May 20, 2018 11:19 am

From Chief Justice to novelist: Beverley McLachlin pens thriller

WATCH ABOVE: Former Chief Justice of Canada Beverly McLachlin tells Eric Sorensen the most significant impact of her role as chief justice was her role as a woman and being a role model while serving as chief justice for Canada's highest court.


Former Chief Justice of the Supreme Court Beverley McLachlin is taking a page from her past as she looks to the future.

McLachlin retired last December after 37 years on the bench, 17 of them as Canada’s first female chief justice. Her departure was feted at an Ottawa gala that drew three former prime ministers, the current prime minister, and two former governors general.

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But even as that was all unfolding, she was quietly penning what would become her first ever work of fiction. It was a project she began thinking about 40 years ago, but gave up when she accepted her first position as a judge.

“When I was facing mandatory retirement I said, ‘Well, what am I going to do now?’ And it came back to me,” she told Eric Sorensen on this weekend’s edition of The West Block.

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“So I started getting up at 5 a.m. (to write) and pretty soon I had a little bit of a story going.”

The result is Full Disclosure, a novel that revolves around a Canadian criminal defence lawyer in Vancouver named Jilly Truitt.

READ MORE: New chief justice of Canada says method of dealing with judges’ misconduct outdated

Asked if readers can glean anything about McLachlin’s own life and experiences through her writing, the veteran judge assured Sorensen that the story and characters are purely fictitious.

“But you know, my passion is justice and the legal system and that’s where I’ve spent all my life, so of course some of the same themes come through,” she added.

“Violence against women is in there. The way it is to practise law in a tough profession, as a woman.”

Truitt, the protagonist, is tasked with defending a business mogul suspected of killing his wife, and she doesn’t give up easily. That kind of mental fortitude — “that backbone” as McLachlin refers to it — is central to the character.

“In retrospect, I don’t think I ever recoiled before a challenge. And that spirit that comes forward in my main character — now she’s very different person in all ways than me — but maybe that part of me is part of her.”

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McLachlin has spent much of the past six months wrapping up Full Disclosure, but she’s also had more time to reflect on her lengthy career. The fundamental values and themes that informed her work have remained constant, she said, and while every human endeavor has its faults, she remains satisfied that she gave Canadians her best.

McLachlin said one thing she didn’t give much thought to as Chief Justice of the Supreme Court, however, was the importance of representation on the bench.

“So many people have come up to me over the years with their little daughters in hand and said, it’s so important to me or to my little daughter or niece … that you are there,” she said.

“And I had underestimated that when I was first made Chief Justice. I hadn’t thought that would be a big impact, but it was. And it didn’t have that much to do with me personally or what I tried to do. It was just that I was there.”

Asked if she’s already planning a follow-up novel to Full Disclosure, McLachlin said she’ll probably pen a memoir first.

“Then, perhaps, more fiction.”

— Watch the full interview with Beverley McLachlin above

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