The Honourable Justice Michele H. Hollins’s Questionnaire

Backgrounder

Under the new judicial appointment process announced by the Minister of Justice on October 20, 2016, any interested and qualified Canadian lawyer or judge may apply for such appointment by completing a questionnaire. The questionnaires are then used by the Judicial Advisory Committees across Canada to review candidates and submit a list of “highly recommended” and “recommended” candidates for consideration by the Minister of Justice. Candidates are advised that parts of their questionnaire could be made available to the public, should they be appointed to the bench.

Below are Parts 5, 6, 7, and 11 of the questionnaire completed by the Honourable Michele H. Hollins.

Questionnaire for Judicial Appointment

[...]

PART 5 – LANGUAGE

Please note that in addition to the answers to the questions set out below you may be assessed as to your level of language proficiency.
Without further training, are you able to read and understand court materials in:

  • English: Yes
  • French: No

Without further training, are you able to discuss legal matters with your colleagues in: 

  • English: Yes
  • French: No

Without further training, are you able to converse with counsel in court in: 

  • English: Yes
  • French: No

Without further training, are you able to understand oral submission in court in: 

  • English: Yes
  • French: No

PART 6 – EDUCATION

Name of Institutions, Years Attended, Degree/Diploma and Year Obtained: 

  • 1989-1992: University of Saskatchewan, College of Law – LL.B
  • 1985-1987: Texas Christian University, Fort Worth, Texas – Bachelor of Science (Biochemistry) awarded in 1987
  • 1983-1985: University of Science & Arts of Oklahoma, Chickasha, Oklahoma – Bachelor of Science program (Chemistry)

Continuing Education:

  • Continuing Legal Education, 1992-present
  • No formal post-LL.B. education

Honours and Awards:

  • Academic awards:
    • 1983: Entrance Scholarship, University of Science & Arts of Oklahoma
    • 1986: Admission to a Texas Christian University Honour (Academic) Society
    • 1989: Entrance Scholarship, U of S, College of Law
  • Legal awards:
    • 2008: Queen’s Counsel designation awarded
    • 2010: Louis St. Laurent Award (CBA)
    • 2013 Women in Law Leadership Award (Broader Roles)

PART 7 – PROFESSIONAL AND EMPLOYMENT HISTORY

Please include a chronology of work experience, starting with the most recent and showing employers’ names and dates of employment. For legal work, indicate areas of work or specialization with years and, if applicable, indicate if they have changed.

Legal Work Experience:

  • 2004-present: Partner, Dunphy Best Blocksom LLP (civil and commercial litigation)
  • 2001-2003: Associate, Dunphy Best Blocksom LLP (civil and commercial litigation)
  • 1994-2001: Associate, McCarthy Tetrault LLP (civil and commercial litigation)
  • 1993-1994: Articled Student-at-Law to Thomas Ferguson, Q.C. at McCarthy Tetrault LLP
  • 1992-1993: Clerk to Chief Justice D.K. McPherson, Court of Queen’s Bench of Saskatchewan
  • 1990: Summer Research Assistant, U of S, College of Law

Non-Legal Work Experience:

  • 1987-1989: Narcotics Clerk, National Drug (now Medis), Regina, Saskatchewan
  • 1986-1987: Medical Research Assistant, Veteran’s Administration Hospital, Dallas, Texas
  • 1985-1987: Waitress/Bartender, The Ocean Club, Fort Worth, Texas

Other Professional Experience:

List all bar associations, legal or judicial-related committees of which you are or have been a member, and give the titles and dates of any offices which you have held in such groups.

