The Honourable Christian Lyons’s Questionnaire
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 Christian Lyons.
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:
- Queen’s University, 1999-2002, Bachelor of Laws, 2002
- University of Toronto, Trinity College, 1993-1997, Bachelor of Arts (Hons. Philosophy), 1997
Throughout my career, I have pursued continuing legal education. From 2003-2006, I regularly attended education and training opportunities offered through the Criminal Lawyers Association. Annually, from 2006 to 2013, I attended the weeklong Federation of Law Societies Criminal Law Conference focusing on Charter litigation and updates on the state of the law. I completed the weeklong Osgoode Intensive Trial Advocacy Workshop in 2012.
During my time with the Public Prosecution Service of Canada (PPSC), I have completed a number of courses offered by the PPSC Crown School, including the School for Prosecutors Course, Legal Writing Course, Dangerous and High-Risk Offender training, and DNA database training. I also completed the Ontario Crown School’s Homicide Course in 2017. Over the years, I have also taken part in numerous in-office continuing legal education lectures and workshops with both the Legal Services Board of Nunavut and the PPSC. I have also had the pleasure of undertaking and completing training in Inuit cultural understanding, as well as Inuktitut language classes.
Honours and Awards:
- Dedicated Service Award – Maliganik Tukisiniarvik Legal Services, 2013
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:
Public Prosecution Service of Canada, Nunavut Regional Office, January 2014-present
- General Counsel – Legal Operations, May 2016-present. I manage/supervise fifteen Crown prosecutors, overseeing their file work, advising on the approach to be taken to files, resolution proposals, trial strategy, appeal consideration, and responses to defence appeals, as well as carrying my own case load, including a number of homicide prosecutions.
- Senior Crown counsel (acting), 2015-2016. Lead Crown counsel on court circuits. Carriage of serious files. Supervisor of Crown counsel in Kitikmeot sub-office.
- Crown counsel, January 2014-2016. Crown counsel on court circuits throughout Nunavut. Assigned Crown counsel on serious files.
Legal Services Board of Nunavut, Maliganik Tukisiniarvik Legal Services, 2006-2013
- Senior criminal counsel, 2010-2013. Supervisor of ten staff lawyers and numerous fly-in counsel from the south. Member of the Appeals Committee. Defence counsel on all manner of criminal code offences.
- Staff lawyer, 2006-2010. Defence counsel with heavy caseload on all manner of criminal code cases.
Legal Aid Ontario, Scarborough, Ontario Court of Justice, 2004-2006
- Duty Counsel, 2004-2006. Represented accused persons in bail hearings; facilitated diversions, and extra-judicial sanctions for young persons; conducted plea negotiations and guilty pleas.
ARCH Legal Resources Centre for Persons with Disabilities, 2002-2003
- Articled Clerk, 2002-2003. Assisted in and attended equality rights test cases in a variety of settings, including the Supreme Court of Canada, the Federal Court of Appeal, the Tax Court of Canada, and the Ontario Human Rights Tribunal. Drafted various legal documents, including correspondence, memoranda, affidavits, and tribunal and court facta. Conducted a lengthy examination of a witness, and prepared expert witnesses. Argued a preliminary motion, and participated in mediations. Wrote articles in newsletters and on ARCH’s website, delivered a community outreach presentation, and participated in legal conferences.
- Legal Researcher, 2001
Queen’s Correctional Law Project, 2000-2001
- Case Worker, 2000-2001. Managed a demanding caseload of federal inmates’ files. Conducted interviews, researched legal issues, drafted correspondence, and represented inmates in Disciplinary Court and at National Parole Board hearings.
Non-Legal Work Experience:
- Canadian Broadcasting Corporation, “The Nature of Things with David Suzuki,” Toronto, Ontario – production assistant, 2000
- YMCA Geneva Park, Orillia, Ontario – director, Young Leaders Program, 1999
- Velo-Taxi Tours, Berlin, Germany – bicycle-taxi operator and tour guide, 1998
- Redhead to the Rescue Landscaping, Oakville, Ontario – owner and operator, 1990-1998
- Green Bean Coffee Roasting Company, Oakville, Ontario – barista, server, food preparation, 1996-1997
- Wallace Park Tennis Club, Oakville, Ontario – attendant, 1990-1995
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.
