Board Member Feature: Christine Bernard

Title: BA, LLB

Favourite quote: Oh my gosh, I don’t think I have one! *laughs*

When did you start working with FOAJ?

In April of this year. It’s been going well, absolutely!

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 grew up in Alberta in a farming community called Legal. It’s a small French town, north of Morinville. My dad is a French Canadian from Alberta and my mom is an Acadian from New Brunswick. We grew up there, spending quite a bit of time on the east coast, because my mom’s family is there. It became pretty apparent that I wasn’t destined for farm life. My brothers are still at the farm, but I ran away as soon as I could *laughs*. I moved to Edmonton, went to Campus Saint-Jean at the University of Alberta, and did a degree there. I took a year off while doing my degree to live in Paris. I was very fortunate–I worked as an au pair–but I lucked out with the family because they worked for the government and they set me up with my own apartment. It was really the best of all worlds. I got to travel quite a bit in France and Spain while I was there. I did that for a year, came back, and in typical young student fashion needed to make money and applied for a job at a law firm. It all started when I was a secretary there, and found it really interesting. They pushed me to pursue studies in law. I had done all my schooling in French and continued to do so at the Université de Moncton. I obtained my law degree there in 2004.

Why did you pursue a career in administrative justice?

I was a litigation lawyer for almost 10 years. I was in private practice – personal injury and insurance defence primarily. Like many female lawyers, once you have kids, that becomes a little incompatible with family life. I then switched to government practice. Shortly after that, I became the Registrar of the Financial and Consumer Services Tribunal. That’s a position where I’m a lawyer to my tribunal members, and help them run the hearings, interact with the public and the parties, and whatnot. When I was appointed to this position, I said “That’s all good and fine, but I’ve never practiced administrative law so I need some training–and pretty quickly!” and that’s how I became involved with the Foundation of Administrative Justice. It was a crash course in administrative law! *laughs* That would’ve been about 5 years ago, and since then, basically any course that I can get my hands on I will take. My tribunal, when I came into my role back in 2014, was only 6 months old. It was a brand, brand new tribunal. It’s been really interesting to build this thing from the ground up. As I got more experienced and comfortable in my job, I was looking to get more involved with FOAJ and other national organizations. It seemed like a natural progression to become involved with a board or something similar. 

What are some common misconceptions about the industry?

Well, it depends on who you’re talking to. I think If you’re talking to self-represented parties, they may feel that it’s too much like a court. Some of them find it very daunting. It’s a tribunal’s job to explain the process and make it as easy as possible for them. Especially if they’re before my tribunal, they’ve already been through a rough spell– they’ve probably lost their job, they may have lost a home–and emotions are running high. It’s my job to facilitate the process for them so that they can concentrate on the real issues. I’ve had people tell me after they’ve gone through the whole process with us, “Thank you so much for your assistance with the procedure. It made it easier for me to tell the tribunal members what my story was.” For me, it’s all about access to justice, for each individual, regardless of whether they’re wrong or right, to feel they had their day in court and were able to access justice in a meaningful way. That’s the role administrative law should play, if it’s done properly. 

The other thing I’m passionate about, that ties in with the FOAJ mandate, is that I’m a big believer that tribunals need to do more to be fair. And that there’s nothing to be gained from being unfair. Even if it takes more steps and a little more time, everyone will see that justice has been done. Of course as lawyers, the experience is a little different. They want and need a court-like setting, and they won’t necessarily get that. We run a little more informally, but we tried to make it so that the process works for everyone and everyone feels that they were heard. 

What has been your favourite part so far?

I think It’s been learning about their current initiative. That’s what I find exciting, is to see that they’re trying to broaden their horizons and  broaden their scope to reach more administrative tribunals and more people in the administrative law community. It jives with my personal vision–education, education, education, you can’t have enough of it–and that’s one of the reasons I became a board member of FOAJ: to see it expand across Canada. I’m in Atlantic Canada and we have very little training here.

What are the values that drive you?

Definitely integrity, fairness, and loyalty. 

Your favourite books/podcasts/movies, etc?

My favourite movie is American Beauty, or Life as a House. Favourite book, basically anything by Daniel Silva that I can get my hands on. I like political thrillers! Other than that, I don’t listen to podcasts. I’m old school! I am currently reading Michelle Obama’s book, Becoming. It’s really inspiring, she’s a class act. I read an incredible amount, probably one book a week! It’s my escape. 

What do you like to do when you’re not working?