  • Canadian Bar Association (CBA) National President (2014-2015)
    • Until 2017, our National Board was comprised of 25 Directors, representing all geographical and interest-based sections of our 37,000 members. As President, I chaired all our in-person and telephone conference Board meetings (11 in total over the 2014-2015 year). In addition to the Directors, their respective Vice-Chairs/Vice-Presidents and their staff complement were usually also present, with standing to speak in most cases.
    • We debated some extremely divisive and highly-charged issues during my term. We made and implemented decisions that required a great deal of interaction with Board members, (sometimes unhappy) constituent groups within the organization and also with the public and the media.
    • In addition, we began our Re-Think, an organization-wide review and “re-set” of the Canadian Bar Association’s purpose, our strategy and our operations. It required much effort to bring the Board to consensus on important changes, including the financial implications of this work, and to continue the oversight of that project throughout my term.
    • As National President, I met with provincial and territorial Ministers of Justice, the federal Minister of Justice, Judges, Justices and Chief Justices, the executive members of judicial organizations, law societies and the Federation of Law Societies of Canada, the Canadian Corporate Counsel Association, the American Bar Association and other international bar leaders. I did numerous media interviews (print, radio and television) on issues including Bill C-51, women in the profession and the judicial appointments process.
    • I have served on the CBA National Board of Directors on prior occasions as well; as a National Executive Officer (2012-present), as President, CBA Alberta Branch (2007-2008) and as Chair, National CBA Membership Committee (2000-2001).
    • As Past President in 2015-2016, I chaired the meetings of our National Council of approximately 230 delegates. I also worked on the CBA’s Integration Team and am currently (2016-2017) the Team Lead for one of the Transition Teams (Board, AGM and Leadership Forum) as the CBA moves towards its new governance structure in the next year.
  • Other CBA committees and roles
    • National Finance Committee (2013-2014)
    • National Canadian Legal Conference and Mid-Winter Steering Committee (2013-present)
    • Chair, Canadian Legal Conference and Midwinter Review Committee (2012-2013)
    • National Nominating Committee (2013, Chair in 2015-2016)
    • President, Canadian Bar Association, Alberta Branch (2007-2008)
    • Member of Alberta Executive Committee, 2004-2010
    • Member, National Communications Committee (2009-2012); Vice-Chair (2011)
    • Member, Branch Communications Committee (2009-2012)
    • Member, Branch Editorial Committee (2009-2013)
    • CBA representative to Distinguished Service Awards Committee (2007)
    • CBA liaison to Alberta Law Society Benchers (2006-2007)
    • CBA representative to Justice Policy Advisory Committee, Public Confidence Subcommittee (2006-2007)
    • CBA representative on CFCJ Legal Services Mapping Project (2008)
    • Organizing Committee, National Midwinter Meeting, Lake Louise (2009)
    • Organizing Committee, Canadian Legal Conference, Calgary (2007)
    • Organizing Committee, National Midwinter Meeting, Banff (2005)
    • Co-Chair, Organizing Committee, Alberta Law Conference (2002, 2004)
    • Chair, Membership Committee, National (2000-2001)
    • Chair, Membership Committee, Alberta Branch (1998-2000)
    • National Finance Committee (2000-2001)
    • National Sections Council Executive (2000-2001)
    • Public Legal Education Committee Co-Chair, Alberta Branch
    • South Section Coordinator, Alberta Branch
    • Law Day Volunteer (ongoing)
  • Alberta Lawyers' Assistance Program (ASSIST), April 2009-2012
    • Board of Directors, Secretary
    • Member, Fundraising Committee
    • Member, Peer Support Program Committee
    • Peer Support Volunteer (ongoing)
  • Law Society Adjudicator (2016-present)
    • I was appointed in March 2016 as an adjudicator for the Law Society of Alberta, to sit on disciplinary hearing panels alongside LSA Benchers, including lay Benchers. I have completed the training for this position and am waiting for the scheduling of my first hearing in 2017.
  • Canadian Bar Review (2016-present)
    • I was appointed in February 2016 to sit on the Editorial Board of the Canadian Bar Review, which Board is currently chaired (as at this writing) by Justice Cromwell of the Supreme Court of Canada. The newly-appointed editors are Professor Tanovich and Acting Dean Waters, both of the University of Windsor. My first meeting with this group will be in the fall of 2016.
  • Supreme Court of Canada Symposium (2016-present)
    • I was asked to and did join the organizing committee for a 2017 symposium celebrating the Supreme Court of Canada, which committee is chaired by Justice Karakatsanis of the Supreme Court of Canada. Planning meetings and conference calls are ongoing.
  • Dean’s Advisory Committee, University of Saskatchewan, College of Law (2012-present)
  • Women in Law Leadership Awards Advisory Council (2015-present)

Pro Bono Activities:

  • Volunteer at “Ask-A-Lawyer” Booth at Law Day, Calgary, Alberta (April 2016)
  • I take pro bono files in my own practice as I am able and also assist or supervise other lawyers doing pro bono work. I have spoken occasionally to non-lawyer groups to give advice on collection practices and employment law. I volunteered for Pro Bono Law Alberta to train junior trustees on foreclosure law.

