The Honourable Susan Wong’s Questionnaire

Backgrounder

Under the new judicial application process introduced by the Minister of Justice on October 20, 2016, any interested and qualified Canadian lawyer or judge may apply for federal judicial 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 may be made available to the public, with their consent, should they be appointed to the bench. The information is published as it was submitted by the candidates at the time they applied, subject to editing where necessary for privacy reasons.

Below are Parts 5, 6, 7, and 11 of the questionnaire completed by the Honourable Susan Wong.

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:

  • University of Victoria
    Attended from 1989 to 1992
    Bachelor of Laws degree (1992)
  • University of Alberta
    Attended from 1982 to 1988
    Bachelor of Science degree in Medical Laboratory Science (1988)

Honours and Awards:

  • Gerald R.B. Coultas Prize in Trial Advocacy (1992), University of Victoria Faculty of Law
  • University of Alberta Matriculation Scholarship (1982)
  • Province of Alberta Undergraduate Scholarship (1982)                                             

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:

  • April 2015 to present
    Regional Director and General Counsel
    Business & Regulatory Law Section
    Department of Justice Canada
    Vancouver, British Columbia
  • December 2008 to April 2015 (except for May to September 2014)
    Regional Manager and Senior Counsel
    Tax Law Services Section
    Department of Justice Canada
    Vancouver, British Columbia
  • May to September 2014
    Acting Deputy Director and Senior Counsel
    Business & Regulatory Law Section
    Department of Justice Canada
    Vancouver, British Columbia
  • May 1999 to November 2008
    Legal Counsel
    Tax Law Services Section
    Department of Justice Canada
    Vancouver, British Columbia
  • September 1996 to April 1999
    Legal Counsel
    Tax Law Services Section
    Department of Justice Canada
    Edmonton, Alberta
  • November 1995 to August 1996
    Associate lawyer (civil litigation, personal injury, real estate)
    Thompson & Elliott
    Barristers and Solicitors
    Vancouver, British Columbia
  • May to October 1995
    Associate lawyer (personal injury)
    Howard Smith & Company
    Barristers and Solicitors
    New Westminster, British Columbia
  • November 1994 to March 1995
    Associate lawyer (civil litigation, corporate and commercial)
    Oshry & Company
    Barristers and Solicitors
    Edmonton, Alberta
  • July 1993 to November 1994
    Associate lawyer (civil litigation, corporate and commercial, real estate)
    Corbett & Company
    Barristers and Solicitors
    Edmonton, Alberta
  • July 1992 to July 1993
    Articled student
    Corbett & Company
    Barristers and Solicitors
    Edmonton, Alberta

Non-Legal Work Experience:

  • May 1987 to August 1989 (full-time in summers and part-time year-round)
    Medical laboratory technologist
    Emergency laboratory
    University of Alberta Hospital
    Edmonton, Alberta
  • 1975 to 1987
    Server, cashier, kitchen worker
    Kapok Restaurant (family business)
    Edmonton, Alberta

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.

Department of Justice National Tax Law Portfolio committees:

(a)  Good Practices and Communications Committee (2001 to 2015) – regional representative; and

(b)  Employment Insurance/Canada Pension Plan Committee (2008 to 2015) – regional representative.

[...]

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 has been my effort to make the law and legal practice accessible to those with whom I come in contact, including articling students, newly-called counsel, and unrepresented litigants. I approach my interaction with each of these groups of individuals with the goal of helping them understand the situation or the material before them; whenever possible, I seek to give them enough information to empower them.

I do so because I feel a strong sense of obligation to be a good ambassador for the federal Crown and the legal profession. I am also moved to honour the sacrifices made by my family to come to Canada and create opportunities for me which I would otherwise have never had. I am further motivated to repay the gifts of certain extraordinary teachers who gave me time above and beyond reasonable expectations, in order to teach me to speak English, to show me how to appreciate the written word, and to mentor me in choosing a career path.

(a) Articling students and newly called counsel

While working as a manager and senior counsel in the Tax Law Services Section of the Department of Justice from 2008 to 2015, I was responsible for a team of junior counsel who conducted Informal Procedure hearings before the Tax Court.

