The Honourable Justice William T. deWit’s Questionnaire
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 William T. deWit.
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:
Law school – University of Alberta, 1991-1994, LL.B.
Grande Prairie Regional College, 1989-1991, pre-law.
Honours and Awards:
Dean’s List – University of Alberta Law School, 1994.
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:
Articled with the Alberta Court of Appeal in Calgary to Justice Milt Harradence, 1994-1995.
Completed articles at Howard Mackie (now Borden Ladner Gervais LLP) to Frank Foran, Q.C., 1995.
Associate lawyer with Evans, Martin, Wilson, 1996-2000.
Partner with Wolch, Ogle, Wilson, Hursh & deWit (now Wolch, deWit, Watts & Wilson), 2000-present.
After completing articles I was offered a position as an associate at Howard Mackie in their litigation department. That allowed me to participate as junior counsel in a lengthy oil and gas trial, and other civil trials.
Then, in the summer of 1996, I was hired to join the firm of Evans, Martin, Wilson. With the judicial appointment of the two founding members, Peter Martin (now Justice of the Court of Appeal) and Earl Wilson (now Justice of the Court of Queen’s Bench) and the passage of time, the firm has changed and is now Wolch, deWit, Watts & Wilson. In the interval other outstanding lawyers have been members of the firm, including Hersh Wolch, Q.C., Sheila Martin (now Justice of the Court of Appeal), and Jim Ogle (now Associate Chief Judge of the Provincial Court). Working with all of these outstanding lawyers has been both a pleasure and a tremendous learning experience.
As a lawyer, I have had conduct of a variety of cases, from traffic offences to murder, and I have appeared at all levels of court in Alberta. I have also defended many police officers charged with professional and criminal misconduct.
Although the mainstay of my practice has been criminal law, I have also acted for large corporations charged with quasi-criminal offences under the Occupational Health and Safety Act and the Environmental Protection and Enhancement Act.
I was appointed Queen’s Counsel in 2014.
Non-Legal Work Experience:
Parts-man and labourer, R. Angus Caterpillar Ltd., 1974-1975 (summer months).
Heavy equipment operator and labourer, Peace River Crushing Ltd., 1976-1978 (summer months). This was my father’s company.
Heavy mechanic helper, R. Angus Caterpillar Ltd., 1970-1980.
Board of Directors, deWit Holdings Inc., 1986-1996.
Vice-President, Multicoat Corporation Inc., 1998-1999.
Professional athlete/boxing, 1984-1988.
I worked with my father in the road construction business as a young man. I learned to operate heavy equipment and came to appreciate the value of hard work. My later experience as a board member and an executive of construction companies gave me insight into business management, planning and marketing.
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.
SPORTS EXPERIENCE AND EMPLOYMENT:
Member of the Canadian Amateur Boxing Team, 1980-1984.
Canadian Amateur Heavyweight Boxing Champion, 1982-1984.
North American Amateur Heavyweight Boxing Champion, 1982-1983.
Commonwealth Games Gold Medalist in Boxing, Brisbane, 1982.
World Amateur Heavyweight Boxing Champion, 1983-1984.
Olympic Games Silver Medalist in Boxing, Los Angeles, 1984.
Canadian Professional Heavyweight Boxing Champion, 1986-1988.
Willie deWit Enterprises, 1984-1988.
OTHER PROFESSIONAL RESPONSIBILITES, INVOLVEMENT IN PROFESSIONAL ASSOCIATIONS:
Co-Chair, Canadian Bar Association Calgary Criminal Subsection, 2002-2004.
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.)
Member of the faculty, Federation of Law Societies, National Criminal Law Program, 2012 to present.
Instructor, Legal Education Society of Alberta, Intensive Advocacy Program, 2013.
Instructor/panelist, Osgoode Hall Law School Professional Development Western Symposium on Search and Seizure Law in Canada, 2013.
Instructor/panelist, Osgoode Hall Law School Professional Development Western Symposium on Search and Seizure Law in Canada, 2014.
Community and Civic Activities:
List all organizations of which you are a member and any offices held with dates.
Member, Board of Directors, Inn from the Cold – A charity helping homeless families in Calgary, focused on finding families emergency shelter, as well as transitioning them into longer term housing – 2007-2014.
Manager, peewee hockey team – Cochrane – 2001-2002.
Manager, bantam hockey team – Cochrane – 2002-2003.
Assistant coach, bantam hockey team – Cochrane – 2003-2004.