- Public Prosecution Service of Canada, National Litigation Committee, member, 2016-present
- Public Prosecution Service of Canada, Dangerous Offender National Flagging Committee, Nunavut coordinator, 2016-present
- Public Prosecution Service of Canada, Cannabis Act Implementation Committee, member, 2017-present
- Public Prosecution Service of Canada, National Committee on the Interaction of Indigenous Persons with the Criminal Justice System, 2018
- Legal Services Board of Nunavut Appeals Committee, executive member, 2010-2013
- Association of Staff Duty Counsel, vice-president and founding member, 2004-2006
- Ontario Justice Education Network, member, 2005-2006
- Association of Human Rights Lawyers, member, 2002-2006
Pro Bono Activities:
My professional and ethical obligations as Crown counsel do not permit legal work outside the course of my employment on any basis, pro bono or otherwise.
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, or the Canadian Institute for the Administration of Justice).
- Law Society of Nunavut, Trial Advocacy Advisor, 2017
- Public Prosecution Service of Canada, Trial Advocacy Instructor, 2016
- Nunavut Arctic College, Legal Interpretation Instructor and Guest Lecturer, 2010
Community and Civic Activities:
List all organizations of which you are a member and any offices held with dates.
I returned to Iqaluit in May 2016 to assume my current role as General Counsel, Legal Operations, at the Public Prosecution Service of Canada, Nunavut Region. I am not currently an active member of any community organizations.
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 pursuit of justice in Canada has been my work improving justice system accessibility for impoverished and marginalized citizens, in particular the Inuit, both in my role as legal aid defence counsel and Crown prosecutor.
I started my career in criminal law in 2003 as a duty counsel lawyer at the Scarborough courthouse. In this role, I quickly found myself thrown into the lives of people dealing with personal issues related to poverty, lack of employment, drug addiction, and mental health issues. My clients confided in me, relied on me, and trusted that I was acting in their best interest, which was a great responsibility.
I immediately made it a priority in every case not only to deal with the immediate crisis but to position my clients in a way to maximize their chance of success in the future by reducing their risk of re-offending. This required a great deal of care, listening and attention to detail. In addition, it required an ability to see the hearts of cases and focus on the real issues. I applied these skills to the benefit of my clients by influencing Justices to craft reasonable release conditions, and convincing judges to impose sentences that took into account the circumstances of my clients.
In 2006, I moved to Iqaluit, Nunavut to work as criminal defence counsel with Maliganik Tukisiniarvik Legal Services. As a legal aid lawyer in the Arctic, I again witnessed the ravages of poverty, lack of education, loss of identity, family instability, and substance abuse. As these factors were usually an influence on my clients’ criminal behaviour, I was always careful to inform the courts in detail what constellation of factors brought my client before the court at sentencing hearings.
During my career in Nunavut, I have attempted to act as a bridge between Inuit society and what many Inuit view as a foreign adversarial system which is difficult to comprehend, and often seen as ineffective at resolving disputes, restoring relationships, and reintegrating offenders into the community. I have endeavoured to conduct myself in a culturally sensitive manner, and have always been aware of how linguistic and cultural barriers can impede the truth and justice seeking mandate of the court. One case that is an example of this is R. v. Shaa, where I acted as defence counsel. In that case, I was permitted to re-open the defence case in order to explore a late development in the defence theory that hinged on interpretation issues. The effect of the language barrier experienced by my young Inuk client with the police, me, and the court proved to be the deciding issue in the case.
In my role as Crown prosecutor, I have been careful to keep complainants informed about the justice process, and have effectively prepared them to testify, so as to minimize the prospect of them being re-victimized by the court system, and to ensure a rigorous and just prosecution.
Throughout my career, accused persons, complainants, and victims have expressed to me frustration at the length of time court proceedings take. In response to this, I have consistently developed and maintained positive, trusting relationships with opposing counsel, the court, and other justice system stakeholders. This has allowed me to efficiently obtain just outcomes for clients, and victims. I avoid unnecessary adversarial posturing, which often becomes more about the lawyers, and less about the interests of the clients and victims. I make reasonable and appropriate concessions and streamline cases. This approach has been appreciated by courts and opposing counsel, all of whom are dealing with heavy caseloads.
Despite being resolution-oriented, I have never shied away from adversarial litigation when it was in my client’s interests or in the interests of justice, and have consistently had success in my trial advocacy.
Throughout the years, I have assisted thousands of citizens who could not afford legal representation have their voices heard in court. I have vigorously and fairly defended my clients, and firmly and effectively prosecuted cases on behalf of victims and in the public interest. I believe that my work has had a significant, tangible, and positive impact on the life of Canadians, and on the reputation of the justice system in general.
2. How has your experience provided you with insight into the variety and diversity of Canadians and their unique perspectives?