These young counsel ordinarily joined my team immediately after being called to the bar and I mentored them in every aspect of their professional development. When they came to me with problems on their files, they practiced their ability to verbally narrate a fact pattern to me, identify possible courses of action, and then make a decision knowing their reason for choosing that option. They came to expect that I would spend as much time with them as they needed but that they would learn to solve their own problems in order to become independent ‘and confident trial lawyers. I sometimes attended court to observe their courtroom practice and give them feedback afterwards.

We discussed issues of professional courtesy and I role-modelled that behaviour whenever possible. I always spoke with them directly, honestly, and with humor, because I wished to create in them an appreciation for the benefits of frank but tactful communication. They also learned how to balance their obligations as officers of the court, members of the bar, and representatives of the Crown through our discussions about their files.

My investment with my team gave them incentive to pay these efforts forward with the articling students who came to our section on rotation. Articling students were assigned a Tax Court hearing during their rotations and my junior counsel learned to mentor these students through their hearings, including attending court with them and providing feedback afterwards. These situations served to give my team early opportunities to teach, give feedback, and practise empathy. In tum, the students would see young lawyers role-model a mature approach to legal practice, and it was my hope that these investments would continue to perpetuate themselves.

In 2014, I was honoured to receive a B.C. regional individual leadership award after being nominated by my team. Although my formal relationship with these junior counsel is over, I have carried on informal mentoring relationships with most of them, some of whom left the Department of Justice during my tenure.

I believe that my efforts are a long-term investment which contributes to the law and the pursuit of justice in Canada by instilling the concepts of fairness, respect, and commitment in the next generation of lawyers.

(b) Unrepresented litigants

When there have been unrepresented litigants on my cases, I ensured that I spent extra time with them before their hearing dates to explain what they should expect in the courtroom. I would explain the order of proceedings, how to address the judge, how to enter exhibits, and what to expect following the hearing. I would explain the Crown’s position to them in plain language and answer as many questions as possible, while staying within my role as Crown counsel.

Whenever possible, I resolved matters without the need for hearing but if a matter had to proceed to hearing, I ensured that the unrepresented party understood why we were going to trial. I also taught my junior counsel to work with unrepresented litigants in the same manner.

Unrepresented litigants have expressed gratitude to me following their hearings even when they have been unsuccessful, and have told me that their hearing was a valuable learning experience. I believe that my efforts with unrepresented litigants contribute to the law and the pursuit of justice in Canada by demystifying the legal system to make it less intimidating for people who choose to (or must) represent themselves.

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

Both my personal experience and my work experience combine to give me insight into the perspectives of a varied and diverse Canadian population.

My personal experience:

I am the first Canadian-born child of Chinese parents who came to Canada not long after the Chinese Immigration Act, 1923 (the Chinese Exclusion Act) was repealed in 1947. My father immigrated to Canada in the early 1950’s and my mother came in 1964, after the policies which had previously restricted Chinese immigration were further relaxed.

My parents operated a small restaurant in Edmonton, where my siblings and I spent all of our time after school as children and young adults. On Saturdays and in the summers throughout my childhood and adolescence, I attended Chinese language school in a church basement so that I could practise reading and writing Chinese. While my parents were anxious for me to succeed in Canada, they were also interested in preserving my language and culture to the extent possible. Our extended family ties and connections to the Chinese community were the two most important sets of relationships for them.

My upbringing straddled the cultural pull of my family’s background and my inevitable new experiences as a Canadian child. I was often the only Chinese student in public school so my circle of friends was naturally comprised of non-Chinese children. As the first Canadian child in my family, I was a blank slate when learning about my friends’ cultural backgrounds. As the only Chinese family in our neighborhood, we experienced hateful behaviour and name-calling from strangers; we also experienced extreme generosity and welcoming attitudes from others who came to know us as neighbors.

Our family income and socioeconomic level were very modest, and I learned by example to work for everything. Our extended family worked together in our restaurant and when my sisters had children, my other siblings and I cared for them so that paid childcare was never necessary. We worked and lived this way until my parents retired and sold the family business in 1987.

I continued to expand my uniquely Canadian experiences by going to university in Edmonton and Victoria. While I sorted out my career path as a young adult, I spent years in the Faculties of Business, Science, Arts, and Law, the combination of which was rich in terms of the variety of people I would meet.

I believe that my life experience as a first-generation Canadian influenced by my family’s strong cultural ties has provided me with understanding and empathy for the unique backgrounds of others and how those backgrounds shape their views.