COMMUNITY AWARDS AND RECOGNITIONS:
Outstanding Albertan Award, 2005.
Inducted into the Alberta Sports Hall of Fame, 1995.
Canadian Boxing Hall of Fame – Boxer of the Year Award, 1987.
Calgary Stampede Parade Marshall, 1983.
Calgary Booster Club Athlete of the Year, 1983.
Canadian Athlete of the Month, June 1982.
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 short answer is as follows. I regard my most significant contributions to the law and the pursuit of justice to be; first, that I have worked hard, very hard, for every client I have represented to ensure that he/she received a fair trial according to law.
My other significant contribution has been the opportunity to teach law, both at the national criminal law program and at the Osgoode Hall lectures. I was honoured to have been asked to participate and privileged to have the chance to teach students, lawyers and judges. As I am requested to answer this question in 750-1000 words, I offer the following, more detailed answer.
As lawyers we swear not to pervert the law and to conduct ourselves with honesty, integrity and civility. We also swear to uphold the rule of law and seek to improve the administration of justice. As representatives of the Canadian legal system, lawyers have a responsibility to uphold the values of our profession and provide those we come into contact with the confidence that our system functions properly and is just. As a criminal lawyer, we often have clients who have committed wrongs against others and society, but we are nonetheless duty-bound to vigorously and completely defend our clients within the bounds of the law. This requires that we view the law from a greater perspective than just whether our clients are guilty or innocent. As criminal lawyers we defend not only our clients but principles of our criminal justice system such as the presumption of innocence, proof beyond a reasonable doubt and our rights and freedoms as protected by the Charter.
I believe that my most significant contribution to the law and the pursuit of justice in Canada is to uphold the principles of our system on a daily basis for the past 20 years. As an articling student to Justice Milt Harradence, I learned that lawyers had a responsibility to not only represent their clients, but to represent the legal profession and the justice system to all members of the public and portray that system in a positive light. Throughout my career I have had the privilege of working with many fine senior lawyers who have also instilled the duty to represent our profession and the justice system in a manner which portrays the utmost integrity, honesty and devotion. I believe that during my career as a lawyer I have been a positive asset to the administration of justice by working hard to uphold the rule of law and the laws of the land, and that this is my greatest contribution to the law and the pursuit of justice. I believe I would continue to be a positive asset to the administration of justice if I were fo1iunate enough to become a judge.
I have also been fortunate to be a member of the faculty of the National Criminal Law Program (Federation of Law Societies of Canada) for the past five years. As I have stated above, I have written 10 papers on different issues related to criminal law in the areas of substantive law, criminal procedure, advocacy and the Charter. I have had positive feedback with respect to the utility of these papers in educating lawyers and judges. Some of these papers have been used during other courses to educate students and practicing lawyers and in that way contribute to the law in Canada.
I have also tried to contribute to the law by lecturing on different aspects of the law to judges, lawyers and law students. At the National Criminal Law Program, I have been involved in numerous presentations regarding different aspects of the law. I have also been an instructor with the Legal Education Society of Alberta, Intensive Advocacy Program and was an instructor/panelist with the Osgoode Hall Law School Professional Development Western Symposium on Search and Seizure Law in Canada. Again I have received positive feedback from fellow practitioners and police officers on my presentations. I believe these presentations are a benefit to those who have partaken of these programs and provide a worthwhile contribution to the law and pursuit of justice in Canada.
2. How has your experience provided you with insight into the variety and diversity of Canadians and their unique perspectives?
Both of my parents were immigrants from Holland. They arrived in Canada in the 1950s. I learned Dutch before learning English. During my upbringing, my parents continued with many Dutch traditions. They belonged to the Dutch Reform Church. In the 1960s immigrants from Indonesia came to Canada through the church. My parents took a young girl in her twenties into our family and she lived with us for approximately four years. I learned at an early age that the colour of a person’s skin did not matter and she became like an older sister to me during that time.
During my time as an amateur and professional boxer, I came into contact with people from different races and cultures. I was able to travel across Canada on numerous occasions and compete in small towns and large cities. I also had the opportunity to travel to many countries around the world. Many times I met people in their countries and experienced their cultures firsthand. When one travels to countries where English is not the dominant language, one gains a greater understanding of the difficulties which immigrants to our country endure because English is not their first language. Working with others in physical activities removes prejudices. Being a person from a different race or culture does not matter when one is competing in sporting events. Respect is earned by what you do and not what you look like and this is evident in the world of sports, especially boxing. Our Canadian National boxing team had members from many different races, including Indigenous Canadians. I believe my experience as an international athlete and as a boxer has further taught me that race and culture should play no role in our determination of the value of individuals.
