The Honourable Sharon Matthews’ 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 Sharon Matthews.
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:
- Irwin Park Elementary School, 1972-1980, Kindergarten - Grade 7, 1980
- Hillside Secondary School, 1980-1985, High school graduation - Dogwood Diploma, 1985
- University of British Columbia, 1985-1992, B.Comm (Honours), LLB, 1992
- 1994 - Photography Course
- 2002 - Art Institute of Vancouver -Culinary Arts - Wines Foundation Course, Wine Spirits Education Trust Level 1
- Approx. 2001 - Mountain Bike Riding Course
- Approx. 2004 - Mogul Skiing Course
- 2012, 2013, 2014 - Various Cooking Classes
Honours and Awards:
- Irwin Park Elementary School, Public Speaking Contest, First Prize, Seventh Year, 1988
- Hillside Secondary School, Law 11 Course Top Standing, 1985
- Hillside Secondary School Gold Pin for 5 Years Honour Roll, 1985
- Province of British Columbia Scholarships, 1985
- David House Memorial Scholarship, 1988
- UBC Law School Law Foundation Entrance Scholarship, 1989
- Canadian Bar Association, BC Branch, President’s Medal, 2003
- University of British Columbia Law Alumni Association, Outstanding Young Alumna Award, 2006
- Canadian Bar Association, BC Branch, President’s Medal, 2010
- Canadian Bar Association, BC Branch, President’s Medal, 2012
- Appointed Queen’s Counsel, 2012
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:
- January 2001 to Present - Partner, Camp Fiorante Matthews Mogerman LLP - partner through my Law Corporation, Sharon Matthews Law Corporation.
- areas of work and specialization have been product liability litigation, aviation litigation and class actions and also included constitutional law and public law
- August 1993 to December 2000 - Articled Student, then associate, then partner (through Sharon Matthews Law Corporation - Camp Church & Associates)
- areas of work which grew into specialization included product liability law and aviation law and also began practicing in the area of class actions when the Class Proceedings Act was enacted in 1996
- August 1992 to July 1993 - Articled Student, Russell & DuMoulin
- May 1991 to August 1992 - Temporary Articled Student, Russell & DuMoulin
Non-Legal Work Experience:
- Babysitting as a Teenager
- Soccer referee as a teenager
- 1983-1984 - Big Scoop Restaurant, Waitress
- 1984-1992 - Shoppers Drug Mart, Cashier
- 1986-1991 - Bank of Montreal, Teller
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.
- Law Society of BC:
- Member, 1993 to the Present
- Bencher, 2014 to the present
- Canadian Bar Association:
- Member, 1993 to the present
- Past President, CBA BC Branch, 2012-2013
- President, CBA, BC Branch, 2011-2012
- Vice President, CBA BC Branch, 2010-2011
- Secretary-Treasurer, CBA BC Branch, 2009-2010
- Officer Executive Committee, CBA BC, 2003-2005
- Chair of CBA BC Branch Committees: Audit Committee, Government Relations Committee, Resolutions & By-laws Committee, Member Services Committee and Sections Committee, 2002-2011
- Elected Member of Council, Vancouver County, BC Branch, 2009-2012 and 2001-2007
- Member CBA National Council, 2001-2007
- Secretary, then co-chair, Class Actions Section, BC Branch, 2000-2003
- Advocates Club, 1998-2003 (President in 2003)
- Trial Lawyers Association of BC, Member
- The Advocates Society, Member and Member of BC Advisory Committee (2016-Present)
- British Columbia Judicial Council, CBABC Representative, 2012
Pro Bono Activities:
- Represented a number of clients who have come to me by regular referral on a no-charge basis over the years (I estimate 3 cases for persons who are not related to me and 4 cases for family members)
- Acted pro bono for the Civil Liberties Association seeking to intervene in a case pertaining to transcript fees for appeals from the Provincial Court to the BC Supreme Court
- Acted on a reduced fee basis and then pro bono for the Canadian Bar Association on the Legal Aid Test Case - Canadian Bar Association v. British Columbia at the trial level, 2006, BCSC 1342; the BC Court of Appeal 2008 BCCA 346; and seeking leave to the Supreme Court of Canada, application for leave to appeal dismissed
- Acted for the CBABC pro bono on Vilardell v. Dutton/Trial Lawyers Association of BC v. British Columbia at the trial level, 2012 BCSC 748, on appeal, 2013 BCCA 65 and at the Supreme Court of Canada, 2014 SCC 59
- Access Pro Bono Roster Lawyer
- Access Pro Bono Consumer Protection Clinic - first attendance will be in May 2017
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).