I spent most of my first thirty years living in the Toronto area, which is the most multicultural city in the world. This provided me the opportunity to interact daily with people of different cultures, sexual orientations, religions, and socio-economic statuses. My subsequent twelve years living and working in Canada’s northern territories further enhanced my appreciation of Canada as a place of unique and enriching diversity.
As a teenager, I volunteered assisting disabled young people and their families. The love and dedication demonstrated by the parents, and the often vibrant spirit of the children, were a lesson to me in resilience. This inspired me to start my legal career articling at a specialized legal aid clinic in Toronto that advocated for equality rights for persons with disabilities. During my time at the clinic, I worked on cases at the Human Rights Tribunal, Tax Court of Canada, Federal Court of Appeal, and Supreme Court of Canada. These cases were lengthy and grueling experiences for our clients, and I was impressed with the courage and resolve they demonstrated. Getting to know people dealing with painful and debilitating conditions, all the while maintaining a sense of grace, humour, and an appreciation for life’s beautiful moments, was a lesson to me in the power of a positive outlook.
After my work in disability law, I transitioned into criminal law, working as a legal aid lawyer at the Scarborough courthouse. In this capacity, I represented low-income Canadians, a large percentage of whom were visible minorities and recent immigrants. Part of the job was meeting and interviewing clients’ families. Through this I learned some of what life is like for immigrants making their way in Canada, and I came to appreciate the challenges they face, and the perseverance and hard work required to integrate successfully into Canadian society. I also learned about the level of support families of often limited means provide to loved ones in trouble with the law, even though the families were often and repeatedly disappointed by them. I also began to better understand how poverty, insidious racism, mental health problems, and drug addictions contribute directly to criminality.
My awareness and appreciation of Canada’s diversity was heightened when I moved to Nunavut in 2006 to work at a legal aid clinic in Iqaluit. Upon my arrival I encountered a culture in transition. The Inuit way of life has undergone a transformation in the last three generations from a four thousand-year-old hunting and gathering society, to a modern, technologically-advanced, wage-based economy, with non-Indigenous institutions and languages. In my twelve years practicing criminal law in Nunavut, I have learned first-hand about the consequences of this abrupt transition: Nunavut communities struggle with social problems related to lack of employment, substance abuse, high cost of living, poverty, and trauma, at a much higher rate than elsewhere in the country.
These social problems do not define Inuit, however, and the most important things I have learned about Nunavummiut have sprung from my social interactions with them outside of the criminal law context. By spending time in local homes, hunting and fishing on the land, socializing at the Elks club, taking part in organized sports, swimming at the pool, going to the movies, dancing at the Royal Canadian Legion, and taking Inuktitut language classes, I have come to know healthy and happy Nunavummiut. I have encountered strong families that are prospering, embracing change, taking up the challenge to maintain and grow the Inuktitut language, and to build a strong and progressive Nunavut. These are the community leaders who are showing the way forward for Nunavut to start to overcome the problems that play out every day in Nunavut’s courtrooms.
Similar to Toronto, Iqaluit is a multi-cultural city, and its substantial Francophone community is but one of the many cultures represented. During my time in Iqaluit, I have been a member of the Francophone association, and become close friends with many Francophones. This experience has helped me get a sense of the unique character and culture of French Canadians, and in a way, better understand the character of Canada – a country with approximately eight million Francophones from coast to coast to coast.
In 2014, after eight years in Iqaluit, I moved to Yellowknife to work as a Crown prosecutor in the Kitikmeot Region of Nunavut. I found Yellowknife to be a western city as much as a northern one. During my two years in Yellowknife, I was also able to spend quite a bit of time in Alberta and the Yukon. My experience in western Canada gave me an appreciation of its distinct character as well.
3. Describe the appropriate role of a judge in a constitutional democracy.
In a constitutional democracy, a judge serves as a guardian of what is sometimes referred to as the rule of law but which can also be thought of as a list of foundational elements of our justice system (many of which will be discussed individually), some of which are rooted in the constitution itself but may also exist as enduring features of a legal tradition with roots that are much older than the operating constitutional documents.
At the most basic level, judges are asked to decide legal disputes that are brought to them by parties. In a constitutional democracy, the ability to bring legal disputes before a judge is a right enjoyed by all citizens. While both the legislative and executive branches of government play critical roles in defining this right and delimiting the state’s obligations, it falls upon the judiciary to protect this public access as a sacrosanct principle. Of course, a judge’s role goes beyond merely providing a venue for airing grievances; connected to this judicial function is the correlative obligation to prevent or remedy abuses of authority.
Constitutional democracies rely upon the independence of judges in the execution of their duties to ensure that decisions are both fair and just and are generally perceived as such. History teaches us that the resilience of constitutional democracies should not be taken for granted. Constitutional democracies provide the structural conditions to establish and protect this notion of judicial independence, but this independence must also be meticulously safeguarded by judges themselves.