As a criminal defence lawyer I have had clients from all races, ethnicities, cultures and socio-economic groups. I have also represented youths and both physically and mentally handicapped individuals. The nature of a criminal practice brings one into contact with many marginalized members of society. I have learned much about my clients backgrounds including their cultures and beliefs and why they get involved in some of the activities that get them into trouble. I believe this gives me great insight into their way of thinking and their perspectives on certain principles. One of the most important indicators of a child’s success is the type of upbringing they have received no matter what their race or culture. When practicing criminal law I have seen people from many different races and cultures, including white clients, who have made bad decisions and are proceeding down the wrong path. However, these bad decisions are not a result of their race or culture and people of every race and culture are susceptible to making these bad decisions. The more that people interact with others that are different them themselves and learn their beliefs and experiences, the more one realizes that we are all equal and should all be treated fairly.
I believe that my background and travel experience as an athlete as well as my history of interaction with different races and cultures as an athlete and as a lawyer gives me a useful insight into the diversity of Canadians and their differing and unique perspectives. I have been married for 27 years and have three daughters. I believe that those who know me will say that I am open minded and not prejudiced towards anyone based on race, culture, sexual orientation or gender.
3. Describe the appropriate role of a judge in a constitutional democracy.
The role of the judge is to resolve issues between individuals and apply the law to those issues whether they be of a civil or criminal nature. A judge’s duty is to decide these issues impartially and in a nonpartisan fashion. Judges in Canada, unlike some judges in the Unites States, are not elected and are not politicians. A judge’s job on most occasions is to assess evidence, find facts and apply those facts to the law. There will usually be precedent for the law and it will be well settled. However, in a constitutional democracy, such as we have in Canada, a judge will be asked to interpret new laws and decide whether they comply with the highest law in the land, the Constitution and the Charter of Rights and Freedoms.
Politicians will have biases and will be beholden to those who put them in power. Politicians have great power, but that power must comport with the Charter which guarantees that all Canadians have certain fundamental rights and freedoms. It is a judge’s role in a constitutional democracy to ensure that those rights and freedoms are upheld. This is the most import role that a judge must fulfill and is no easy task. Some would say that a judge should have a limited role in determining whether legislation should remain in effect as legislators are elected by the people and the people’s will should be enforced. This view ignores the fact that most people are not fully informed with respect to most issues and they rely on their elected officials to do the right thing. The courts provide a check and balance against legislative decisions that may not properly consider the rights and freedoms of all citizens. One of the underlying pillars of a constitutional democracy is the rule of law. The rule of law requires that the actions of government and the imposition of new legislation must be in accordance with our rights and freedoms. To ensure that this occurs there must be a neutral, independent arbitrator to decide the constitutionality of new laws. Judges, in Canada, take on the role of these arbitrators.
The role of a judge in constitutional matters will include interpreting what the legislators intended by enacting certain legislation. A judge will use the common law traditions and the wisdom gleaned from years of the common law to ensure justice is upheld. The role of interpreting laws will sometimes require a determination of the meaning of certain words, applying the law to complex fact situations, harmonizing laws that seem to be contradictory, determining whether the laws offend our right and freedoms and determining whether the legislature has the power to enact certain laws.
The judiciary, in Canada, is not accountable to public opinion but is accountable to the public interest. This does not mean that judges should not be aware of the public opinion, but requires that judges give it the applicable weight in fulfilling their duties and coming to decisions regarding our rights and freedoms. Public opinion can fluctuate and change within a short period of time while the decisions of judges regarding our rights and freedoms must stand the test of time. In fulfilling their role as the guarantors of rights and freedoms, judges must be fully informed with respect to the applicable law and they should have no agenda or biases which could skew the reasoning process. It is therefore very important that judges understand and appreciate both sides of the argument and that they have experience in the area of law they are adjudicating. Impartiality is one of the most important traits of a judge. However, we are all partial to some degree because of our life experiences. However, true wisdom comes from an understanding and appreciation of the dangers of partiality and the mental acuity to guard against these tendencies.
