Photo courtesy the Supreme Court of Canada. Credit Roy Grogan.

Lethbridge College is pleased to announce that the Right Honourable Beverley McLachlin, P.C., Chief Justice of Canada, will receive an honorary degree at the college’s convocation ceremony this year. McLachlin will receive a Bachelor of Applied Arts degree in Justice Studies on April 28 at the Enmax Centre as part of the college’s 60th anniversary celebrations.

McLachlin, who was born and raised in Pincher Creek, has had a profound influence on the Supreme Court for more than 25 years, since first being appointed in 1989. Named Canada’s 17th chief justice in 2000, she is the first woman to serve as chief justice of Canada’s highest court, and is now the longest-serving chief justice in Canadian history.

“The chief justice has helped to shape this country with her leadership, her ability to foster co-operation and her firm judgements,” says Lethbridge College President and CEO Dr. Paula Burns. “Her outspoken criticism of Canada’s residential school system, her support of First Nations, Métis and Inuit rights, and her ties to southern Alberta embody what Lethbridge College hopes to represent.”

“I am deeply grateful for the honour Lethbridge College will be bestowing upon me,” says Chief Justice McLachlin. “It is a privilege to join your community and become a part of its history.”

Growing up in Pincher Creek, McLachlin was a frequent visitor to the town’s library, which helped fuel her passion for learning. She maintains close ties to Pincher Creek, including displaying a painting of the area in her Supreme Court office. She earned an honours degree in philosophy from the University of Alberta and then simultaneously pursued her master’s in legal philosophy and a law degree, graduating at the top of her law class.

She practiced law for five years, but her passion for post-secondary education continued as she joined the law faculty of the University of British Columbia as an associate professor. In April 1981, at age 37, she was appointed to the Vancouver County Court. A year later, she was elevated to the B.C. Supreme Court and in 1985, she was named to the B.C. Court of Appeal. In 1988, she became Chief Justice of British Columbia. In 1989, at the age of 45, McLachlin’s meteoric rise culminated in her appointment to the Supreme Court of Canada.

Her voting pattern illustrates that she fosters cooperation and brings other justices to a common position, but she is not afraid to write dissenting opinions. Consensus, above all, and not any particular principle, is what counts for the chief justice.

Chief Justice McLachlin has taken a firm stand for the rights of aboriginal communities in Canada, including authoring the court’s unanimous ruling in June 2014 that legal observers called the most important aboriginal-rights decision in Canadian history. The court determined that native Canadians still own their ancestral lands, unless they signed away their ownership in treaties with government. The ruling gives them enormous leverage in negotiations with outside parties that wish to develop their lands. The chief justice has also described Canada’s treatment of aboriginal people, including the residential school system, an attempt at “cultural genocide.”

McLachlin will be the 17th person to receive an honorary degree from Lethbridge College since the award was first given in 1986.

McLachlin will also be recognized the evening before Convocation at the college’s annual Honouring Excellence event. She will be joined by alumni award recipients Miles Grove, J. Scott Barton and Charlton Weasel Head on April 27 in the Garden Court dining room. The community is invited to be a part of the annual event and enjoy a cocktail reception and a delicious meal prepared by the Culinary Careers students and staff of Lethbridge College.

Tickets for the Honouring Excellence event are $65 for general admission, $55 for alumni and $45 for students. Tickets and more information are available online or by contacting Kari Holmes, Alumni Relations Coordinator at 403-329-7220.