- Advocates Club - Presented Papers in 1998, 2001
- Canadian Institute - National Class Actions Conference, Taught/Presented 2002
- CBABC Class Action Section - Taught/Presented: 2002, 2017
- CLEBC - Taught/Presented at Class Actions Conference, 2005
- Northwest Aviation Seminar - Taught/Presented, 2005
- Osgoode Professional Development Annual Symposia on Class Actions, 2007 and 2008
- CBABC - Taught/ Presented at Annual Branch Conference in 2009 and 2011
- TLABC - Taught/Presented at “Chronic Pain On Trial”, 2009
- UBC Law - Class Actions and Mass Torts Seminar, Guest Instructor, 2010
- TLABC - Taught/Presented at Cutting Edge Trial Techniques, 2010
- Worksafe BC Professional Development Day, Taught/Presented, 2011
- CLEBC, Shareholders Remedies 2011, Taught/Presented, 2011
- CBABC and North Share Bar Association, Ethics In Action, Taught, 2012
- CBABC Professional Development, 2013
- CLEBC - Western Canada Class Actions Conference, 2013
- UBC Law - Guest Instructor, Ethics and Professionalism Course, 2013
- CBA Access to Justice Summit - Debated Universal Publicly Funded Legal Aid
- CLE - Co-chaired and presented at Civil Litigation Conference, 2014
- Camp Fiorante Matthews Lunch N’ Learn seminars, 2013 to 2016
- The Advocates Society - Civil Trial Advocacy College, Teaching; and Evidence that Wins, Teaching, 2015
- The Law Society, PLTC Ethics, Guest Instructor, 2015
- CLEBC - Mastering Civil Evidence, Taught, 2016
- Barreau du Quebec, National Conference on Class Actions, Taught/Presented, 2017
- TRU - Guest Instructor - class actions, 2017
Community and Civic Activities:
List all organizations of which you are a member and any offices held with dates.
- 1998-2002 - Member then Chair of Strata Council for 3658 Banff Court, North Vancouver
- 2006 - Present - Member, Hollyburn Country Club
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?
The most significant contribution I have made to the law and the pursuit of justice has been a collection of efforts to further access to justice.
In around 2000, I heard Dugald Christie speak about pro bono work. I was already engaged in pro bono, but meeting him reinforced in me the imperative to do this work due to the stark circumstances of those who need legal representation but cannot afford it.
In 2005, I was one of a team appointed to act on the CBA’s legal aid test case. It was brought as a systemic case asserting that written constitutional principles (s.7 and s.36(1) of the Charter) and unwritten constitutional principles (access to justice and judicial independence) supported a right to legal aid in certain circumstances. The case was brought as a systemic case because most persons who need legal aid do not have the time or resources to bring a preliminary case about the right to counsel before solving their underlying legal problem.
The case was struck out at the pleadings stage, primarily on the basis that the claim could not be made out on systemic basis with the CBA as plaintiff. The appeal was dismissed and leave to appeal to the Supreme Court of Canada was denied. At the time, the Christie case was also going through the courts. In Christie, the Supreme Court of Canada asserted, in obiter, that there was no constitutional right to counsel, a point which made its way into the reasoning of the courts in the CBA case.
In reflecting on that hard loss, one of my co-counsel told me that “sometimes, the impossible takes a little longer”.