The role of a judge requires that they provide thorough reasons for their decisions. This is even more important in circumstances where the judiciary is seen to be usurping the power of elected officials. The role of a trial judge will often be contrary to the public opinion at that particular time. A judge who is determining a constitutional issue cannot always be satisfied with the short and simple answer. Especially in today’s society, with the Internet where everyone gives their opinion without being fully informed and without giving thought to their conclusions, a judge must be seen to have taken the time to consider their decisions. Where members of the public are provided with thorough, logical reasons they can often be persuaded to accept and support positions which enhance justice and enforce their rights. These types of reasons enhance respect for the administration of justice and provide needed respect for the judiciary who have the important role of enforcing the rule of law and our rights and freedoms.
The role of a judge in a constitutional democracy is not to usurp democratic intention but to protect against stark majoritarianism which can be abusive towards minority views. Throughout history, in other countries, we have seen elected officials exceed or abuse their powers which has resulted in the abandonment of the rule of law and a reduction in democracy. Judges have an important role to play in ensuring that a constitutional democracy remains just, by interpreting and in some circumstances striking down laws that do not comport with our Charter of Rights and Freedoms.
4. Who is the audience for decisions rendered by the court(s) to which you are applying?
By way of overview, the immediate audience for decisions of the Court of Queen’s Bench will be the parties most directly involved, and in high-profile cases that have caught the public’s attention, the community at large.
Decisions rendered by the Court of Queen’s Bench will also be of interest to, and at times binding on, the provincial courts of Alberta. Finally, some of those decisions may be of interest to other courts in Canada, and although not binding on those courts may be of persuasive value. Again, to comply with the request that I answer in 750-1000 words, I offer the following.
Superior court judges have the difficult task of adjudicating many different areas of the law. Superior court judges in Alberta will be involved in cases related to criminal law, civil law, divorces, adoptions, foreclosures, bankruptcies, wills and estates and matters relating to the Adult Guardianship and Trusteeship Act. When parties appear before Justices of the Court of Queen’s Bench with respect to those areas of the law mentioned above, they will naturally be the most important audience for the decisions of the judge. It is a judge’s responsibility to provide thorough reasoned decisions with respect to the issues which the parties have litigated so that both parties leave our courts with the belief that their side of the story has been fairly considered, no matter what the outcome. Respect for the administration of justice and the court system requires that judges be proficient in the law and provide answers to those that come before them. More and more people are self-represented in civil and criminal matters and they will not have lawyers to explain the nuances of a judge’s decision. Therefore, on occasion, it is important that a judge’s decision provide the answers to the issues in a form that can be easily understood by the litigants.
However, the parties to litigation are not the only audience to whom judges have a responsibility to provide answers. Our system of common law relies on precedents and when a judge gives judgment they add to the precedents of that area of the law which will be used by other lawyers and members of the public in the future. The incremental change in the law has been a feature of the common law and has allowed the law to develop. Therefore, all lawyers will be an audience that judges must consider when rendering their decisions and rulings.
When judges make errors we have an appeal system which is designed to correct those errors. Trial judges will normally apply the law that is already established when rendering their decisions. A trial judge has a responsibility to follow precedent and uphold the established law. Where a trial judge fails to follow precedent, his or her decision may come to the attention of a Court of Appeal. This will not always mean that the trial judge has erred, as changes in the law do occur and are just in certain circumstances. In addition, a judge of the Court of Queen’s Bench will sometimes be asked to interpret new legislation or determine whether certain legislation is Charter compliant. In those cases there may not be sufficient precedent to follow and a judge must come to a conclusion based on principles and common sense.
In today’s society the media has taken an ever increasing role in shaping the public’s perception of many issues. The media has become enamoured with the drama of a court setting and frequently attempts to touch the emotions of their audience by reporting on legal cases. A jury verdict in a murder trial is high drama indeed. Members of the media will report on judges’ decisions and when written decision are rendered they will often comb these decisions before delivering their stories. The media is therefore also an audience. I am not suggesting that judges be swayed by media or public sentiment. However, judges do have an educational role to fulfill in order to maintain respect for the court system and the administration of justice. Therefore, a judge’s reasons, and comments in court, should be carefully considered.
Lastly, the general public is also an important audience for the decisions of a Court of Queen’s Bench judge. The general public has little understanding of the importance of the rights and freedoms they enjoy in this country until they experience a situation themselves involving those rights. As with the media, judges have a duty to educate the general public on the principles and tenets of our system of justice. A judge’s reasons are public documents and most courtrooms are open to the public. People will form impressions of the comments made by judges when giving oral decisions even when they are not the parties to the litigation. Therefore, it is of the utmost importance that decisions be well thought out and responsive to the arguments that have been presented no matter how mundane they may appear to a trained legal mind. Making members of the public feel respected and understood is an important duty of a judge and is invaluable in promoting the public’s respect for the court system and the administration of justice. Therefore, the general public is also an important audience for the decisions of judges of the Court of Queen’s Bench.
