Former Canadian Supreme Court chief justice Beverley McLachlin has won the 2020 Shaughnessy Cohen Prize for Political Writing for her memoir Truth Be Told.
The annual $25,000 award celebrates the best political writing in Canada.
Truth Be Told shares McLachlin’s journey from growing up in rural Alberta to spending 28 years on the Supreme Court — 17 of them as chief justice — where she helped shape Canadian law and governance, including legislation on sex work and mandatory minimum prison sentences.
“Beverley McLachlin is an exceptional woman, and her memoirs are essential reading for anyone interested in the intersection of law and politics in Canada. Marked by a storyteller’s sure touch, they trace McLachlin’s path from small-town girl in Pincher Creek, Alta., to pioneer woman lawyer, to first woman chief justice of the Supreme Court of Canada. These memoirs — the first by a Canadian Supreme Court justice — offer a unique and tantalizing glimpse of the Court’s personal dynamics and its operations as it tackled the legal issues that have defined modern Canada, including same-sex marriage, euthanasia, and the Charter of Rights and Freedoms,” the jury said in a statement.
The jury was comprised of federal government historian Greg Donaghy, Huffington Post Canada’s Ottawa bureau chief Althia Raj and senator Paula Simons.
“I wrote this memoir from the heart. It is my story, through good times and more challenging times,” McLachlin said in her acceptance speech. “It is also a story about my country, Canada, a country where a young girl of no particular note could rise to become the chief justice of Canada.”
McClachlin noted that the prize was particularly special to her because of her personal relationship with Shaughnessy Cohen.
Cohen was a member of parliament for the Windsor-St. Clair riding from 1993 until her death in 1998. Prior to her political career, she worked as a lawyer.
“It’s a great honour, and one that means a lot to me in particular because I remember Shaughnessy Cohen. I met her when I first came to Ottawa in 1989 and shared some lovely evenings with her. She was a wonderful person, who cared deeply about Canada and its governance,” McLachlin said. “I think she’d be pleased to know that the winner of this year’s prize is a book about the third branch of government, the Canadian judiciary, which I have been associated with all my life.”
The four remaining finalists each received $2,500. They are Peace and Good Order: The Case for Indigenous Justice in Canada by Harold R., Johnson, Canadian Justice, Indigenous Injustice: The Gerald Stanley and Colten Boushie Case by Kent Roach, Claws of the Panda: Beijing’s Campaign of Influence and Intimidation in Canada by Jonathan Manthorpe, anada on the United Nations Security Council: A Small Power on a Large Stage by Adam Chapnick.
The prize was given out during the 2020 edition of Politics and the Pen gala, an annual fundraiser for the Writers’ Trust of Canada. The event was held virtually because of the COVID-19 pandemic.
The Writers’ Trust of Canada is an organization that supports Canadian writers through literary awards, fellowships, financial grants, mentorships and more.
It also gives out seven prizes in recognition of the year’s best in fiction, nonfiction and short story, as well as mid-career and lifetime achievement awards.
The organization was founded in 1976 by Margaret Atwood, Pierre Berton, Graeme Gibson, Margaret Laurence and David Young.
Last year’s Shaughnessy Cohen Prize winner was Boys: What It Means to Become a Man by Rachel Giese.
The prize has been given out annually since 2000.
Other past winners include Kamal Al Solaylee, Jane Jacobs and Roméo Dallaire.