I like to golf–I’m an avid golfer. I like to garden, I like to read, and I spend time with my family. I’ve got two little girls that are seven and ten. They are very active kids, so we’re often biking, swimming, and doing a lot of sporting activities as a family.

Is this a role you would have envisioned yourself in 10 years ago?

No, because 10 years ago I was a litigator *laughs*, so definitely not. Even 3 years ago, it probably wasn’t on my radar yet. 

Who was your role model growing up?

Probably my dad. My dad has no formal education and is probably one of the smartest people I’ve ever met. He instilled in me the values of hard work, integrity, honesty, and to do things right the first time; put in the effort and you’ll see results. He was a very successful business person through sheer depth and strength of character. Like I said, no formal education – he didn’t have that type of background. I have two brothers, and he really Instilled in us that work ethic, drive, and those values. 

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

I’d like to become proficient, again, at playing piano. I was a piano player, but that kind of went on the back burner with the kids. I’m starting to pick it up again! 

What’s the most fulfilling part of your job?

I think probably the most fulfilling job is helping parties understand the process and ensuring that we run their hearing. 

What’s your hidden talent?

I’m an avid cook, and aspire to be somewhat of a chef, not many people know that! That would be something that I aspire to be.


Board Member Feature: Yacub Adam

Name: Yacub Adam

Roles/Titles: Board Member at FOAJ, Professor of Political Science, Vice Chair of the Human Rights Commission in Yellowknife and currently a political consultant.

Favourite Quote:
There are so many to pick from. There are of course the usual serious, profound, uplifting and well trodden ones. So, I tend to like the less known and perhaps slightly irreverent ones. The slightly off the wall ones if you like. There Winston Churchill clearly had the edge. As a political scientist this is one of my favourites, for its directness and perhaps some underlying truth:

“Diplomacy is the art of telling people to go to hell in such a way they ask for directions.”

On a more serious note, one of my favourite quotes is from Tariq ibn Ziyad, a Muslim General who led the conquest of Spain. It comes from the Quran. He says:

“I shall not worship what you worship, you do not worship what I worship. I am not a worshipper of what you have worshipped, and you are not a worshipper or what I have worshipped. To you, your religion, to me, my religion.”

It underlines tolerance and it says – Look, I am not here to interfere in your life, in your beliefs, in your work, and I don’t expect you to do that in mine. There’s a sense of ‘we can live together’. I consider the period of Islamic Spain at that time as one of the first multicultural societies.

When did you start working with FOAJ?
I’ve just been appointed in the last 4-5 months. In fact, I haven’t been to my first meeting yet! Can you tell me a little but about your story getting to where you are now? I grew up in Malawi in Central Africa. I went to boarding school there at a very young age, and then I went on to the UK for school and then university. I lived there, and my first teaching appointment at university was there, at the University of Edinburgh. Then, I went to West Africa for almost 15 years and taught politics there. My specialization is in African politics but I taught many other fields of politics. Then I went back to Britain and taught at the University of Glasgow before coming to Canada.

Coming to Canada in some sense is a bit of serendipity. I’ve always wanted to live a decade of my life on each continent. For a while I assumed I might be able to do that, but I’d forgotten that when you have children it’s much harder to do. I ended up thinking I might be in Yellowknife for a couple of years and ended up being here a good part of 20 now.

How did you get involved with the administrative justice field?
Quite honestly, I didn’t even know about FOAJ. When I was appointed as a member and then Vice Chair of the Human Rights Commission we started doing some courses through FOAJ. I found them extremely enlightening and it underlined many of the things I believed and cared about. Then, I was appointed to sit on the board.

What are some common misconceptions about the industry?
I’m not an expert on all of this, but I assume that like all over the world, I think when something is to do with the legal or quasi-legal side of something, people often assume the processes are complicated, bureaucratic and too legalistic to navigate simply. People tend to be intimidated by that, so they assume that it’s not something they can deal with easily, and often refrain from dealing with it entirely so public education and training like FOAJ does is of enormous value.

How could you combat that misconception?
I suppose, general education. But I also think partnerships with organizations, like Human Rights, etc, that help people to be educated about their rights and educated about how they can achieve those rights when those rights are trampled. Basically, opening doors in terms of information. Education is one of the greatest avenues in terms of enlightening and training people. Education is one of the biggest means by which this kind of outreach can be accomplished.

What’s been your favourite part so far, working with FOAJ?
I haven’t done anything with them yet, but they’ve been exceptionally sweet and kind and generous in terms of helping me out and setting up my first meeting. So I’m not sure yet! So I would argue that so far perhaps this my favourite part, talking to you!