The CBABC regrouped by reaching out to other justice organizations to work together. At one gathering, the idea was raised to encourage the BC Government to have a commission of inquiry on the state of legal aid. I discussed this idea with the CBABC Executive Committee. The CBABC decided to organize a commission with other justice system partners. The Public Commission on Civil Legal Aid, led by commissioner Len Doust, QC, followed.
During the same timeframe, I was retained by the CBABC as pro bono counsel on Vilardell v. Dutton regarding a self-represented litigant’s request to be relieved of paying hearing fees in her family law dispute.
My co-counsel and I found pro bono counsel for the self-represented litigant and worked with him and with counsel for the Trial Lawyers Association of British Columbia on the issue whether hearing fees were constitutional. We argued the issues at the trial, at the Court of Appeal for British Columbia, and at the Supreme Court of Canada.
While hearing fees case was proceeding, Len Doust commenced hearings across the province about legal aid. The submissions of the users of the legal system who need legal aid and the lawyers and others trying to help them were more than compelling. Doust’s report, especially its chronicle of problems in rural and remote communities and among the indigenous population, was game changing and further galvanized the CBABC on the legal aid file. I attended meetings with Commissioner Doust and members of the Ministry of Legal Services and other justice system stakeholders to discuss actions to further his recommendations.
The CBABC then commenced a public engagement campaign to develop support for Doust’s first recommendation, that legal aid be regarded as an essential public service. I travelled the province meeting with community organizations and giving media interviews, to engage the public on the importance of legal aid. We talked about the stories of people who need legal aid and by putting forward the economic and social policy arguments as to why it was feasible and necessary. That year there was a small increase in the legal aid budget that but more significantly during the provincial general election in 2013 both the Liberal party and the New Democratic Party included access to justice issues in their platforms; a first to my knowledge.
Work was also underway by a committee struck by Chief Justice McLachlin on access to justice and by a separate committee established by the CBA on access to justice. I was one of 100 persons interested in access to justice who was invited to Chief Justice McLachlin’s national colloquium on access to justice in civil and family matters in January 2014. After that colloquium, the BC attendees convened to work to establish a provincial body to coordinate and encourage effort on access to justice. I was involved in the establishment the British Columbia Access to Justice Commission, headed by Chief Justice Bauman.
In late 2014, the Supreme Court of Canada issued its judgment in the hearing fees case: Trial Lawyers Association of British Columbia v. British Columbia,  3 SCR 31. It ruled that the power to levy fees under s. 92(14) of the Constitution Act, 1867 must be interpreted harmoniously with s.96 of the Constitution Act, 1867. Access to s.96 courts is part of the core or inherent jurisdiction of the courts and cannot be abrogated by either level of government. The principle of access to the courts also finds support in a harmonious interpretation of s.96 with the principles of the rule of law, providing a degree of constitutional protection for access to justice.
The Court’s reasoning regarding the place of access to justice in interpreting the written and unwritten constitutional principles was a major step forward. The passage of the judgment that was most gratifying to me was that part in which the Court declared the ability of individuals to come to court to have their disputes resolved as the courts’ “very book of business” [at para. 32]. In my view, equal access to the court by all persons no matter how marginalized their circumstances is the essence of the rule of law. This is a simple notion but its recognition fulfilled a goal I had worked towards for some time.
2. How has your experience provided you with insight into the variety and diversity of Canadians and their unique perspectives?
I am a woman of mostly British ethnicity raised in the Anglican Church. My upbringing was homogenous with a few exceptions in my school years. My experience with the variety and diversity of Canadians was not plentiful until I began the practice of law. At that time, my exposure to persons of varying physical and mental abilities and varying backgrounds including racial, ethnic, religious, and sexual orientation increased significantly.