My work experience:

In addition to the family restaurant, I worked as a medical laboratory technologist at a teaching hospital, a medical secretary, and a medical dictatypist while attending university. While in Edmonton, I volunteered as an adult literacy tutor in a program that was run by the public school board and as a volunteer worker at the City Media Club, which hosted visiting musical acts. I also did ad hoc volunteer work using my calligraphy skills to write certificates for graduates of training programs which were not sufficiently well-funded to have their certificates professionally prepared. When I first moved to Vancouver to work at the Department of Justice, I worked as a volunteer with the Vancouver Art Gallery. This collection of work experiences offered me the widest variety in my life by providing me with an eclectic range of settings against which to expose me to people in health care, education, and the arts.

I articled at a twenty-lawyer firm in Edmonton and practised law in the private sector in both Edmonton and Vancouver for three years following my articles, before joining the Department of Justice in late 1996. While in Edmonton, I practised both general civil litigation and corporate-commercial law; my corporate-commercial clients included Chinese immigrants from Hong Kong and I communicated with them in Cantonese to draft documents for them in English. While in Vancouver, I practised general civil litigation but spent the majority of time on motor vehicle accident matters on both the plaintiff and defence sides. My private bar experience exposed me to a broad range of clients and left me with an appreciation for the business side of law as well as the economic and human cost of litigation.

Since joining the Department of Justice in late 1996, I have worked nineteen years in the area of tax litigation in Edmonton and Vancouver on cases involving unrepresented litigants as well as private counsel. Tax law affects people of all backgrounds and socioeconomic levels; this work experience combined with my communicative approach to unrepresented litigants provided me with an understanding and empathy for other perspectives.

Becoming a manager in 2008 changed my perspective again, even while continuing to work in the same area of substantive law. I could no longer focus solely on my files and had to broaden my views to consider the impact of other people’s cases on the legal landscape generally. I also shifted my attention to concentrate significantly more on the people with whom I worked, including my team of junior counsel who required my time and mentorship. This work experience required me to use my insight as litigation counsel to consider the developmental needs of young and new lawyers, and to view legal practice from their perspective.

My professional move in 2015 to oversee the Business & Regulatory Law Section of the Department of Justice has expanded my perspective beyond tax law to areas which include natural resources (such as hydroelectric dams and liquefied natural gas), assisted dying, privatized medical care, and aboriginal fishing rights. This work experience has demanded that I continue to look beyond what is familiar to me so that I can understand new viewpoints on a wide range of subjects.

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

Every judge in a constitutional democracy is responsible for carrying out his or her role as a member of an independent judiciary. An independent judiciary is vital to the proper exercise of governmental authority, which must be carried out in a manner consistent with the laws of that country. In other words, the government is obliged to follow the rule of law and every judge plays the role of helping to ensure that the government does so and by doing so, remains accountable to its people.

In Canada, the powers of government are set out in the Constitution Act of 1867 and 1982, the latter of which contains the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms. It is through these constitutional documents that the individual enters into a social contract with the state, thus giving up some of their rights in order to accept the state’s authority and protection over their other rights.

A constitutional democracy includes a system of checks and balances which help to ensure that the government is accountable to its people. Canada’s checks and balances include the separation of powers amongst different branches of government at the federal level, as well as the vertical division of powers between federal, provincial, and municipal levels of government. Where the exercise of governmental authority is questioned even in light of the existing checks and balances, a person may apply to the relevant court for judicial review of a governmental decision.

Beyond the principles of administrative law and judicial review in that context, every judge in a constitutional democracy has the power to declare governmental actions, decisions, and legislation to be unconstitutional and invalid as a result. Upon making such a declaratory order, a judge then has the power to direct that the government take remedial steps and to report back to the court, if appropriate.

As mentioned above, Canada’s constitutional documents include the Charter, of which section 1 guarantees that its rights and freedoms are “subject only to such reasonable limits prescribed by law as can be demonstrably justified in a free and democratic society.” A person who believes that one or more of their Charter rights or freedoms has been breached at the federal or provincial level of government may apply to the relevant court under section 24 of the Charter for “such remedy as the court considers appropriate and just in the circumstances.” In these instances, a judge must decide whether there has been a breach and then whether the breach was justified under section 1 of the Charter. If the breach was unjustified, then the judge may consider what the remedy should be; however, if the breach was justified, then the judge must dismiss the application.

