Hail To The Chief: McLachlin C.J.C. Becomes Canada’s Longest-Serving Chief Justice

Next month marks the bicentennial of the birth of Sir William Johnstone Ritchie, one of the first judges appointed to the Supreme Court of Canada and Chief Justice from 1879 to 1892. Why are we thinking about him this week? Until today, he was the longest serving Chief Justice of Canada. That title now belongs to Chief Justice Beverley McLachlin, who has held the position since January 7, 2000. Having served on the Court for nearly a quarter century - most of that time as Chief Justice - her impressive legacy to date includes the development of the law in a wide and varied range of areas. She has also used her position to forge a remarkable degree of consensus on the Court and to publicly highlight important issues facing the administration of justice.

To celebrate this historic milestone, Canadian Appeals Monitor has taken a look at McLachlin C.J.C.'s jurisprudential legacy to date - both before and after her appointment as Chief Justice - and identified 10 key cases in which she has had a direct and lasting role in shaping the law as it applies to Canadian businesses and professions. Her judgments in these areas rarely receive the attention of the media, who tend to focus instead upon her important decisions regarding constitutional and criminal issues. However, as demonstrated by the cases below, McLachlin C.J.C. has also had a profound influence upon the development of the private law.

Norsk and Bow Valley

The recovery of pure economic loss in negligence is one of the most controversial and difficult subjects in the law of torts. As Cardozo J. famously remarked in Ultramares Corp. v. Touche, 255 N.Y. 170 (1931), such cases, more than any other, create the potential for "liability in an indeterminate amount for an indeterminate time to an indeterminate class". In Canadian National Railway Co. v. Norsk Pacific Steamship Co., [1992] 1 S.C.R. 1021, McLachlin J. (as she then was) laid the groundwork for a principled approach to this area, by rejecting an automatic exclusionary rule for pure economic loss and holding instead that the controlling concept is "proximity", broadly defined. While the position taken by McLachlin J. in Norsk differed from that of La Forest J. (who would have imposed a presumptive exclusionary rule for contractual relational economic loss), she later unified the two approaches in Bow Valley Husky (Bermuda) Ltd. v. Saint John Shipbuilding Ltd., [1997] 3 S.C.R. 1210. The resulting rule - that recovery for contractual...

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