Teaching and Continuing Education:

List all legal or judicial educational organizations and activities you have been involved with (e.g. teaching course at a Law Faculty, bar association, National Judicial Institute, Canadian Institute for the Administration of Justice, etc.)

  • Guest Instructor/Team Leader, Legal Education Society of Alberta (LESA) Intensive Trial Advocacy Course (2004-present, upcoming in June 2017)
  • Speaker on mental health issues at Agents of Parliament Professional Development Forum (April 2016)
  • Speaker at Association of Women Lawyers’ Mentoring Circle (“Resilience”) (November 2015)
  • Panelist at Advocates’ Society Fall Convention, Cancun, Mexico, Current Litigation Issues in Alberta (November 2015)
  • Panelist at the American Bar Association Conference, International Guests Roundtable, “Impact of Innovation and Automation in Legal Services” (August 2015)
  • Panelist at the Commonwealth Law Conference, Glasgow, Scotland, “Risk and the Rule of Law” (April 2015)
  • Featured Alumni Speaker, McKercher LLP Lecture Series, University of Saskatchewan, College of Law, “Numbers Matter: The Retention and Advancement of Women in Law, Business and the Profession” (January 2015)
  • Speaker at the CBA Alberta Branch Young Lawyers’ Lunch Meeting, “Personal Wellness” (2015)
  • Interviewed for video presentations for Ontario Bar Association’s mental health initiative (“Starting the Conversation”) and for the CBA’s initiative (“Mental Health for Lawyers”) (2014)
  • Panelist at National Pro Bono Conference (2014), Fitting the Pieces Together
  • Panelist at Lawyers Professional Assistance Conference (LPAC) (October 2013)
  • Panelist at 2013 University of Saskatchewan Conference, “Changing Face of Law”
  • Panelist at 2013 CBA CLE, “How to Survive Your First Year of Practice” (August, 2013)
  • CBA Delegate to the Commonwealth Lawyers Conference, Cape Town, South Africa (April 2013)
  • Panelist at “Retaining Women in Law” Presentation, Saskatchewan, 2012
  • Panelist at “Strengthening your Bar Association” Symposium of the East African Law Societies, Nairobi, Kenya (January 2012)
  • Panelist at “Women in Law Leadership Conference” (2011)
  • Presenter at the CBA Skilled Lawyer Series (webinar)
    • Preparing Your Witness for Discovery (December 2010)
    • Document Production (November 2011)
  • Presented “Organizing Your File”: The New Lawyer Seminar (LESA)
  • Presenter at “The New Rules: A Seamless Transition” (LESA)
  • Presented “Wrongful Dismissal Claims Under the New Rules” CBA Employment Section (November 2010)
  • Panelist on “Recovering Costs” CBA Alberta Law Conference
  • Panelist, Women in Law Leadership Conference (2011)
  • Presenter, LESA “Seamless Transition to the New Rules” (2010)
  • Chair, LESA New Lawyers Seminar (September 2008)
  • Chair, Barristers Update Panel, Alberta Law Conference (March 2006)
  • Presenter, Barristers Update Panel, Alberta Law Conference (March 2007)
  • Principal to articling student (2006-2007)
  • Various in-firm sessions, formal mentorship positions
  • Bar Admission/CPLED Instructor (2002-2006, 2008)

Community and Civic Activities:

List all organizations of which you are a member and any offices held with dates.