In order to fulfill their role as a member of an independent judiciary in a constitutional democracy, every judge must exercise his or her powers impartially and without fear of reprisal. A judge must also avoid exercising any of his or her powers lightly.

Certain democratic principles exist within the judicial system itself and a judge should exemplify and enforce these principles in the courtroom. They include:

(a) the concept of a “loyal opposition” in the adversarial system – all participants in an adversarial system play a legitimate and necessary role. They tolerate each other’s differing viewpoints because they value the right to openly disagree. They also treat each other with civility while disagreeing;

(b) the concept of the “social contract” – all participants in an adversarial system agree to accept the court’s authority and protection over their rights in exchange for surrendering certain of their other rights;

(c) due process or procedural fairness – the judge will make decisions by hearing evidence in an open forum, ensuring that all information needed to make a decision is before the court, and testing the credibility of the evidence;

(d) impartiality – a judge will not show bias in conducting proceedings or making decisions;

(e) equality – all participants in an adversarial process are treated in the same manner;

(f) flexibility – where appropriate, a judge conducts proceedings with sufficient flexibility as to allow all participants to present their viewpoints;

(g) certainty or consistency – the judge ensures that proceedings follow the applicable rules, thus giving its participants the security of predictability and eliminating arbitrariness; and

(h) openness – in addition to the open forum, participants are aware (or have the means by which to become aware) of the court’s process as well as their rights and obligations under it.

By strictly adhering to the general principles of a constitutional democracy and the democratic principles found within the judicial system, a judge will serve as a proper check and balance.

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

The audience for decisions of the Tax Court of Canada include:

(a) Individuals

Individuals who are representing themselves in court might research decisions to plan their substantive argument and their litigation strategy. With respect to the latter, previous court decisions might assist them in determining what evidence they will need to adduce.

Individuals who are planning their personal or business affairs might also research decisions in order to identify the most effective ways to organize their tax matters.

(b) Corporations

Corporations who represent themselves in court would do so through an officer or director, and might refer to Tax Court decisions for the same purposes as individual taxpayers.

(c) Residents

Individuals and corporations resident in Canada are the most likely to be affected by Tax Court judgments. They would likely refer to these decisions for the reasons described under (a) and (b) above.

(d) Non-residents

Individuals and corporations who are not resident in Canada are subject to international tax treaties as well as Parts XIII and XIV of the Income Tax Act, among others. They would probably review decisions of this court for the purpose of seeking guidance on their own litigation matters or to plan their affairs.

(e) Private bar counsel

Counsel in the private bar provide both planning and litigation services to their clients in respect of their tax and business affairs.

Tax Court judgments would assist planning counsel to structure their clients’ affairs based on what has proven successful for other taxpayers. The private litigation bar would be interested in these decisions in order to evaluate the chances of success for their clients in court, to assist with crafting litigation strategies, and for use as case authorities.

(f) In-house corporate counsel

Similar to the private bar, in-house corporate counsel may need to refer to these decisions to help their employer plan its tax and business affairs. If their employer is involved in litigation or considering litigation, then in-house counsel can rely on these decisions to properly advise on the likelihood of success in court. If in-house counsel also provide litigation services to their employer, then they would use these decisions as private bar litigation counsel would.

(g) Provincial governments

Provincial governments are uniquely placed in that they have the power to levy taxes within their own jurisdictions, while the federal government collects tax across boundaries. Tax Collection Agreements between the provincial and federal Crowns enable the provinces to implement their own policies while also coordinating the collection of taxes at the two levels of government, such that there is a single administrative procedure.

Despite the coordination, conflict can occur between the two levels of government. For example, provincial governments, Crown corporations, and agencies are subject to pay Employment Insurance Act premiums, make Canada Pension Plan contributions, and pay Goods and Services Tax. When disputes arise, these matters fall within the jurisdiction of the Tax Court and decisions of this court provide guidance to government officials and their counsel as to how to resolve these cases.

(h) Department of Justice Canada counsel

Department of Justice Canada lawyers regularly rely on decisions of this court for insight into statutory interpretation, to evaluate the Crown’s chances of success, and as case authorities in their litigation matters.