My first friend in life was a girl the same age as me who lived two doors down. She is Canadian born of Chinese descent. We went through all levels of school together but it was only after we started university where there were many other people of Chinese ethnicity that I realized she was one of a few non-white persons while we grew up. At university my circle of friends included many more people of diverse ethnicity, including ethnically Chinese people. One night I was out with friends, including my first friend, and one person joked that I was “the white person out”. It made me think about why I did not feel like a minority even though I was in that group. At the same time I suspected that would not have been how my first friend felt all the time we were growing up. I also realized I was attracted to them as friends partly because the differences in their heritages and mine were interesting to me. It was the beginning of a realization that differences enrich relationships and that discrimination is mostly about ignorance and being afraid of differences.
Law School was my first real exposure to Indigenous persons. My first year moot partner was a Musqueam woman. I was a keener law student. She made it clear to me that her goal was to complete the task (it was a pass/fail assignment) and so there might be some differences in the approaches we took. She was a great partner. Among other things, she was mature, she was smart, she had life experiences and she was a good communicator. Unfortunately, I did not take advantage of her Indigenous background to learn from her. It was not something I knew to do. In hindsight it was a personal manifestation of how we devalue Indigenous people in Canada.
During my practice I have had exposure to people of different backgrounds and perspectives. Above, I described a coroner’s inquest held in Klemtu, British Columbia, an Indigenous community which at that time was suffering from a high rate of deaths among its youth. The people of that community were welcoming, lovely human beings. Their suffering was real and brought home to me issues of humanity in human suffering which until then, I had blocked out when reading or hearing it in the media.
In this way, my understanding of the varied perspectives that make up Canada has been built up over the 24 years since my articles began.
In additional to ethnicities and religions, my practice and my personal experiences have exposed me to a number of persons suffering from physical and mental illnesses or disabilities. I believe that mental illness is just starting to be appreciated for what it truly is.
An example of the richness of experiences I have had in practice has been on same sex issues. I was co-counsel on a group of class actions about same sex benefits under the Canada Pension Plan. The BC case was eventually folded into the Ontario national case. I was co-counsel at trial, at the Ontario Court of Appeal and at the Supreme Court of Canada. Through working on that case and interacting with our clients and the class members from across Canada, including George Hislop, a leading Ontario gay rights activist, I learned a lot about the depth of discrimination against gay persons, especially those infected with HIV.
In the case about access to justice issues and hearing fees (described in Essay #1), we retained an economist to opine how persons from various walks of life fall in terms of financial security and interacting with the justice system. We learned that people living below or just above the poverty line are far more likely to be immigrants, illiterate, indigenous or women from broken marriages. They are also more likely to need access to the courts to resolve legal issues. This kind of evidence has shown up in many studies of legal needs in the access to justice work I have done over the years.
Most of the experience I have had with indigenous persons has come through volunteer work I have done in the legal community where indigenous lawyers are actively organizing to support each other and to have a voice, to the benefit of all of us. One Aboriginal Lawyers Forum event featured a slam poet who recited poetry about his experiences as an indigenous man with abuse in his home and his own struggles with addiction. It was one of the most powerful and impressive one person performances I have ever seen. It gave me insight into the very human experiences of abuse and addiction and how when we, as a community, do not meaningfully address the circumstances of marginalized persons, we are failing to act as a community should and we are cheating ourselves of what they have to offer.
At present I am a Bencher with the Law Society of British Columbia. On the issuance of the Truth and Reconciliation Report, the Law Society moved to address the recommendations including cultural competency training. While I knew of the legacy of residential schools, the insidiousness of residential schools and the cultural genocide that occurred hit home for me on reading the Truth and Reconciliation Report (the Executive Summary). I see and listen to things differently now. At the Benchers’ retreat in 2016, we had indigenous lawyers and leaders talk to us. Some of them incorporated traditional indigenous stories and teachings that they grew up with. What a powerful method to communicate. The next day my husband and I took a nature walk with indigenous persons from the area. We walked and sat and listened to them talk about the relationship with nature, what they would use the naturally growing plants for, how their practices were sustainable, and how frustrated they are that modern development does not respect these important traditions.
