Board Member Feature: Kathryn Oviatt

Name: Kathryn Oviatt

Titles:  Barrister and Solicitor, or Lawyer, Qualified Arbitrator, Partner at Oviatt Law, Labour Arbitrator, Tribunal Member for the Alberta Human Rights Commission, Hearing Panel roster member for the Real Estate Council of Alberta.

Favourite quote: “Do the best you can until you know better, then when you know better, do better.” – Maya Angelou

When did you start working with FOAJ?

I was just appointed recently, in April 2019.

Can you tell me a little bit about your story getting to where you are now? I.e. where you went to school, where you grew up, etc.

I was born and raised in Edmonton, so I’m a lifelong Edmontonian. I went to the University of Alberta for both my Bachelor of Arts in English Literature and for my Bachelor of Laws degree, both awarded with distinction. I articled at a large law firm called Field Law. Following that, I went to the Court of Queen’s Bench where I was legal counsel for the justices. I returned to Field Law and worked there for 7 or 8 years in Labour Law and Professional Regulation. In 2014 I left Field Law to join my husband at Oviatt Law and to start a neutral adjudication practice.

Why did you pursue a career in administrative justice?

When I was a summer law student, I worked for a tribunal and that was my first introduction to administrative law. I worked for the Municipal Government Board and did a lot with property tax appeals and subdivision approvals. I remember getting the job thinking it was good for my career, albeit a bit boring. However, I realized it wasn’t boring at all. It had a lot of nuance and was really focused on fairness that deeply affected people’s lives. I quickly realized that most people won’t be going to a court to resolve disputes, but most people do appear before a tribunal of some kind at some point in their lives. Fairness in these tribunals is so important. Even in things that sound boring, it’s really important that decisions are made carefully and that fairness is awarded to all parties. That’s what I pursued as I built my legal career.

What are some common misconceptions about administrative justice?

That administrative tribunals aren’t fair, or that they are like a kangaroo court. The administrative tribunals that I have worked with have really worked hard at fairness, making sure that everyone gets a chance to participate fully and that they get a decision based on the evidence. In reality, I’ve found administrative justice workers to be quite passionate about fairness.

What’s been your favourite part so far?

I like working with all of the different people. You get staff who work for the tribunals, you work with the other tribunal members that come from a wide range of backgrounds, and you’re interacting with individuals affected by your decisions too, so members of the public. There’s a cross section of the community that I find very rewarding and humbling to see the diversity that’s present.

What do you do at FOAJ? What are some day-to-day tasks that you enjoy doing?

I’m new to the board of directors, so I’m still trying to figure out what my role is there! I’m excited about setting policy, overseeing operations, that sort of thing, but time will tell what my role develops into.

What are the values that drive you?

A lot of what I’ve already talked about. Mainly fairness and transparency. As a neutral adjudicator, I don’t need the parties to like me or like my decision, but I do care about whether they think I’m fair, and that’s the underlying driver for me.

Your top 3 favourite books/podcasts? What do you like to do when you’re not working?

I love David Sedaris as an author! His latest book Calypso was brilliant. Terry Pratchett is also one of my favourites. I am a Game of Thrones nerd. For podcasts, I really like This American Life and anything by Jonathan Goldstein. I’m an avid outdoors person, so I mountain bike, hike, ski, and love to be in the mountains. And I spend a lot of time chasing after my kids!

What three words describe you best?

Personable, diligent, loyal.

Who was your role model growing up?

I really liked a female climber named Lynn Hill, who did the first free ascent of the Nose on El Capitan in Yosemite. I’m an avid outdoors person and used to be a rock climber. I’m really interested in sport, and since women aren’t represented well in professional athletics, for her to have this massive achievement was so inspiring. She’s an extraordinary human being and a very driven person.

What skill would you love to learn, in work or in general?

I want to learn to play the ukulele!

What’s your hidden talent?

Home design. I just love beautiful spaces and I love figuring it out, like a puzzle, how to make a space work.