What are the values that drive you?
I’ve always believed in fairness and justice for all, so my interest in FOAJ and human rights is based on that. I do care about how people are treated in all aspects of life. I tend to stand up for the underdog. In some senses it’s fighting for something that’s just, fair, that makes a better world, that makes people generally happier in some senses, and not trodden down, not bullied, not intimidated, not pushed into the back alley as it were. So, I would argue that it’s fighting for all of those things in an honest and open way.

Your top three favourite books/movies?
Wow. Hard! I read a lot, and a lot of academic stuff as well. There are so many! I’m currently re- reading a book by Erna Paris called The End of Days. It’s about the North African invasion of Spain. It deals with the flow of a new culture and religion coming in. The conflict and the contest that took place. It’s a great book to read with a great deal of history and dynamics at play and many lessons for today’s world.

I’m also re-reading Arguably by Christopher Hitchens. He was a British author who was very provocative, but not in a senseless way. He took up important issues and analyzed them. He was very
critical, very honest, and often saw through all the triteness that one finds sometimes when you try to deal with current issues. His essays are always great fun to read, extremely provocative and make you think a great deal, above all he is honest and direct, traits I admire.

For movies, I like stupid movies or very serious movies. So why very stupid movies? Well, I don’t like being emotionally, or in any other way, manipulated. I don’t like movies that are not credible, so I don’t really enjoy movies that are scary or movies that create fiction that I find hard to believe. So I like really silly movies where you can sit back, blank your mind, just relax and enjoy your popcorn!

What do you like to do when you’re not working?
Read, listen to music, catch up on what’s happening in the world. Physically, I like to play golf, I enjoy just being out on the golf course to blank my mind a little bit. I enjoy gardening, again, for the same reason. When that’s not possible, having long, lazy meals with my family and friends. It’s always fun to share food and beverage, break bread with family and friends. It’s a time when you commune, you talk, you discuss, you argue, do whatever you normally do as a family. That’s something I treasure and enjoy.

What three words describe you best?
A tricky one this, but I suppose I’m enthusiastic about things I care about. I give it my all. I can be serious sometimes – but I do believe I have a robust sense of humour, that doesn’t make me too difficult to spend time with. I like to laugh, joke, poke fun! Above all, I am curious about everything: people, where they come from, what they eat, what they do, what’s their history, what’s their life about? I learn a great deal from that. If you’re not curious, you don’t learn.

Is this a role you would have envisioned yourself in 10 years ago?
No, not really, to be honest. I didn’t even know FOAJ existed then. But, I have always served on boards and agencies for a very long, long time, so in some senses yes. This is something that caught my imagination. I felt they did things that I value and care about.

Who was your role model growing up?
I would argue, and this is something I’ve told my children, that perhaps the best role models I ever had were my parents. I went to boarding school very early on, so the lessons they had to teach me came very early in my life. They taught me strength: be strong, don’t be pushed around. Have self-respect: for what you value, what you care about, and who you are. And have dignity, behave with dignity. They taught me to fight for fairness, to fight for justice. In terms of general principles, these are the values I’ve lived by all my life. They came from my parents by and large, either through explicit instruction or through their own behaviour.

What skill would you love to learn, work-related or in general?
My wife would say, and perhaps I would agree with her, that I need to be better at new technology. I’m a bit of a dinosaur when it comes to doing this, that, and the other, on computers and phones, the apps, the various other things you do, so probably to be better at that. But, quite frankly, I don’t think I would enjoy the process. I know that’s a contradiction in some ways. I’m very curious, but when it comes to these things I’m not very curious. I just want them to work and that’s all I care about, so, perhaps in that sense, I may remain a dinosaur. But yes, I would probably benefit from better technological skills.

What’s the most fulfilling part of the work you do?
When you see that you are making a change in society, in people’s lives, and that those lives are for the better, not for the worse, and that you are actually filling a gap that exists. That gives one great personal satisfaction, that one is actually able to achieve that.

What’s your hidden talent?
I can’t be absolutely certain, but I think I have the ability to listen patiently. I am a good listener and will listen to people with whatever issues they have. Perhaps to learn, listen to people patiently, and help others when I can, to lift them and help them get out of whatever doldrums they are in. Above all, I care about people. I care about their lives, how they live them, and how one can make it
better. We always have a responsibility in that regard and I take that responsibility quite seriously. I’ve cared about human rights ever since I was very young, living in Malawi, and it’s been an uncomfortable companion for me. Uncomfortable, in the sense that it pricks my conscience, something I’ve got to live with, something that you know you need to make changes to make people’s lives better, fairer, more just.