. As the judge concluded, her hand would hit the table. "Come on!", she would say. It was always a challenge convincing her of your point of view.
Let me conclude with just one final personal quality -- in my view, the most important of all, Claire, the great friend.
At a recent dinner honouring Claire -- one of a cascading number of "Clairfests" that we are enjoying this year -- I referred to John Guare's play "Six Degrees of Separation", exploring the idea that each of us is connected to every other person in the world by a chain of no more than six intermediaries. Claire has single-handedly managed to reduce her chain to no more than four links -- usually fewer. Quite literally, sheseems to be everybody's friend.
Justice L'Heureux-Dubé's honesty, affection, loyalty and supportiveness are unmatched. She knows how to fight, but she also knows how to turn the page and move on. I personally have benefitted greatly from her friendship, even though she once hugged me so violently that a patrolling police officer was moved to rush in and ask me -- "Are you alright ma'am?".
Claire has personally advised me that now that retirement's almost here, she's going to mellow out and take some time off. Somehow, I doubt it.
Claire, as I said at an earlier Clairfest, you've been a meteor speeding through our heaven. Some of your dust has fallen on us, and we feel blessed.
Carry on, and from us, your loving friends, "Bon voyage".
* * *
I would now invite the Minister of Justice and Attorney General of Canada, the Honourable Martin Cauchon, to say a few words.
Thank you, Mr. Minister. I understand, Mr. Minister, that other commitments call on you to depart forthwith. Thank you so much for having been with us this morning.
* * *
I would now like to ask the Minister of Justice and Attorney General of Quebec, the Honourable Paul Bégin, to say a few words.
Thank you, Mr. Minister.
* * *
I would now like to invite the President of the Canadian Bar Association, Mr. Eric Rice, Q.C., to say a few words.
Thank you, Mr. Rice.
* * *
I would now ask the representative of the Barreau du Québec, Mr. Denis Jacques, to say a few words.
Thank you, Mr. Jacques.
* * *
I now call upon the president of the Quebec City Bar, Madame la bâtonnière Lise Malouin, to say a few words.
Thank you, Ms. Malouin.
* * *
I would now like to ask Professor Marie-Claire Belleau to say a few words.
Thank you, Professor Belleau.
* * *
I now invite the Honourable Claire L'Heureux-Dubé to speak.
* * *
Guests are now invited to attend a reception on the 3rd floor.
The Court is adjourned until Tuesday, June 11th, 2002, at 9:45 a.m.
Remarks of the Right Honourable Beverley McLachlin, P.C.
Chief Justice of Canada
Retirement Ceremony of the Honourable Claire L'Heureux-Dubé
Monday, June 10, 2002