  • Canadian Breast Cancer Foundation (approximately 2000-2006)
    • Member, Finance and Risk Management Committee
    • Member, Funds Development Committee
    • Member, Nominating and Governance Committee
    • Member, National Governance Task Force
    • Member, Corporate Advisory
    • Member, Organizing Committee, CIBC Run for the Cure (2 years)
  • Calgary Stampede Blacksmiths Committee (August 2008-present)
    • Chair, Metal Art Showcase Subcommittee (2013-2014)
  • Calgary Stampede Beef Cattle Committee (2015-present)
  • Member, Talisman Centre
  • Member, Squash Alberta
  • Member, Rainbow Group Committee (working group of the Calgary Emergency Women’s Shelter) (1999-2003)
  • Volunteer canvasser, Alberta Diabetes (Foothills) Association (past)
  • Volunteer work with University of Saskatchewan College of Law Alumni (past)
  • University of Saskatchewan College of Law Centennial Committee (2011)
  • Volunteer coach, Calgary West Little League and Calgary Minor Basketball Association (past)

[...]

PART 11 – THE ROLE OF THE JUDICIARY IN CANADA’S LEGAL SYSTEM

The Government of Canada seeks to appoint judges with a deep understanding of the judicial role in Canada. In order to provide a more complete basis for evaluation, candidates are asked to offer their insight into broader issues concerning the judiciary and Canada's legal system. For each of the following questions, please provide answers of between 750 and 1000 words.

1. What would you regard as your most significant contribution to the law and the pursuit of justice in Canada?

  • My most significant contribution to the law and the pursuit of justice in Canada is doing my job. That was my immediate answer on first seeing this question, followed by days of deliberation, certain that something more inspirational was expected. However, the more thought I have given to this question, the more certain I am of my original answer.
  • My job could be described as fairly limited in scope; I do a variety of civil and commercial litigation with a focus on employment law. My clients include mid to large-size companies but are far more often small companies and individuals, primarily employees. Whoever or whatever they are, they have a problem or a question about their legal rights and obligations arising from a particular set of circumstances in which they have found themselves. Their particular facts may be similar but are always, inevitably, unique.
  • It is my job to listen, carefully and completely, to their telling of the problem and then to offer my advice based on my knowledge of the law. It is important that I understand not just the facts giving rise to the problem but their ultimate objectives as well. Different things are important to different people. It is my job to help clients make the best decisions they can in order to resolve their legal issues. This means understanding their perspective and explaining the law that applies to their problem in a way that they can completely understand. It also means identifying and discussing the risks, benefits and costs of various options or approaches. A client’s resources (personal, financial, temporal) may not allow every avenue to be investigated or pursued and in fact, one of the things I like best about my job is the challenge of thinking creatively to try to get clients to resolution or recovery within those parameters.
  • Sometimes, doing my job well means simply telling clients that, in my opinion, they do not have a good claim or defence. Where informed clients make the decision to broach or begin litigation, I represent them vigorously. That may actually mean taking quite a conciliatory stance or it may mean litigating within the full specter of our adversarial system. In any case, it begins with knowing the law and their particular facts sufficiently to negotiate a favourable settlement or ultimately, to get a court-ordered remedy. Whether in the courtroom or more often, in my office, in meeting rooms and on the phone, my clients’ belief in the availability of justice in Canada may depend on my ability to know and explain the law and the legal system as it will affect them.
  • I was tempted to say that my most significant contribution to the pursuit of justice was my time with the Canadian Bar Association and certainly, there were many important initiatives with which I was involved that I believe improved our justice system or at least provided the opportunity for improvement. But I still believe that the people in the system, be they legal assistants, lawyers, clerks or judges, all contribute every day to the law and the pursuit of justice in Canada.
  • I love my job and I am very proud of the work that I do. I am just one person, within a large and complex legal system but doing my job really well every day has allowed me to help hundreds of people navigate through that system to resolution.

2. How has your experience provided you with insight into the variety and diversity of Canadians and their unique perspectives?

