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Supreme at Last: The Evolution of the Supreme Court of Canada, 1949-1999

by Peter McCormick

In Supreme at Last, self-proclaimed “court-watcher” Peter McCormick scales a mountain of information to provide readers with a history of the Supreme Court of Canada, from its humble beginnings in 1949 to the powerful and uniquely Canadian institution it has become. However, although McCormick’s research is adequate and his findings logically laid out, the book ultimately falls short of reader-friendliness. Quickly and often, McCormick’s dense tome bogs down under the weight of history, with little room for narrative inventiveness.

McCormick is handicapped by the fact that he hasn’t participated on any meaningful level in the court’s evolution. Therefore, he has only reams of research and statistics, court findings, and articles to guide his way. To make a book on such a specialized topic accessible to a general audience, an author needs to provide some unique insights, stories, and odd bits of trivia, to inject some levity into otherwise solemn subject matter.

McCormick starts to show signs of life when discussing the 1982 Charter of Rights and Freedoms. He also provides some
interesting insights in looking to the future of Canadian courts, and raises thought-provoking questions about the balance between the Supreme Court’s independence and accountability. Unfortunately, after 150 pages of dense information overload, these sections are too little, too late.

Supreme at Last has some of the trappings of a textbook – such as tables and an ordered and systematic approach – which makes the material easy to understand. However, McCormick’s failure to dig underneath the obvious, or to enliven his research, severely limits the book’s accessibility.