(i) Articling students and judicial clerks

Articling students and judicial clerks will research decisions of this court for the purpose of providing opinions to counsel and judges. With respect to counsel, these judgments serve all of the purposes involving counsel described earlier. With respect to judges, these decisions provide guidance and possible precedent for them to follow in rendering judgments in cases before them.

(g) Judges

Judges of the Tax Court, Federal Courts, and the Supreme Court of Canada may research decisions of this court to guide them in deciding cases before them. Of course, the higher the court level, the less likely that the particular court would rely on these decisions. However, the Tax Court is a specialized court with a vast bank of previous judgments; therefore, it would be the first resource for prior interpretation of tax provisions.

(k) Canada Revenue Agency

Canada Revenue Agency officials regularly refer to Tax Court judgments when making decisions as to how to handle a particular tax matter. Auditors and objections officers are regularly required to determine how a claim should be dealt with, such as whether a deduction should be given or denied. When they are uncertain as to what to do, they will often research case law for similar fact patterns or guidance as to statutory interpretation.

The Agency also sometimes uses court decisions as resource material in preparing its Interpretation Bulletins. These bulletins are documents made available to the public about various tax provisions and are intended to give the public insight into the Agency’s interpretation and application of those provisions.

(l) Department of Finance Canada

The Department of Finance Canada is responsible for developing tax policy and legislation. Counsel and officials of this department read decisions of this court in order to stay informed of litigation trends with respect to existing legislation. For example, if it is clear that the Crown is regularly unsuccessful in defending a particular statutory provision, then Finance counsel and officials may consider whether legislative amendments would be advisable in the circumstances.

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.

As tax litigation counsel for the federal Crown, I appeared regularly as lead counsel in Informal and General Procedure matters before the Tax Court of Canada, in judicial review applications before the Federal Court, and in appeals before the Federal Court of Appeal from 1996 to approximately 2009. This work gave me comprehensive exposure and comfort with all aspects of litigation before the Tax Court, in particular. In 2007, I was selected to participate with twenty other Department of Justice employees in a national pilot leadership program in which one of the program’s objectives was to identify leadership qualities in non-managers and to increase diversity in the Department. This program gave me comprehensive training in all aspects of leadership, including communication, active listening, and conflict resolution.

I was able to apply my litigation experience and leadership training when I was promoted at the end of 2008 to a management position, which required me to continue litigating tax cases while mentoring and supervising junior counsel who were learning Tax Court practice. Although my management responsibilities increased steadily, I conducted a hearing as lead counsel approximately once a year in order to remain in touch with courtroom practice, which I enjoy. I taught courses to Canada Revenue Agency officers about Tax Court practice, evidence, and Federal Court judicial review applications, as well as led a team of experienced intermediate counsel who reviewed and revised draft pleadings written by CRA officers. I also served as the long-term British Columbia member of a national Department of Justice committee which discussed tax litigation practice issues and worked to maintain consistency in the Crown’s approach on litigation matters. I regularly reviewed other lawyers’ draft Federal Court of Appeal memorandums of fact and law for language, clarity, and legal positions taken. These professional experiences have made me comfortable explaining the law and procedure to audiences of varying levels of sophistication, using plain and direct language.

In April 2015, I was promoted to my current position of Regional Director in the Department of Justice’s Business & Regulatory Law Section which functions as a general civil litigation group for 38 federal government client departments. I oversee the business and legal operations of this section of approximately 76 lawyers, paralegals, and support staff. In this role, I make daily decisions which affect other people and explain my reasoning as part of this process. I use diplomacy and consider all the available information before making these decisions. My position requires me to be decisive, clear, and timely in my decision-making, and I recognize that while a particular decision of mine may be unpopular, it may still be the correct one and I will choose the unpopular decision in those circumstances. Although the past year has taken me away from the practice of tax law, it has given me a more expansive view of the legal and social policy issues of the day.

The majority of my legal experience comes from my time with the federal Crown; however, the time I spent in the private sector in the early years of my career continue to inform my work and the way I conduct myself. During those years, I practised in the areas of insurance litigation, personal injury, corporate/commercial, and real property law. That experience has given me a foundation for understanding transactions, company law, and insurance law, among other things. My time in the private sector has bred in me a sense of the importance of a collegial bar within the adversarial nature of litigation. My time in the public service has in turn bred in me a sense of service which moves me to ensure that I treat unrepresented litigants with respect and sensitivity.