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 been a lawyer for 20 years and I am fortunate to have a very successful and rewarding practice. I still really enjoy practicing law, but there are stages of life and I have come to a point where I would like to take on a new challenge.
In terms of my qualifications for a judicial appointment, may I begin by noting that my parents were both immigrants who came to this country from Holland after the war. My father came with no money, no job prospects and no family to help him. My parents worked hard and prospered. The example they set made me the person I am today. They taught me the importance of honesty and integrity, the value of hard work and the need to respect others. I have lived my life guided by those values. I believe the people who know me would attest to my integrity, work ethic and my concern for my fellow citizens.
Before embarking on a career in the law, I was an Olympic and professional athlete in the sport of boxing. I began this career at the age of 17 and retired when I was 26. The sport of boxing allowed me to travel the world and compete in many countries where I developed many relationships and friendships with people of different races and cultures. Boxing is a sport which draws competitors from most of the countries in the world and this allowed me to be exposed to a diverse array of cultures and beliefs. Much of my training, in the professional ranks, was in gymnasiums located in poorer neighbourhoods, which gave me insights into the struggles some of my competitors experienced because of their socio-economic standing. However, everyone is equal in the ring and I learned that one can achieve great things if they are willing to sacrifice and work hard. I believe that my experience in boxing has taught me many valuable lessons about life and given me an insight and an appreciation for the differing views of those who come from different backgrounds.
After pursuing my career in boxing for almost ten years I knew I needed a new career and a close friend and mentor, Justice Milt Harradence, himself a former boxer, encouraged me to consider a career in law. I followed his advice and returned to school in Grande Prairie, my hometown, to complete two years of undergraduate studies before going into law school. I was a newlywed then, with two young children, so that was quite an adjustment. But with the support of my wife, it all worked out. We have been married for 27 years and now have four children and four grandchildren.
Upon graduating from law school I was fortunate to be able to article with the Court of Appeal, although at that time articles were split so that we spent half our articles at the Court of Queen’s Bench. That was a tremendous learning experience and gave me insight into the workings of both courts.
Since then my practice has taken me to court to litigate regularly and I attend court on an almost daily basis. As a result, I am completely familiar with criminal law and the rules of evidence that underpin all litigation. I also well understand the ethical obligations of counsel and the responsibilities of the judiciary. I have developed a great respect for the Canadian Charter and the rights and freedoms it guarantees, and I know how vital the administration of justice is in sustaining our democratic society. I understand that our system requires judges who have maturity, experience and knowledge of law and who can be trusted to administer justice fairly and dispassionately.
I have maintained a close relationship with all of my former colleagues, including those who are now judges. They have contributed to my understanding of the challenges facing trial judges. As a result, I know what to expect should I be fortunate enough to be appointed a judge. Most importantly, I believe I have the experience, knowledge and personal attributes to discharge the duties of a judge of the Court of Queen’s Bench.
I am attracted to the Court of Queen's Bench as half of my articles were with that court and I have litigated there extensively. I know many of the Judges personally and I count a number of them among my friends. I know that I would work well with them.
Finally, I would like to say that like others in our society who have been successful, I accept the responsibility to give back and to serve. I have not forgotten that obligation over a busy career and I would be honoured to be able to serve my fellow citizens now in this important role.
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.
Both my parents were immigrants who came to Canada from Holland in the 1950s. They came with no money, no prospects and unable to speak the language. Their experience taught my brother and me how difficult it is for people to immigrate to Canada from a country with a different culture and language. As a consequence I have great respect for those who make that journey and I understand the loneliness and desperation immigrants often feel.
Also, during my career as a boxer, I traveled to many parts of the world to compete in events such as the Olympics, the Commonwealth Games and the World Championships. That allowed me to interact with people of different races and cultures, an experience that broadened my appreciation of others and led to friendships I still enjoy today. The world of boxing introduced me some rougher aspects of life which I believe would be beneficial to me in understanding those that would appear before me if I were to become a judge.
My father was in the construction business and I worked for him as a teenager and learned to operate heavy equipment at a young age. My life experiences are not just related to school or legal activities and I believe this would be beneficial to my ability to fulfill the duties of a judge.
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