Judges frequently are arbiters in disputes between parties with significant power imbalances. This is the case in many disputes between citizens and the state, between citizens and corporate entities and between citizens themselves. Judges must be cognizant of these inequalities and ensure that outcomes are not predetermined by economic, social or political power disparities. This at times will impose upon judges a positive obligation to ensure that citizens have effective access to justice and that economic, social or geographic barriers do not operate to frustrate citizens’ right to be heard.
Judges must ensure that courts are open and transparent. Language rights must be respected and access needs accommodated. Reasons for decisions must be communicated with the parties and the public in clear and honest language.
Judges must be seen as objective and impartial to an exacting standard. Expectations regarding the conduct of judges do not merely apply to their role within the courtroom but extend even into their personal lives, where their conduct, communications and relationships must occur in a manner consistent with the laws judges are tasked with upholding and, additionally, so as to never bring the judiciary into disrepute.
In constitutional democracies such as ours, which has inherited a common law tradition (not to ignore our civil law tradition which includes the Quebec Civil Code), judges play a leading role in the development of the common law, in particular as it applies to novel situations in a dynamic society. At the same time, judges must remain cognizant of their role and avoid trespass or overreach into the legislative domain.
Canada has undergone profound changes in the 150 years since the passing of the BNA Act that have modified in several respects a judge’s role. The great expansion of the administrative state means that many of the powers and responsibilities of government are delegated to administrative boards and tribunals. These bodies are ultimately answerable only to courts, where judges are asked to determine whether administrative actions are consistent with statutory powers, fall within constitutional parameters, and are in accordance with accepted principles of administrative justice and procedural fairness that inform our legal tradition.
Our particular version of constitutional democracy imposes additional responsibilities upon the judiciary. While these responsibilities have different implications depending on the level within the judiciary at which they are addressed, judges are tasked with determining whether legislation and executive actions conform to constitutional safeguards that protect democratic values.
Judges in a federal state such as ours play a central role in delimiting the division of powers between provincial and federal governments. Great technological changes and emerging existential threats (such as environmental change) result in novel governmental responsibilities that may not have been anticipated in the constitution.
Judges in constitutional democracies have a special responsibility to protect minority rights. While this judicial role is as old as Canada’s original constitution, the adoption of the Charter marked the formal affirmation of the rights and liberties that are enjoyed by all citizens and that are to be defended against state infringement.
The Charter expanded the judicial role to include a broader ability to determine remedies for infringements of protected rights. The Charter also anticipates a balancing role that judges must undertake: rights and freedoms within constitutional democracies are not absolute and are even at times competing. The Charter is overt and innovative (in relation to preceding bills of rights in our own and other constitutional democracies) in this respect as it expressly acknowledges that rights and freedoms are subject to “reasonable limits prescribed by law as can be demonstrably justified in a free and democratic society.”
Canadian judges have an additional role in protecting the rights of Indigenous peoples, including those that flow from treaties (some of which precede Confederation) and modern land claim and governance agreements. The Constitution Act, 1982, affords express protection to Aboriginal and treaty rights and also contains a non-abrogation/non-derogation clause.
Judges must have an understanding of the historical context and social realities faced by Indigenous peoples and should take these factors into consideration in their decision-making. Canadian judges must be also be cognizant that Aboriginal peoples are overrepresented in the criminal justice system.
Judges should work to support the principle of reconciliation between peoples and nations within our federation. The recognition of Indigenous sources of law is not a static exercise and will continue to require that judges work to expand their awareness and understanding of this heritage and its implications within our legal system and constitutional framework.
4. Who is the audience for decisions rendered by the court(s) to which you are applying?
The audience for the decisions rendered by justices of the Nunavut Court of Justice is broad and includes the parties to the individual cases, lawyers, other courts, governments, public and private organizations, law enforcement agencies, media representatives, and various justice system stakeholders. However, it is my view that the most important audience is the community at large – that is, Nunavummiut from across the Territory.
For a host of reasons, both historical and practical, the Inuit have a complicated relationship with the justice system. It is a sad fact that the per capita crime rate in Nunavut is the largest in Canada by a significant margin. Accordingly, a higher percentage of Nunavummiut are directly affected by court processes than anywhere else in the country. There are more people charged with crimes, more complainants and victims of crime, more witnesses, more family members affected by court-ordered bail and probation conditions that may restrict contact between family members, more families affected when offenders who may support their families by hunting and fishing and providing country food or financial support are taken out of the community when sentenced to jail, and also more people summonsed for jury duty. Court weeks in the small communities are busy affairs, and many community members who are not involved attend court to observe the proceedings.