Before law school and during my undergraduate studies, I worked as a registered medical laboratory technologist in the emergency laboratory of the University of Alberta Hospital. The analytical nature of the work set against a background of urgency taught me how to be calm, respectful, and clear-headed under pressure.

My parents emigrated from China to Canada in the 1950s (my father) and 1960s (my mother), and I am the first Canadian-born member of my family. I learned to speak English as a result of the generosity of my first-grade teacher, who spent extra time with me at a time when English-as-a-Second-Language programs did not exist. I worked with my parents and my siblings in our small family restaurant, where I spent my days doing whatever work was needed of me while completing my homework in between. I worked exclusively in our family’s business from the age of ten to twenty-two, when my parents retired. Our business was very modest so my childhood and young adulthood spent in this environment created in me a strong work ethic as well as a sense of humility and self-sufficiency.

I believe that my combination of qualities, skills, abilities, and experiences have equipped me to carry out the role of judge, and I appreciate your consideration of my application for appointment to the Tax Court of Canada.

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.

As mentioned in my response to question 5, I am the first Canadian-born child to my parents, who emigrated from China to Canada in the 1950s (my father) and 1960s (my mother).

My parents and grandparents were originally from a small farming village in southern China. My father and mother were considered well-educated because they had the equivalent of grade six and grade three educations, respectively. My paternal grandmother was widowed in her 20s when my grandfather was killed while working as a law enforcement officer in their village. She had five children of whom four died because of disease and poverty, and only my father survived to adulthood.

Following the repeal of the Chinese Immigration Act, 1923 (the Chinese Exclusion Act) in 1947, my maternal grandparents immigrated to Canada with their son and my father. My father was a “paper son” whose birth certificate was purchased so that he could come to Canada as their child. They left behind my mother, paternal grandmother, and my three sisters (ages 6 months to 4 years) because Chinese culture valued males over females at the time. The female members of my family stayed behind for about twelve more years until the Canadian government introduced the Chinese Adjustment Statement Program, which granted amnesty to paper sons who came forward. My father came forward under this program, was then able to sponsor the rest of my family to come to Canada, and I was born one year later.

During the twelve-year period while my family was separated, my mother, grandmother, and sisters initially provided for themselves by continuing to farm. They subsequently moved to Hong Kong and supported themselves by selling embroidery and plastic flowers they made by hand. My father also occasionally sent them money from his earnings as a busboy.

Despite the occasional assistance from my father, the severity of their financial hardship while in China and Hong Kong was extreme. Neighbours recommended to my mother that she consider selling one or two of my sisters to work as servants in wealthy homes, which was not uncommon. My mother declined to take this route and instead sent my sisters to school, where they obtained levels of education greater than what had been afforded to her.

My extended family was reunited (and I was born) in Drayton Valley, Alberta, where we operated a restaurant owned by my maternal grandparents. We lived above the restaurant and it became the central hub for our family. My sisters were immediately enrolled in public school and given Canadian names by the school principal. Three years later, we moved to Edmonton, where my parents operated a small restaurant in which my siblings and I worked every day after coming home from classes. I spent my childhood immersed in their experiences as immigrants while also living new ones because of my Canadian birthright. My younger sister and brother were born during this time as well. My parents are now deceased, but they lived to see all of their children attend university and to see me graduate from law school.

I spoke only Chinese when I entered first grade and I have experienced the cultural isolation of being the only visible minority in public school, during which I was often the only visible minority in my grade. After obtaining a science degree in university and working as a medical laboratory technologist, I chose to pursue a legal education. Law was an uncommon professional route for Chinese women at the time and I had no role models to follow.

When I joined the federal Department of Justice in 1996, I was one of two visible minority counsel in its Edmonton office. In my current position as Regional Director, I am one of three visible minorities to work at this level in my Department of Justice portfolio nationally. While there are now many more visible minority (and specifically, Chinese) females who follow me in terms of educational background, I am very aware of my relative uniqueness at this stage in time. I can see the unspoken importance of my role and position in the faces of the older visible minority women who silently clean our office hallways but smile when they see me.

The sacrifices made by my family to move to Canada have made me grateful for all of my opportunities. My life experience as a visible minority female and first-generation Canadian is ingrained while my work experience in a small family business and in health care define my perspective as well. For all of these reasons, I believe that I can contribute to ensuring that Canadians see their faces and life experiences reflected from the bench. 


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