  • Even though I have represented a variety of clients from different backgrounds over my years of practice, unequivocally the best opportunities I have had to appreciate the diversity of Canadians came from my time with the Canadian Bar Association, particularly as the National President in 2014-2015. More than any other volunteer or professional role I have had, the Presidency afforded me opportunities to travel around the country and meet with a great number of diverse participants in and users of our justice system. Working with client advocate groups, law schools, government officials, other legal organizations and even international bar associations, I have come to a broad understanding and appreciation of the Canadian legal system and the role that judges play within it.
  • From Toronto to Inuvik, Pictou to Winnipeg, I was able to see parts of our justice  system that were completely or largely unknown to me; lawyers representing the largest, most successful companies in our country to lawyers representing the poorest, most marginalized and victimized citizens of Canada. I was able to immerse myself in the world of public sector lawyers, personal injury lawyers, general counsel leading large legal departments, law students and academics, judges of all levels and government officials across the country. It was truly a “bird’s eye view” of the Canadian legal system and it was transformative.
  • For example, working on issues of legal aid funding and pro bono facilitation has introduced me to dozens of people across the country, working in clinics, in agencies, firms and government departments, all with the goal of improving access to justice for people who cannot participate equally in our justice system because they lack the financial and other resources to do so.
  • I did a significant amount of work during my Presidency (and after) on issues of mental health and personal wellness. This brought me into contact with many lawyers suffering or having suffered from mental illness, addictions and other personal issues that keep lawyers from being good lawyers and happy human beings. I think judges must always be mindful of the fact that the litigants (and lawyers) before them may be struggling with unseen illness.
  • The Canadian Bar Association has long had the protection of equality and elimination of discrimination as one of its cornerstones. We worked on the Trinity Western case long before it was a case. We lobbied for protection for transgendered individuals. My opportunities to work with our LBGTQ members and volunteers has been wonderful and educational. It is amazing how much difference it makes to have everything you say and do subject to the scrutiny of multiple “equality experts” around the Board and I am not ashamed to say that, while I’m certain there are many areas in which my knowledge and empathy for others could and should still be expanded, I learned so much from working with lawyers of vastly different racial, social, religious and ethnic backgrounds.
  • I realize these are largely examples of the diversity of lawyers, not necessarily of their clients. However, the clients of diverse lawyers are often equally diverse and my opportunities to work with so many different people across the country has broadened my views and perspectives, for which I will always be grateful.

3. Describe the appropriate role of a judge in a constitutional democracy.

  • The role of a judge in our democracy is to apply the law to the parties before her and the issues they bring to the Court for adjudication.
  • Although always well-meaning, the Canadian Bar Association is a place where the phrase “The Rule of Law” is used so often that you can become arguably desensitized to its importance. This application has given me a chance to revisit the concept of the rule of law. There are a variety of definitions but I like the Oxford Dictionary version, which defines the rule of law as “the restriction of the arbitrary exercise of power by subordinating it to well-defined and established laws”. I particularly like the inclusion of the concept of certainty of law.
  • As a practitioner, the legal advice I give to clients is only as good as my understanding of the state of the law. The more certain the state of the law, the easier it is for me to give legal advice that is readily applied to my clients’ issues. I may be some years removed now from Professor McConnell’s “Jurisprudence” course but the importance of those concepts are always fresh in my mind. And so, I think the first order of business for a Judge is to know the current state of the law applicable to the case before her and to respect the principles of and the rationale for ratio decidendi.
  • However, evolutionary changes in the law are not only expected but are necessary. It is not the Judge’s role to fashion creative applications of the law to see justice done – that is the lawyer’s job. However, Judges should be open to novel arguments and new ways of looking at existing laws. They should be willing to spend the time to understand the history and rationale of existing laws, while remaining open to an ever-evolving society, filled with people who have very different problems now than existed 100 years ago or even 20 years ago.
  • The Judge is to marry a respect for jurisprudence with a compassion for the parties before the Court in order to, wherever possible, achieve a just result.