There are some perspectives I have not had enough exposure to, notably indigenous people and gender identity issues. I am still learning and I expect I will never stop.
3. Describe the appropriate role of a judge in a constitutional democracy.
Federally appointed judges peacefully and impartially adjudicate disputes between private citizens, between citizens and the state, and between states within the Canadian federalism.
A constitutional democracy requires impartial arbiters to interpret and enforce the constitution and resolve private disputes to ensure equality of opportunity through the rule of law. In a federalism such as Canada, the constitution is the set of rules that the citizens have determined will govern their relations with the federal and provincial governments and between the governments within the federalism.
The rule of law and the notion of a constitution both rely on the precept that no one, including the government, is above the law. The realization of this precept in turn relies on the existence of trusted, impartial and independent judges to exercise a check on the power of the state and to impartially hear and decide private and public disputes.
It is said best by Lord Bingham in The Rule of Law:
“Without an independent and impartial judiciary to peacefully adjudicate such disputes, security and equality are at risk. Security is at risk because people will take dispute resolution into their own hands if a strong, independent and impartial dispute resolution institution is not part of a society’s institutional arrangements. Equality is at risk because persons without power and resources will be disadvantaged if the laws are not applied and enforced by disinterested arbiters.” (Tom Bingham, The Rule of Law (London, UK: Penguin Books, 2010).
Recently, especially in the family law context, there has been development of early dispute resolution tools and early intervention initiatives designed to assist and persuade the parties to resolve the case before the expense and time consuming ordeal of litigation. In some jurisdictions in civil cases, a trial date cannot be obtained unless the parties have first attempted mediation. If a litigant’s lawyer has advised him or her of the risks and costs of a trial, settlement is a way in which the litigant can control the risks while achieving an acceptable outcome. My experience as counsel has taught me that this process can be empowering for litigants. A key to creating the context for a fair settlement is that the parties know than an impartial adjudicator stands ready to make a decision if they are not able to resolve the issue. In some cases a fair settlement is not achievable, especially where there is power imbalance or resource imbalance. At that stage it is crucial that an impartial adjudicator be available to finally and fairly resolve the issues.
There are differences between judges and other impartial decision makers such as private arbitrators. One key difference is constitutional independence. Another, which does not receive as much attention, is the role of judges in interpreting the law, creating and maintaining the law in a manner that respects the constitution and evolves to reflect the values of the society in which we live. Both durability and flexibility are important qualities in a body of law.
These differences are why the institution of the federal judiciary is critical to the existence of a constitutional democracy and the realization of the goals of a constitutional democracy.
4. Who is the audience for decisions rendered by the court(s) to which you are applying?
The audience for the decision of a British Columbia Supreme Court judge includes the parties, the witnesses, the victim of the alleged crime in criminal cases, the public, any appellate court which may review the decision and the justice system as a whole.
All of these potential audience members must be able to discern from the decision that the court heard and decided the case fairly in the sense of putting “her mind to the facts, the arguments and the issues, and decid[ing] them impartially and independently”: Cojocaru v. British Columbia Women’s Hospital and Health Care Centre, 2013 SCC 30 at para. 13.
In many cases a BC Supreme Court justice gives written (or oral) reasons for judgment after reserving and considering. The comments which follow pertain mostly to reasons for judgment as opposed to the judgment (order) itself.
The parties have interests at stake. The reasons must demonstrate to them that they were heard and their perspectives considered. Some say that the most important person in the audience is the party who loses because in order to retain that person’s confidence in the justice system, he or she must believe that they got a fair hearing. I agree that it is very important that the loser understand from the reasons that the evidence and arguments he or she put forward were fairly and impartially considered by the judge. In my view, while the reasons are in important in that regard, so too is the demeanor of the judge during the hearing. I do not believe that a judge should write reasons with the loser only or even primarily in mind. If the judge conducts himself or herself in a way which is seen to be impartial and independent, and writes that way, going out of one’s way to ensure that the unsuccessful party perceives that runs the risk of creating a mismatch between the impartiality with which the case was heard and decided and the written reasons.