Give the significant role the court plays in the lives of Nunavummiut, accessibility is of paramount concern. The court travels to each of the Territory’s 25 communities on average of three to four times per year. Given the prevalence of the Inuktitut language and the significant proportion of unilingual Inuktitut speakers, interpretation services are vital to ensure that Inuktitut language rights are respected at all times, and the court does well in having interpreters on every court circuit.
Given the language barrier that the majority of Nunavummiut experience when interacting with the Court, it is important that decisions of the court are clearly and simply written and interpreted whenever possible. In this way, the court can become more culturally relevant to Nunavummiut, which can foster more respect for the system among Inuit. The sentencing principles of general and specific deterrence and rehabilitation are more effectively addressed when the people who are affected by the sentence – namely the offender, the victim, and their family members – actually understand the sentence and the reasons supporting it. Similarly, trial decisions to acquit or convict are best communicated as clearly as possible, as such decisions can be controversial and upsetting to community members.
There is no escaping the fact that the optics of a fly-in, fly-out court comprised largely of non-Inuit professionals can contribute to a sense among Inuit that the justice system is not their own. One way the Court attempts to combat this perception is by having respected elders sit with the judge during sentencing hearings. Prior to the sentence being imposed, the Elders are given an opportunity to address the offender, usually in the Inuktitut language. This adaptation helps legitimize the court in the eyes of the community and fosters a feeling among community members that the community has some ownership of the process.
The Nunavut Court of Justice must appreciate that historically, the justice system in Nunavut is an import from another culture and, to be frank, it does not have an entrenched legitimacy in every corner of Inuit society. It is through adaptations and increased accessibility that the Court can ameliorate this problem and make itself more relevant and effective to its most important audience – Inuit Nunavummiut.
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.
Personal qualities that make me suitable for the role of judge:
- I am stable, even-tempered, and of sound judgment.
- I am aware of the dangers inherent in jumping to conclusions in the absence of sufficient information. In fact, I have always had an inclination towards seeking out and considering as much information as I can before making decisions.
- I am not arrogant in my thinking and am aware when I don’t know something.
- I am resourceful in finding ways to educate myself.
- I have good analytical reasoning ability.
- I am empathetic and can see situations from others’ perspectives. I seek to understand people on their own terms, with an appreciation of the life experiences that shaped them.
- I understand and appreciate the role of the courts in maintaining a safe and secure society as well as the necessity of holding people who commit crimes to account. In my view, being empathetic to accused persons in no way detracts from my ability to discharge the duty of the court to safeguard public safety. Empathy extends to all stakeholders in the justice system, including victims of crime, the public at large, witnesses, counsel, and court staff.
- I have been lucky to have been raised in a loving and stable home that fostered the development of some of these qualities that make me suitable to being a judge. My mother had a long and successful career as a social worker, and my father was a high school English teacher who eventually spent over 20 years working in correctional facilities teaching literacy. They have been, and remain, the biggest influences on me.
- I have spent my career working with impoverished and diverse accused, victims, and witnesses, both as defence counsel and as a Crown prosecutor. Experiencing both sides of the adversarial divide has given me a broader understanding of the various forces and interests that a judge must take into account when making decisions.
- My experience has also taught me that cases are often not what they seem. It is easy to speak of the importance and sacrosanct nature of the presumption of innocence to our system of justice, but actually seeing first-hand how this presumption prevents wrongful convictions in practice, as I have, instills an appreciation of the presumption in your bones that I think all judges should have.
- My experience has also taught me that people who commit criminal offences are not really all that different from law-abiding citizens and there is always the potential for rehabilitation.
- My years of meeting with victims of crime has given me an appreciation of the profound impact that crime has on victims, their families, and the greater community.
Professional skills and abilities:
- I have an ability to quickly identify the real issues in a case. Courts appreciate that I simplify cases to their essence, thus avoiding needless and confusing complexity. When I do litigate an issue, courts take notice, and I have been successful in litigation as both defence counsel and prosecutor. My ability to see other people’s sides of things helps me to be a persuasive advocate as I can anticipate opposing counsel arguments, which helps me develop effective counter-arguments.
- I know when to press an issue, and I know when collaborative problem-solving is appropriate.
- I am resolution-oriented and have the ability to build relationships based on mutual trust and respect. This assists me in arriving at fair and just resolutions of cases that avoid unnecessary and costly adversarial litigation that is often less about the people whose lives are impacted by the process and more about the egos of the legal professionals involved.
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