4. Who is the audience for decisions rendered by the court(s) to which you are applying?

  • I believe the primary audience for any judgment is always the parties who have sought the assistance of the Court in resolving the legal issues they could not resolve without that assistance. I have seen cases in which the judge or judges seem almost oblivious to the fact that real people are involved in the case before them. While a judge must always be mindful of the secondary audiences of her decision, her primary obligation is to render a judgment to the parties that is supportable at law and understandable to them.
  • As a litigator, I also appreciate judgments that take into account the important role of jurisprudence in our system. In other words, the legal community (lawyers who are advising clients, law professors who are educating future lawyers) must also be able to clearly discern the ratio decidendi of the decision in a way that ultimately contributes to the certainty of the law (see discussion above).
  • The reasoning of a judgment must be clear; not just the decision arrived at but what was considered and how. In fact this is also important to the parties, who may more readily accept an adverse result if they can at least understand the process of rendering the judgment. As we continue to see increasing numbers of unrepresented litigants, the public is also an audience for judicial decisions and a compelling reason to make written decisions clear and concise.

5. Please describe the personal qualities, professional skills and abilities, and life experience that you believe will equip you for the role of a judge.

  • I have had, and continue to have, an amazing experience in my life as a lawyer. Although I came to the study of law somewhat circuitously, I have loved every minute of the legal experience. I appreciate both the academic/intellectual challenges and the practical challenges and rewards of working with clients and other lawyers. I believe I have become a very good lawyer. I define this as possessing professional competencies, a genuine devotion to the clients’ interests and having demonstrated loyalty to my partners, my firm and my profession.
  • For me, sitting as a Judge would be the ultimate expression of a life in the law. I feel that my life experiences and my deep gratitude for the opportunities I have been afforded as a lawyer would keep me grounded and always mindful of the role of the public servant within our system. I am very hard-working and genuinely love the law (which makes working hard a little less hard). I am able and eager to learn and so believe I would be able, with aforesaid hard work, to learn the areas of the law in which I have less experience.
  • I also believe that as an accomplished advocate, I have demonstrated the ability to hear and understand problems and to marry the practical need for resolution with the existing jurisprudence and sometimes with some creativity. I understand the important role of the law in society but have experienced its limitations as well. Being a Judge is about more than studying or knowing the law; it is also about a practical sense of fairness. I believe I have the common sense, demonstrated good judgment and the requisite compassion to serve the people of Alberta in the role of a Justice.
  • For almost 25 years, I had had a litigation practice involving a fair amount of court work. I have experienced the legal system from the lawyer’s perspective but have tried to always see it from my client’s perspective as well. In advising and representing my clients, getting matters to court, interacting with opposing and co-counsel and attempting to get a resolution or adjudication of my clients’ problems, I have always attempted to do these things in a way that reflects well on the administration of justice. I am proud to be a lawyer in our justice system and I would serve as a Judge in a way that would similarly reflect well on the administration of justice.

6. Given the goal of ensuring that Canadians are able to look at the justices appointed to the bench and see their faces and life experience reflected there, you may, if you choose, provide information about yourself that you feel would assist in this objective.

  • Obviously, I am a woman and have immersed myself in issues involving women in our society, from gender parity (or the lack thereof) in our Canadian corporations, institutions and law firms to volunteering with the women’s shelters in Calgary and to attempting to mentor and encourage young women in all stages of their legal careers.
  • My personal background provides some insight into my life and to why I am so incredibly grateful to be in the place that I am now. I married young and into a very difficult relationship. We were living as a bi-racial couple in Texas in the mid-1980s, which gave me a very close-up view of race relations as well. When I was 26, I left that relationship. I was exactly halfway through law school and our twin daughters were 2 ½. I finished law school as a single mother and then brought the girls to Calgary, where I had no family, to article with a large national firm.
  • The hours were long and the expectations challenging but I always felt fortunate to have found the means to support our family and even more fortunate that it was something I truly enjoyed and at which I became quite successful. Most importantly, I raised two girls, now women, who are happy, healthy and unbelievably accomplished, who have always worked hard and have gained the confidence I wanted so much for them to have.
  • I know that many women in bad or dangerous relationships, or who are supporting children on their own, do not have the support and the advantages that I have had. I do not compare myself to them or believe myself to have been dealt a bad hand at all. However, I do think that my difficult early years and the challenges of finishing law school and establishing a legal career as a single mother of two girls with a mixed racial heritage has impacted my perspective on life and on all my relationships. I know it has made me resilient and I hope it has also made me understanding, tolerant and encouraging of others.

[…]


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