File photo by THE CANADIAN PRESS Supreme Court Judge Beverley McLachlin takes part in the welcoming ceremony for Justice Richard Wagner at the Supreme Court of Canada in Ottawa. Chief Justice McLachlin fought back tears as she said goodbye after more than a quarter century on Canada’s highest court.

McLachlin hears final case, but still has months of work on judgments ahead

OTTAWA — Chief Justice Beverley McLachlin fought back tears as she said goodbye Thursday following more than a quarter century on Canada’s highest court.

McLachlin is hanging up her robes after hearing more than 2,000 Supreme Court cases, including a final one on interprovincial trade.

She concluded with some emotional remarks, thanking her husband, colleagues, the court staff and the public — and musing that she will even miss the judicial homework.

“In fact that may be the biggest adjustment that I have to face — what am I going to do with my evenings?”

McLachlin is stepping down after 28 years on the court, including almost 18 years as chief.

“I know that my time here will always be the centrepiece of my life,” she said.

McLachlin spoke of her tenure as a period in which the justice system in Canada emerged as a potent force for good.

“It’s been intellectually stimulating, it’s been hugely challenging and there’s not been a day when I haven’t thought I’m the luckiest of people.”

Justice Rosalie Abella lauded McLachlin’s inspiration and leadership, saying she did everything possible to help the judges.

“We don’t know how she did it,” Abella said. “She seemed incapable of fatigue.”

McLachlin officially retires Dec. 15. However, she will continue to have a say on judgments in cases she has heard, as long as they are released by next June 15.

If any are released after that date, the judgment will note that McLachlin had no input into the decision.

Since the court generally sits with an odd number of judges, it means some cases that McLachlin heard could result in rulings from an even number, posing the possibility of a tie.

As a result, the court is working to identify cases involving differences of opinion among the judges, with the aim of releasing those judgments by mid-June.

McLachlin is the first woman to hold the top job on the high court and is also Canada’s longest-serving chief justice.

Justice Minister Jody Wilson-Raybould said this week McLachlin exemplifies the qualities a chief justice should have, citing her thorough understanding of the law and ability to foster a collegial spirit on the court.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau is expected to name a new chief justice soon.

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