McLachlin Opening Keynote at CCCA

The following is a guest post by Lynne Yryku, Managing Editor, CCCA Magazine:

Under the general theme of women in law, Chief Justice Beverley McLachlin opened the Canadian Corporate Counsel Association’s National Conference in Calgary this morning. Her colleague and friend, former Supreme Court of Canada Justice John Major had praised her ability to maintain harmony and collegiality in the Supreme Court of Canada as way of introduction, and her open and frank style of discussing such a hot topic lived up to expectation.

The Chief Justice began by reviewing the great progress Canada had made over the past century for women. Women now have equal legal rights and ample opportunities to succeed. But, she pointed out, the fact that books, articles and papers continue to be published on the inequalities show we still need to find ways to do better.

Equality is one of the most complex of the Charter rights for Chief Justice McLachlin. She has seen the many faces of equality and inequality, and sees the way forward must begin with the leaders of every institution questioning their assumptions:

  • Do we have equal representation?
  • Are women playing roles of equal importance to men?
  • Are women playing the same types of roles?
  • If not, why?

The challenge lies in answering the last question honestly, no matter how difficult or revealing that answer may be. It is in questioning what is normal that we can pave the road ahead.

She brought up one case early in her career as a judge where there was only one man in the courtroom. He was settling a divorce from his wife, and when it was his turn to speak, he said he felt outnumbered. She pointed out that this is why we need diversity in not only the legal profession but everywhere. Women should never feel outnumbered, uncomfortable to ask for what they deserve. They are entitled to see themselves represented at all levels and in all places, and feel equal.

Because she had the freedom to choose her own career path, she has found a highly rewarding career, and would like everyone to have the same opportunity. It is only by questioning what our assumptions of how things should be that we can continue to offer this freedom to both women and men.

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