Witnesses who come to court to testify have an intimate experience with the justice system. They may have been subpoenaed. They may have to take time away from work or family responsibilities. The reasons should treat their evidence sufficiently and fairly so that they understand the role that their participation played in the outcome.
Victims of alleged crimes are an especially sensitive and their situation is challenging. In terms of relevance, their role is analogous to witnesses. However the criminal justice system relies on victims to come forward and participate. They are vulnerable in a way which is different from other witnesses. Much has been written recently about their situation and experiences, especially in sexual assault trials. Again, how the judge deals with the reasons for judgment is important but so too is the manner in which the trial is conducted. The presumption of innocence, the criminal burden of proof, impartiality and independence demand an attitude of indifference (for want of a better word) that is very challenging and hard to square with the sympathies that human nature conjures for the victims of crime. I do not pretend to have the solution to the dilemma of the appropriate role and treatment of victims in criminal trials. It will be one of many steep learning curves for me if l am appointed.
The public as a whole is an important audience in reasons for decisions. While some cases, such as constitutional cases and criminal cases, have a more public dimension than private disputes, all cases that come to court are funded by the public and the public has a stake in ensuring that all people have a means to resolve disputes peacefully before an impartial and independent judge. The body of law that is developed through reasons for judgment serves the public as a whole. This is another way of saying that the justice system in all of its manifestations, including reasons for judgment, is a public good.
The reasons also play a functional role in providing an explanation for the decision for the purposes of review on appeal. In this regard the audience is the court of appeal and functional requirements are to demonstrate whether the findings of fact and the application of law are patently unreasonable, reasonable or correct depending on the applicable standard of review.
Finally, reasons for judgment become part of the body of law interpreting the Constitution, the Criminal Code of Canada, federal statutes, provincial statutes and the common law. All participant and future users of the justice system are the audience for these decisions.
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 will address this question by describing the qualities I believe I have, how I use them professionally and how I would channel these qualities into the work of a judge.
My qualities are: humility, which makes me open to learning from both successful and unsuccessful experiences; a strong work ethic; an intellect that allows me to learn relatively quickly; strong conceptual thinking skills; and the ability to empathize and understand human dynamics at play.
These qualities have been developed and honed by my clients. A significant part of my practice is acting for persons (or their surviving dependents) who have been injured or killed in aviation accidents or accidents giving rise to product liability claims. My role as counsel to such persons has been humbling. What I have learned from them about how resolution of their legal problems fits into their lives, together with my nature to empathize and address problems in an authentic manner, has driven me to try to use the law to empower my clients.
Often retaining a lawyer is something my clients “need to do” in the aftermath of a bad accident. When they first see me, they simply want to check the box that they have retained a lawyer. I have learned that at the beginning of the retainer I need to recognize the space that my clients need to heal from their injuries and their losses. I work hard to get the case moving without it monopolizing their time. When they are ready to engage, that is the time I can work with them so that they are empowered by their choices and their participation in the justice system.
The tools I use include really listening to all the things my clients want to talk about. Regardless of the direct relevance to the lawsuit, it is always useful context for me to understand their situation and motivations. I also explain the perspective of the other parties and why the court is going to listen to the other parties with open ears and an open mind. This is because the clients must not be taken aback by the fact that their perspective is not the only perspective that is relevant to the impartial judicial officer.
I also become thoroughly immersed in the legal and technical issues of their case including the medical, scientific, technical and economic issues. This instills confidence in me by my clients, opposing counsel and the court. This means I am always learning and I have to make the time to tackle things I do not understand when I start out.
I am a strong advocate for my clients’ goals. At the same time, I take care to not humour my clients by endorsing goals that they cannot achieve through the justice system or by taking instructions to take an unreasonable position. I manage this by explaining what is not achievable while acknowledging the extra-legal validity or at least roots of their objectives. By the time I do this, I hope to have earned their confidence and developed a relationship of trust and mutual respect so they can accept what they do not want to hear.
Finally, by the time resolution is pending either through negotiations or a trial, I give my clients a thorough opinion on the reasonable range of outcomes broken down by issue and including the evidence I expect to be led by all parties and the applicable law. When negotiations commence, they already have the information to evaluate the offers that are exchanged. It also provides the client with the confidence that I have considered every aspect of their case, listened to everything they have told me, and that I am prepared to try the case.
When I read this, it sounds obvious. It has not always been obvious; rather it is the product of many stumbles and hard lessons. It is not easy, in a busy practice, to slow down and really listen and to make sure that everyone’s expectations are being in sync and being met. I know that with most clients I have been successful in this regard because of what they say to me when their cases conclude.
An aviation accident client, who sustained serious injuries in the same accident in which one of her children died and another suffered serious injuries, said that she hated the reason why she met me, but she had to meet someone like me so she was glad it was me that she met.
One pro bono client who had got bogged down in procedural matters when trying to represent herself, told me that I had lifted a fog for her.
A client brought her children to meet me, because she wanted them to know that there are helping people in the world.
These clients have taught me that the way the justice system treats them is as important as the outcome. Each of my clients challenged my ability to harness my personal qualities effectively and each taught me something. The most difficult skill I have learned is active listening. I am naturally empathetic but early in my career I would jump to conclusions about things that turned out to be wrong. I learned to slow down and listen carefully and for longer than I think I need to.
If I become a judge, I will take the lessons and skills learned from my clients and re-purpose them to ensure that in the role of a judge I treat people in a way which instills confidence in the justice system. I believe that my ability to work hard, to learn technically challenging areas, to understand the human dynamics of a situation and to really listen to understand the perspective of persons who would appear before me will help me come up the steep learning curve on the transition from lawyer to judge.
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.
Candidly, I do not know if my life experiences are reflected in my face.
I grew up in a loving and supportive environment that inspired self-confidence. I have had some life experiences that have been stressful, challenging and frightening. As a lawyer, I have also encountered some instances of disappointing behaviour which I attribute to unconscious gender discrimination. As a family member, and friend, I have supported loved ones with physical illness, mental illness, financial struggles and other challenges. I am told my demeanour reflects confidence. If my face reflects the totality of my life experiences in proportion, it will be reflecting much more positive than negative; much more entitlement than deprivation.
I would be determined to show those who would appear before me a judge who is empathetic and is concerned about the issues the parties bring to court as well as the due process by which they are decided. I hope they would see in my demeanour and in my behaviour a judge who is determined to treat the users of the courts with respect, dignity and sensitivity towards their situations and who is working hard during the adjudication of the issues they bring to court. I believe, and have been told throughout my adult life, that my empathetic nature inspires people to confide in me and to seek my guidance. I do expect that I will demonstrate to those who would appear before me that I am listening, that I hear them, and that I will try to take the totality of their situation in account while applying the law impartially and independently.
I cannot leave this question without acknowledging what my face and my experiences do not reflect. I am in the racial majority. I have never known the brutal unfairness of racism. I have tried to imagine it and I am sure I come up short but what I imagine is a frustrating unfair rawness of being ripped off for no good reason. I am in the majority on sexual orientation and gender identity and so the same comments apply. I cannot imagine what is to be an indigenous person whose community’s rich history, culture, language and traditions have been systematically devalued and destroyed. Recently, my new and growing education in this area leads me to believe that Canada did itself a disservice by depriving the country of the participation of the rich community perspectives and governance models of the indigenous peoples. But I know that I entertain these views from the academic or intellectual perspective. The actual lived experiences of indigenous persons are something I can only try to learn more about.
If the opportunity to be appointed a judge is offered to me, I will strive to ensure that those who come before me see and experience a judge who is doing her best to serve the ultimate guarantee of the rule of law: that all have equal opportunity in Canadian society to pursue their goals and fulfill their dreams.
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